Cheesemaking Class at Paroles de Fromagers

There’s nothing wrong with being a tourist. In fact, one of my favorite things to do in Paris is to “play tourist,” which means you get to do something fun around town rather than live like a local and stay home and do paperwork. The stars aligned when my friend Jane from La Cuisine cooking school and I both wanted to take a cheesemaking class at Paroles de Fromagers in Paris. I’ve been to a number of cheesemaking caves around France, but never one in Paris. So we signed up.

Unlike a lot of other cheese shops in Paris, Paroles de Fromagers don’t have shelves and shelves overloaded with cheeses. But their carefully edited selection is impressive in its brevity, and quality, and while we waited for our prof to arrive, we marveled at the incredible cheeses behind the counter. I was especially intrigued by the Tomme à l’ail des ours, cheese flecked with an allium similar to ramps or green garlic, which makes an incredible pesto and is dynamite in fondue, which I learned about in Switzerland. But we’re weren’t there to shop – but I’ll be back! – we were there to make cheese.

Friendly co-owner Romain Ricciardi soon greeted us in his shop, then took us into their cheese cave (cellar) for a look at the various cheeses that were ripening and finishing before being offered to customers. Both Romain and owner Pierre Brisson speak English and French, and the classes are given in either language. The class in English is two hours long and includes making cheese and butter, with a cheese and wine tasting at the end. The French class is three hours with no cheese tasting, which Romain said was because French people have already tasted plenty of cheeses.

Also, locals aren’t trying to pack as much into a one-week trip as a visitor, so Romain told us the classes in English are shorter. (He didn’t mention it, but for those of us who work, no matter what language we speak, a two-hour class fits better into our day.) Since overseas tourists are trickling back into town, we were the only two that day, and our class was in a hybrid of French and English, which Romain easily glides between.

We washed our hands well and donned the traditional rubber aprons of cheesemakers, while Romain poured a jug, about a gallon (4l), of raw milk into a saucepan. He gently heated it to 38ºC/100ºF and when it reached the magic number, added a little bit of présure (rennet) and let the milk sit until it coagulated. It’s a process that mimics the invention of cheese, when people stored and transported fresh milk in sacks made of animal stomachs, and at some point – voilà – they opened them when they arrived at their destination and found that the milk inside had solidified into cheese.

While one can sort of visually tell when the milk has coagulated, Romain did a curious test, dropping a plastic cup on the top of the milk, giving it a spin before dropping it on the surface. If it kept spinning on the surface after he released it, the milk wasn’t ready. When it stopped spinning, the milk was ready to be cut.

When made in larger sizes, French cheeses are sometimes called Tommes, a general name for pressed cheeses from alpine areas, such as Tomme de Savoie, Tomme de Pyrénées, Tomme des Bauges, or less-specifically, Tomme de Montagne (mountain) so perhaps one could call what we were making a petite Tomme de Paris? We were at the foot of Belleville, though, which admittedly is more of a hill than a mountain.

Most tommes are aged at least a few weeks or months, but some are aged several years. People tend to think older cheeses are better, which I did too…until I visited the caves of Comté and tasted young Comté there with the cheesemakers, which they preferred to eat as the younger, softer cheeses still had the taste of fresh milk whereas older cheeses have more concentrated flavors, and are nuttier and saltier.

Neither younger nor older cheese is better. It comes down to personal taste. If you’ve ever tasted a 9-month-old Brie Noir, it’s crumbly with a dark brown pâte, and so highly acidic that most find the cheese unappealing…which is being kind. (If you want to live like a local and try it, which I’ve done, people in the region dip it in coffee, which tames the flavor.) Most of us prefer a younger Brie de Meaux that’s two months old, but to each their own and fortunately there are plenty of cheeses to go around.

After the milk had set Romain cut the curds into larger pieces with a chef’s knife, then let them rest for a few minutes, then cut the curds again into smaller bits.

There was plenty of liquid pooling in the saucepan, but as he transferred the curds to a strainer lined with étamine (muslin cloth), he pressed the top of the mold gently to express even more of the whey out. When Jane asked what the whey could also be used for, being a cheesemaker, Romain mentioned ricotta and I remember how the cheesemaker I visited in Sicily used the whey to make fresh ricotta, which was the best ricotta I’ve ever had.

But Romain also mentioned that athletes sometimes drink the cloudy, viscous whey as it’s very high in protein. That sounded not like my cup of tea and since I’m not an athlete, I’ll stick to getting my whey via ricotta-filled cannoli.

In addition to wondering what to do with the whey, in case you’ve also wondered, “Why is cheese so expensive?” the gallon jug of milk that was used went into making the one (1) small round of cheese, which eventually fit into the palm of Romain’s hand, shown at the top of this post. It wasn’t quite finished but we tasted it and it had a marvelous lactic flavor, and of course, tasted strongly of very fresh, right-from-the dairy milk.

