It’s pretty overwhelming visiting a fromagerie.

After years of trying as many French cheeses as I could, I’ve settled on a few favorites that I go back to over and over, which include moist, piquant Roquefort de Carles, which I like drizzled with chestnut honey, little rounds of tangy chèvre and ash-covered Selles-sur-Cher, and nutty Comté from the French alps, which if you taste one that’s been aged 30 months, I assure you you’ll never buy any other affinage (ripeness) of Comté.

When people ask me which cheese to buy, though, I turn the tables on them, asking them what kind of cheese they like. Do they like dry, sharp, nutty, or powerful cheeses? Thankfully because there’s so many choices out there, there’s no right or wrong answers. Only what you like. Unfortunately, I pretty much like them all.

Ok, scratch pretty much…and let’s just say I them all.


But I rarely visit a fromagerie with a laundry list of cheeses I want to buy.

Instead, while waiting every-so-patiently in line, I crane my neck around madame in front of me and use that time to see what looks the best that day. Often the fromager will leave the most popular cheeses, like brie de Meaux, within easy reach of her since invariably just about everyone wants a wedge of that. Especially if it’s so oozingly-ripe and pungent that just lifting the big, gooey wheel is virtually impossible. Camembert du Normandie is another cheese that’s popular, but I’m always sure to get one that’s not industrial, since the artisanal and AOC ones are invariably more delicious.

(I don’t understand why anyone buys the crummy ones when the excellent ones are so easily-available. But I guess the same holds true in the states: people choose American-singles over the decent cheddar that’s widely available. Tant pis, as they say…)

But I was at the RIchard Lenoir market a few weeks ago and a strapping, unshaven young man who looked like he spent a lot of time hefting rounds of cheeses from high up in the mountaintops of the Auvergne, tempted me (with his cheeses) while presiding over a big pile of rustic various-sized hunks of Cantal. Normally I buy Cantal when I’m craving something a bit dryer but with the taste of sweet cheese curds compacted together. It’s not one of my top-ten cheeses, but when I saw these particular slabs piled around meaty saucissons and fat-slathered terrines, my interested was piqued enough so that before I knew it, I not only had several sausages in my shopping basket (I skipped the terrine, even though he gave me a taste…it was too dangerous to have around), but a rectangle of Cantal found it’s way en route to chez moi. Of course.

At home, I sliced off a chunk and tasted it on a slice of really good, no…make that excellent, pain aux ceriales from Bread and Roses bakery.

Oh la vâche!
Was that the best Cantal I’ve ever tasted or what?

So I’ve moved Cantal up a few notches on my list of cheeses, and since that weekend, I’ve visited him each and every Sunday since then. I plan on going back this weekend since I’ve just about polished off the morceau shown above. And I’m craving more.

See you there, bright and early, this Sunday.

Cheese Links

Matt bites aged American Cheddar

My absolute favorite guidebook to French cheeses.

Visit Brie with me.

Can’t get good bread? Try homemade crackers.

Real English cheddar-making.

Deep-down inside a New York City cheese cave.

They’re trying to ruin Camembert de Normandie.
(via eGullet)

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  • Vicky
    April 26, 2007 6:00am

    Mmmmm…well, I *will* be at the Richard-Lenoir market early on Sunday morning, and I will definitely look out for your Cantal supplier: I don’t really like the Cantal that my local fromager sells, but I’m always willing to try again ;-)

    I’m intrigued by your ‘top 3’ list. Mine would have to include ‘Brin d’amour’…which you can get from the Maitre Fromager on Rue St-Antoine (I never remember the actual name of the store…but the “Maitre fromager” information is like an irresistible siren call.)

  • Alisa
    April 26, 2007 8:57am

    hmmm….must make a visit to your cheese guy….to see his cheeses of course. Oh! And finally I saw the D&G ad. Whoa…made me stop in my tracks.

  • April 26, 2007 10:05am

    this reminds me of our trip to neal’s yard… a satisfactory lunch just from sampling our way through their fare! and who said the english couldn’t make cheese – there are some delicious ones out there for sure!

  • April 26, 2007 10:10am

    what about fourme d’ambert? definitely a favourite of mine. or a tete de moine for the pure theatre of shaving it off. and a good old oude gouda, with big salt crystals. parmesan? gruyere? epoisses? can’t get enough of it!

  • MadCarlotta
    April 26, 2007 10:17am

    I see the cheese there.
    Its stink makes me want to cry.
    Sacre fromage bleu!

  • April 26, 2007 11:06am

    I’ve just left an embarassing puddle of drool on the floor. there’s a great cheese shop here in Boston, it’s just that I have to put up a mortgage to buy anything there. Imported French honey was selling at $20 a bottle too!

  • Aaron
    April 26, 2007 11:56am

    Right the cheese…it’s not the thought of his “saucissons” lying near it that keeps you coming back…
    Got to love some eye candy with some great food…perfect combination…almost.

  • April 26, 2007 1:22pm

    I’m ashamed to admit that I used to love macaroni and cheese made with Velveeta. Now that I’m a grown up and have tried making mac and cheese with all kinds of delicious cheese (my favorite combo is sharp cheddar with herbed goat cheese thrown in at the end), there’s no going back. The great thing is, there is so much more cheese to explore! I’ve recently discovered Halloumi cheese, sauteed on a baguette – delicious!

