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Camembert de Normandie

Camembert de Normandie

Althought it’s hard to blame it, my camera ate all of my Camembert de Normandie (pictures), which I discovered when I went to download them. I was miffed (to say the least…), but in the end, decided that it was tough to blame my mischievous machine because I understand how hard it is to be around a perfectly ripe Camembert de Normandie and not want to wolf the whole thing down. As they would say in Paris when presented with an irresistible cheese — C’est un catastrophe, a demi-joke referring to the devastating effect it has on la ligne. (One’s figure.)

Like the genie in the bottle, once you let a soon-to-be goopy camembert out of its container, no matter how firm you think it’s gonna remain, there’s no turning back once it starts doing what comes naturally. And if you are able to resist eating the whole runny thing in one go, in France, you can get a little plastic box to store your camembert in, with little hinged plastic “walls” to keep your camembert from running. (Even though plastic isn’t the best thing to store your cheeses in; most fromageries wrap cheeses in waxed paper sheets.) I don’t buy a lot of Camembert de Normandie because it’s hard to stop eating it. But for the sake of you all, I went and bought another one, just because I like living dangerously. And what’s another catastrophe between friends?

Camembert de Normandie

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La Coop: Beaufort Cheese Cooperative in Paris

Beaufort cutter

It amuses me to see outfits that promise to let folks “experience Paris like a local!” While there’s lots too see and do here as a visitor, I wonder why so many people want to come and experience the more mundane aspects of life in a city, such as calling the gas company to find out why your bill is 300% over what it is supposed to be, or dealing with a forest’s-worth of paperwork that would make the most anti-environmentalist weep, when they could be exploring world-class museums, dining in historic bistros, visiting amazing chocolate shops, and gorging themselves on sublime cheeses all day?

reblochon

When I’m on vacation, I want to be on vacation, thanks. But every so often, I try being a tourist is my own city. Because I get to stroll around and discover wonderful new places, as I did when walking near the Jardin du Luxembourg and passed by La Coop.

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Cheese Tastings in Paris

cheese map of France

A visit to France is, of course, a cheese-lovers dream. And for those who come and want to experience a variety of French cheeses in Paris, there are a number of places that offer dégustations (tastings) as well as tours and wine pairings with experts.

Most are in English and in the boutiques and fromageries (cheese shops) that offer cheese tasting plates, there is normally someone on hand who will happily explain all the different cheeses. Here’s a list of places that offer a variety of experiences for anyone interesting in sampling les fromages:

Madame Hisada: Specialty cheese shop with salon offering dégustation platters.

Fil’O’Fromage: Cheese shop and restaurant, with tasting plates.

Meeting the French: Wine and cheese tastings.

Paroles de Fromagers: Wine and cheese tastings.

Chez Virginie: Cheese shop with guided tastings.

Le Foodist: Wine and cheese pairings and tastings.

La Coop: Cheese cooperative from the Savoy region offers self-guided cheese tastings.

La Cuisine: Guided cheese tasting workshops.

Marie-Anne Cantin: Guided cheese tastings.

La Vache dans Les Vignes: Cheese tasting plates.

Paris by Mouth: Cheese tastings and walking tours.

La Vache dans les Vignes: Cheese shop and café.

Ô Chateau: Wine and cheese tasting lunches.

Cook’n with Class: Wine and cheese tasting, and pairing classes.

L’Affineur’ Affiné: Fromagerie and restaurant.

cheese plate

Note: In addition to the organized cheese tastings listed above, you can generally go into a wine bar and order a selection of cheeses (and wine, of course) to sample. Although the tastings aren’t guided, the staff will generally be able to tell you about the cheeses.

Mont d’Or

cheese fromage

“Goopy” isn’t a word used too often when writing about food. Am not sure why, but perhaps because there aren’t a lot of things that are goopy, that you actually want to eat. Mont d’Or has been called the holy grail of French raw milk cheeses. It’s goopy for sure, and if that bothers you, well, that’s something you’re going to have to work on for yourself. In the meanwhile, I’ve been lapping up this Mont d’Or I recently acquired, enjoying every single goopy mouthful.