Then we moved on to butter. Most of the liquid heavy cream in France is around 30% fat, a few percentage points lower than its American counterpart. But French crème fraîche is another story and even the most hardcore dieter will succumb to the thick, creamy charms of French crème fraîche. Oddly, I couldn’t find a French word for “dieter” and my Larousse dictionary only gave a workaround with the rather wordy – personne qui suit le régime, which is a mouthful. But it’s best not to talk about diets and régimes when there’s French crème fraîche around. It’s hard to say non to.

Romain scooped some crème fraîche into a bowl, which he said was around 45 to 50% fat.

As he whipped the ivory-hued crème, the soon-to-be butter began to turn yellow, and he kept whisking…

Less than 30 seconds later, the cream continued to thicken further, losing some of its luster, but making up for it by revealing larger and larger clumps of butterfat, until…

…the butter massed firmly in and around the whisk, as most of the water had been expunged, looking like a mistake that most harried professional bakers who’ve whipped a lot of whipped cream in heavy-duty mixers have seen before when they left the machine unattended on high speed to hurry things along, only to come back to a big bowl of clumpy cream. (Tip: Folding in liquid heavy cream will smooth it out, unless it’s gone too far.)

When I asked about the beautiful golden color it had taken on, Romain said it was a natural chemical reaction. The color also depended on what the cows ate, and what breed they were.

After he kneaded and patted the butter gently to get even more of the water out, he asked if we liked salted, half-salted, or unsalted butter. I didn’t wait for Jane to reply and said “Salted!” so he kneaded in some crystals of salt.

You’d think that after twenty years, I’d know there were three types of butter in France (although the upside of being a tourist is that you aren’t expected to know everything…); doux (unsalted), demi-sel (partially-salted, up 3%), and sel (more than 3% salt) …the last of which I do know is my favorite. But there’s still so much to learn.

I tasted a bit of the butter on its own and it was truly wonderful and rich and sweet and creamy and fresh milky and crunchy-salty as it was, but it was even better on slices of wheat-rye sourdough bread from Mami bakery just up the street.

Jane and I finished our class with a cheese tasting, declining the wine – because (unfortunately) we’re not really on vacation – but indulged in a 24 month aged Comté that was nutty and rich, and slices of Salers, a cheese that Romain said people don’t often appreciate as much anymore because there are so many industrial versions on the market that they forgot how good the artisanal version is. The other two were a little button of Mâconais, a small partially dried goat cheese with a slightly creamy center, and Soumaintrain, a creamy-soft cow’s milk cheese from Burgundy that comes in pasteurized and non-pasteurized versions and the wedge he offered was a compelling argument in favor of the raw-milk cheese version.

Of course, the cheeses were stellar but I was especially surprised at how good that butter was. There’s no shortage of great butter in France, that’s for sure, and I’ve tasted a lot of it but this better was super fresh, and that’s hard to beat, even though beating it is the way to make it.

Paroles de Fromagers
41, rue de Faubourg de Temple (10th)
Métro: République or Goncourt

 

 

 

 

 

Cheesemaking Class at Paroles de Fromagers

24 comments

  • Leslie A Andersen
    October 19, 2021 3:29pm

    I just love your blog, thank you for sharing. Wish I could accompany you in all your travels.

  • Warren Lobo
    October 19, 2021 3:51pm

    Happy to say that I attended a cheese tasting with wine in 2018 at PdeF and it was simply wonderful. Having been to a few other tastings in Paris over the years, I knew what to look for and can attest that this experience was indeed very special and different from the rest. I bought some exceptional samples in the shop afterwards and enjoyed nibbling them with pickles and a demi baguette for lunch in a park the next day.

    • October 19, 2021 4:41pm
      David Lebovitz

      Glad you went! They’re very nice and it’s a special experience in Paris indeed…

  • Franko
    October 19, 2021 4:02pm

    i’ve made cheese in the past, and it’s a hobby i still want to get back into — although baking bread has taken up my time in recent years, being much more, umm, immediate as far as gratification goes…

    all that to say that i really love the tip about dropping a spinning the cup to see if the milk has set! brilliant!

  • Gwyn Ganjeau
    October 19, 2021 4:34pm

    I’m constantly gobsmacked by how one simple ingredent, milk, can be transformed into so many drastically different tastes. Magic.

    I started making butter about 10 years ago after seeing a fascinating article where a chef made butter one day for service and it was so delicious he continued to do so. He decided the treasure deserved a special vessel, so he had made special beautiful butter dishes made. Then he thought the lovely butter dishes were more beautiful than the dinnerware–hence new dishes. Then flatware and of course glasses. Because he made butter one day, his dining room was transformed. I’m embarrassed to say i don’t remember the name of the chef or the restaurant. It’s rather like a fairy tale in my mind.

    Also, home-made butter makes a FABulous host/ess gift! Easy to make and a delight to receive.

    • October 19, 2021 4:39pm
      David Lebovitz

      Yes, it’s quite remarkable how milk can be transformed in so many ways, in the world of cheese, and they’re all so different!