  • Kami
    April 26, 2007 4:31pm

    My boyfriend teases me about having a “wine boyfriend” in every shop I frequent. Sounds like you’ve found your “fromage” boyfriend!

  • April 26, 2007 4:35pm

    Vicky: Enjoy the cheese. He’s down the end, in the center, towards the Bastille. J’adore le Cantal!

    Lizzy: “Topper Time!” I loved Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. My mother never would have served that but when I was a kid, my best friend moved to New Jersey. On visits, I learned all about Kraft Mac & Cheese, plus other delights like Chicken Fried in Special-K Crust (yum!) Hmmm. Wonder what my Parisian pals would think of that.

    Alisa: The D & G ad is on their website. It’s pretty, um, incredible. Isn’t it. I knew you’d be pleased…(and no batteries required!)

    Christine: See…I told you to stock up before you left.

    MadCarlotta: Is that a haiku to cheese? If so, you’re my new hero. (Well, after the Cantal-dude.)

    Aaron: I’ll try to get a pic to post on my Flickr page. Of these cheese and sausages, or course…did you want me to post a pic of something else?

    Johanna: Sounds like someone’s overdue for a trip across the Channel..let me know when you arrive. Have I got a fromagerie to take you to! Or maybe we need to start a cheese-swap: Neal’s Yard’s outstanding Montgomery cheddar for forme d’ambert? It’s a deal!

  • April 26, 2007 5:15pm

    Hmm. You are making me think fondly of one of the better pizzas I ever had upstairs at Chez Panisse. I believe it was cantal and butternut squash.


    Drooling over the thought of any Parisien fromagerie.


  • April 26, 2007 6:19pm

    Thanks for all the cheese links. For my money, there’s nothing better than cheese and bread. OK, cheese and bread and wine! Can’t wait to try some of the above mentioned cheeses.

  • MadCarlotta
    April 26, 2007 8:12pm

    It was indeed a haiku to cheese :)

    I was trying to write an ode to “meaty saucissons” as well, but ran out of steam. Probably for the best.

  • Eye_carl
    April 26, 2007 8:46pm

    That looks like the real deal David, not the soft whimpy stuff we get here in the States, dont get me wrong you can get your hands on the good stuff, dry aged an all, but you have to shop around.

  • April 27, 2007 5:04am

    Cantal is wonderful cheese, especially Cantal vieux. I love Laguiole too. Every Tuesday has become cheese tasting day in our house. Any more recommendations?

  • cj
    April 27, 2007 6:02am

    I just got back from Paris and brought home a hunk of Cantal cheese-one of my favourites. Also had the meal of my life in Chez Michel. And the best falafel in the world (as you promised)- reminded me of the Falafel Man who used to sell it from his little cart outside of Hunter College in New York. I had your sour cherries, too.

  • cj
    April 27, 2007 6:02am

    I just got back from Paris and brought home a hunk of Cantal cheese-one of my favourites. Also had the meal of my life in Chez Michel. And the best falafel in the world (as you promised)- reminded me of the Falafel Man who used to sell it from his little cart outside of Hunter College in New York. I had your sour cherries, too.

  • April 27, 2007 8:31am

    Thanks for the cheese tips, David. Now I’ve added Richard Lenoir to my list of stops AND ordered the Eyewitness book, plus the EW wine book.

    Thanks for helping me spend my money.

  • MadCarlotta
    April 27, 2007 9:53am

    cj, I remember that guy from when I lived in NYC! There was also a great falafal place right near where I lived on Ave. A in the E. Village.

  • April 27, 2007 6:46pm

    love cantal..especially like cantal onion soup…its a very white and delicate caramelisation of the onions.

  • April 29, 2007 11:14am

    ok DAvid.. enough..
    we have seen the big hunk of where is the big hunk of the cheese boy?

  • Alisa
    April 29, 2007 11:27am

    awww David, you made me smile and blush….shucks

  • April 29, 2007 5:12pm


    I’m with you…I have never met a cheese I didn’t like! And I don’t like those Kraft slices…it’s only the real stuff for me baby! I am lucky enough to have some good cheeses available to me locally, but nothing compared to the cheese I had in Paris. Ohhhh that Roquefort! Mmmmmmm

  • Jennifer
    April 30, 2007 6:58am

    I’ve recently discovered that my local fromagerie on rue d’Auteuil stocks Montgomery’s cheddar…much closer than Neal’s Yard!

  • April 30, 2007 8:20am

    All the blogs I’ve been reading this a.m. conspire to make me miss Paris. I’m remembering our last trip and it wasn’t cantal that got me, but picodons. Perfect, tiny, goaty picodons. I can taste them in my dreams. Can’t get them here anymore — no one will ship. But makes them taste all the better when we’re there.

    I think I may have seen your Cantal guy (or a less hunky relation, anyway) at a different market once. We ended up with a huge slab of cheese and a hunk of sausage that we couldn’t finish but couldn’t refuse. C’est la vie.

  • Karla
    May 1, 2007 4:14pm

    I love you David, but you’ve got to quit the “er’s” and “on second thought I’ll cross that off” stuff. Too teenage diary. Don’t hate me.

  • emily cantal
    January 23, 2009 4:16am

    good day!!,you made me smile because cantal is my surname,,not yet to taste cantal cheese but i’m sure that’s very good.