Called “the holy grail of raw milk cheeses”, Mont d’Or (also called Vacherin Mont d’Or, and Vacherin Haut-Doubs) is truly a spectacular cheese. And even though they’re widely available in the winter in France, because of their richness, it’s something I reserve for special occasions. For me, that special occasion was lunch yesterday.

Gana bread

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Gouda Étuvé

gouda cheese

The French are rightfully proud of their cheese, but one they can’t take credit for is Gouda Étuvé – which is very popular in France nonetheless. And I don’t blame them for going gaga over this Gouda. At my fromagerie, they keep the giant half-wheel right on the counter, in front of them, because perhaps fifty-percent of the customers order a wedge of it. Or in my case, 100%.

Foreign cheeses in France are either fully embraced, or ignored. Le cheddar is just now gaining some recognition and Stilton is pretty widely praised. Gouda is a non-offending cheese, and is one of the more popular imports in France. Like Emmenthal, it’s a cheese for those who want something milder. Or wilder, as is in the case of the Gouda with stinging nettles at Pascal Beillevaire.

The name étuvé means “cooked”, usually in a covered casserole or similar vessel. Since the milk for nearly every kind of cheese is cooked, I’m not sure why it’s designated as “étuvé”, because whenever I ask, the cheese-sellers are so busy slicing cheese for the long line of customers, they just say it’s cooked à la vapeur, or with steam. And I keep my mouth shut, so as not to distract them from their very important duties.

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Fromagerie Pascal Beillevaire

goat cheeses

I’m not going to say it’s the top reason I live here, but one of the main reasons that I live in France is because of the cheese. It’s not just that I like cheese – which I do very dearly – but it also represents something that France has held on to, and still defies modernization. You just can’t make Comté or Bleu de Termignon with a machine. Each is made in a certain region, with milk from certain pastures, then molded and ripened, then sent to a skilled fromager to be offered to customers.

camembert de normandie

My dream job used to be to work in a cheese shop, until a friend who worked in a cheese shop told me how hard it was. (As those of you who read my Paris book know, I found working at the fish market quite different than I initially thought, too.) But no matter what people say, the idea of being surrounded by cheese in every direction, learning about the different regions and styles of cheesemaking, and just inhaling the funky, pungent aromas also sounds like heaven to me.

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Kiri

Kiri

A while back, someone sent me a message asking about the availability of a certain French cheese that a French friend, who now lives in the United States, was constantly raving about. It took me a moment to figure out how I knew the name, until I realized that they were talking about fromage à tartiner, otherwise known as cream cheese.

Cream cheese is very popular in France and many pâtisseries even have a version of le Cheesecake in their showcases. It’s never as rich or dense as the American version because there isn’t the overload of cream cheese in it (I don’t have my recipe handy, but I think it calls for four blocks of cream cheese), but some aren’t bad. Many of the versions in France are made with a high proportion of fromage blanc, a fresh cheese with a gentle tang, vaguely similar to yogurt or sour cream, but not-so-rich and missing the aggressiveness of yogurt

Kiri

The French have taken so much to cream cheese that last year, the company that makes Philadelphia cream cheese finally wised up and dropped their prices dramatically, making it the same price as the other brands. But none can replicate the appeal of Kiri.

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Le cottage

cottage cheese

If you live in the United States, you probably are going to want to scratch your head at this one. Because it’s about something very common back there, otherwise known as le cottage here in France. Yes, it’s true. I used to take cottage cheese for granted. You could pick up a large tub of it in any grocery store, because somehow, it’s become a fixture in American dairy aisles along with fresh milk (sold by the gallon jugs with handles, which after living with slender liter bottles of milk for so long, seem absolutely gargantuan), yogurt, sour cream, and other creamy goodies.

I used to eat cottage cheese fairly regularly and fell into the ‘large curd’ camp. As some of you might know, there’s the small-curd and the large-curd people, and I like the bigger soft, pillowy blobs of cheese, which rest in their milky liquid, waiting for my spoon to plow into the container and spoon them out. Then there’s the full-fat, low-fat, and non-fat people, but at this point in my life, it’s all moot due to where I live.

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