  • Margaret K Bradley
    October 19, 2021 4:41pm

    Please know that whey is wonderful for making bread, soups, cooking beans, among other things.

  • Carolyn
    October 19, 2021 5:34pm

    This post made my mouth water!
    You mentioned the lack of simple word for “diet” in French, I have always wondered if your French friends and acquaintances have the same degree of focus on special diets or eating restrictions that my sphere in the western USA has? Perhaps a topic for future post…
    Last century(!) I used to enjoy planning and giving proper sit down multi course dinner parties, but now it’s a pain as there will be so many different diets/dislikes to work around. On a similar vein, does the French medical system give the same healthy eating guidelines (including daily wine consumption, limits on saturated fats, etc.) as the USA? No one can tell me where is the science behind the 1 glass of wine a day limit for women, and I would be surprised if European women are told this, hmmm?

    • October 19, 2021 6:07pm
      David Lebovitz

      It’s hard to generalize but a lot of French people I’ve met (including doctors) talk a lot about cholesterol. I also live near a Weight Watchers branch and see people going in there. So like other countries people have their concerns and many also talk about wanted to lose a few kilos.

      Many ads for foods and fast-food restaurants carry a warning about eating and snacking, and recommend exercise, but I haven’t looked up any health guidelines (esp. in regard to a one glass of wine advisement) although I am sure they have them. Wine has been demonized for a while (I wrote about that in Drinking French) and the health minister took a strong stance again drinking wine, which didn’t go over well, especially in a country with a lot of winemakers(!)

  • Becky R.
    October 19, 2021 5:38pm

    Margaret is right! Whey makes terrific bread, and I also use dried whey in bread. It gives it a creamy texture and taste.

  • Leila Robson Armstrong
    October 19, 2021 7:09pm

    I also make simple cheese. Your blog is always fun to read and this one in particular was fascinating. Thank you

    • October 19, 2021 9:21pm
      David Lebovitz

      Thanks! Cheesemaking actually is quite simple, although the good cheeses are the result of a lot of knowledge and experience, however it was a lot of fun to make cheese with Romain. Glad you enjoyed reading it : )

  • Carolyn
    October 19, 2021 7:44pm

    I once took a behind the scenes tour in a very fancy restaurant, and the chef was using the leftover whey from his freshly made buffalo mozzarella to marinate lamb. According to him, whey has a tenderizing effect on meat.

    • October 19, 2021 9:23pm
      David Lebovitz

      There are some recipes out there for milk-braised meats (including bolognese sauce, which often has milk in it) which likely confirms what the chef told to you. But interesting that people take/drink whey to build muscle mass in humans, but it’s used with lamb to break down the muscles, to tenderize the meat…

  • rrose
    October 19, 2021 10:17pm

    I realize you cannot go through all the cheesemaking steps here but I do wonder how or when you added the factor that determines which cheese you are making. Also did you leave it there to age or bring it home to eat as fresh cheese. What kind did you make? Since France has so very many different types I’ve always wondered how each village ‘cultures’ or types the cheese they are known for. Anywhay ;) it sounds super fun and like a French cheesemaking class would be a travel must-do!

    • October 20, 2021 9:10am
      David Lebovitz

      I’ve visited a number of cheesemakers and wrote about Making Mimolette, Making Comté, and visiting a cheese ripening cave so you can see the different processes. The cheese we made, we left there, but the last photo in the post shows cheeses made 5 days before, that are still draining and aging.

      In France, terroir determines a lot about the cheese, such as what breed of cow is used, what they eat, as well as the conditions of the environment and so forth. Two recommended books that explain things more in-depth are DK French Cheeses and Cheese Primer (which focuses on cheeses around the world)

  • Sandra
    October 19, 2021 11:07pm

    That sounds like super fun. When I lived in Normandy I first tasted unsalted butter and thought it was heavenly. I grew up eating Welsh butter which is very salty. Now living in Canada I find the butter very bland, we have very little imported butter to enjoy.

  • susan
    October 20, 2021 5:02am

    TO DIE FOR!! and I too love Salty butter like Pasan Breton with salt swirled through it.

  • Judi
    October 20, 2021 8:26pm

    I love making homemade butter in my kitchenaid. Some wonderful dairies in the area and the butter is a cinch to make if you cover the mixer with a towel to catch the splatter. It’s a nice way to use extra heavy cream.

  • rrose
    October 21, 2021 5:18pm

    Thank you for the tips! Will check them out.

  • Pam
    October 21, 2021 6:55pm

    Oh, what fun! Thank you for sharing!

  • Susan Riggs
    October 22, 2021 6:54pm

    David, a great post, so interesting. I am always open to something new to do in Paris, tho I am so happy to just wander around, stopping in for a pastry or a glass of wine and then continuing on with exploring.
    I have done a food walking tour, a literary tour , a cooking class and a wine and cheese class. I am adding this to my “to-do list”
    Merci

  • Chris
    October 26, 2021 3:38pm

    I love to wake up and find your blog and then nap perchance to dream ( of freshly made cheese)

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