TOP 10 FRENCH CHEESES

The saying goes that there is a different French cheese for each day of the year. Well, in fact there is probably more than that. Estimated numbers reach as many as 400 French cheeses. Of these 46 are strictly controlled under the label AOC - appellation d'origine controllée. So when you're looking to bring back some local cheese from your walking or trekking holiday, or just looking for something different from your local specialist shop, how do you go about choosing the right one for you or your family. Our top 10 article takes you on a trip around a number of regions in France and selects some of the best and sometimes unusual fromage français.

Morbier - Jura, eastern France

One of my personal favourites, the Morbier, an AOC since 2000 is centred on the village with the same name in Jura in eastern France. Made from unpasturised cow milk, the cheese averages 7kg and is spingy in consistency. Its origins go back to the 19th century during the preparation of the well known local cheese Comté. After preparing the Comté from the morning's milk supply, the milk left over was stored and pressed by the farmer in a separate container and covered in a fine layer of ash to protect it from insects. The evening milk was then added to the first layer later. Originally it was only for the farmers own consumption. Today, the layer has a purely decorative role, but it's sweet and fruity flavour helps give this Jura cheese an original taste. Taste it on our guided walking holiday - Jura Discovery.

morbier cheese jura France French walking holiday

Beaufort - Savoie, France

The Beaufort is a smooth, solid yellow cheese produced in the high valleys and mountains of the Savoie or Savoy of the Alps in France, including the Vanoise massif. The Beaufort is typically about 50cm in diametre and weighs around 30 - 70kg. It benefits from an AOC since 1968 and is made from unpasturised pressed milk taken during the summer months. At the begining of June, the cows are taken (transhumance) upto the summer alpine meadows (alpage) at 1500m to 2500m in altitude where they graze on a rich mix of wild flowers and grasses. The Beaufort takes atleast 5 months to produce and is an essential ingredient in alpine dishes such as the foundu savoyarde and the gratin de crozets. Try typical dishes and cheese from the French Alps on our guided walking holiday in the Vanoise National Park.

French Beaufort cheese Alpine trekking tour

Saint Nectaire - Auvergne, France

This rich cream coloured cheese is perhaps one of the most artisanal in France. Labelled an AOC in 1955 and 1964, the Saint Nectaire can only be made in 72 parishes (the smallest area of any French cheese) mostly in the Puy de Dome area of Auvergne on rich volcanic soil. The finished circular cheeses weigh 600g and have a slight taste of hazelnut. The parish of Saint Nectaire itself on the edge of the Auvergne regional park is home to a wonderful roman church. Try a number of Auvergne cheeses on our guided walking holiday in the Puy de Dome region.

saint nectaire cheese Auvergne guided walking France

Saint Marcellin - Daupiné, France

This small white cheese, weighing just 80g, is both rich in flavour and history. A favourite with the royal family since the time of Louis 14th in the 15th century, Saint Marcellin is a soft cheese produced from cow milk in 300 parishes in the Dauphine region of France. This region covers parts of the western Alps in the Departments of Isere, Drome and Savoie and covers the Vercors massif. Saint Marcellin is best eaten with salad and garlic croutons. Visit the beautiful but little known Vercors region on our guided walking holiday - jewel in the Alps.

saint marcellin guided walking alps vercors

Mont d'Or - Haut Jura, France

For this soft cheese we return to the Jura in eastern France. AOC since 1981, the Mont d'Or is one of those cheeses, like Roblechon (see below) that is best cooked. Its soft nature at the end of its refinement means that it is parcelled in a round wooden package made from Spruce bark (still hand made). Cook the cheese in its packaging in the oven with some white Côte de Jura wine and then poor over potatoes and cold meats for a wonderful and original meal. Named after the highest mountain in the department of Doubs in Franche Comté, the Mont d'Or originated in the 18th century when using the rarer winter milk to make cheese for the farmers own use (the abondent spring milk being used for comté).

mont d'or cheese in Jura guided walking holiday France

Cantal - Auvergne, France

Another personal favourite, the Cantal is a cylindrical, tall and solid cheese weighing between 35 and 45kg, produced in the Cantal Department in the Auvergne region of France. An AOC since 1956, it has an intense and lasting fruity flavour. The cows are kept during the grazing season on high mountain pastures such as the Cézallier. Here, on the flank of the remains of the largest volcanoe in western Europe, the rock is rich in minerals and produces excellent pasture. The Cantal is refined in caves and just like wine its flavour becomes richer as it ages. The Cantal has 3 different AOC's that require different lengths of refinement. Cheese from the Cantal were first mentioned in roman times. Take a look at our guided walking holiday in the Cantal mountains.

Cantal fromage Auvergne walking France

Reblochon - Haute Savoie, France

AOC since 1958, this springy cheese from the Haute Savoie region of France, makes it into our list due to its use in one of my favouraite alpine dishes the Tartiflette. The cheese is placed on top of a dish of potatoes, onions and bacon pieces and allowed to melt creating a lovely meal, ideal after those long mountain walks - such as in those on our guided trekking holidays. The cheese has the taste of hazelnuts and originates from the Savoyarde word re-blocher meaning milked for a second time. Since the 13th century, the first milk of the day was used by the landowners, often the abbeys, whilst the 2nd, much reduced in quantity but creamier milk was used by the dairymen for their own consumption.

reblochon cheese for alpine dish tartiflette

Charolais - Burgundy, France

This small soft cheese is produced in the Charolais hills of southern Burgundy, north of Beaujolais in central France. Made from whole goats milk it has a very characteristic taste, after a minimum time of 16 days refinement. It has claimed some recent notoriety by becoming the 46th and newest AOC in January 2010. Take a look at our independent walking holiday in southern Burgundy.

 

Artison - Haute Loire, France

The Artison or artisou is a small, solid cheese about 10cm in diametre, produced in the upland region of Haute Loire in the Auvergne. The Ariston is made from a mixture of the eveing and morning milk, the first where the cream has been partly removed, the second which has been curdled. Produce from unpasturised milk, it takes 3 weeks to 2 months to refine into a cheese with a distinctive and slightly acidic taste. Take a look at our independent walking holiday in the Haute Loire.

Artison Haute Loire Aivergne French guided walking

Munster - Alsace, France

Our last selection in our top 10 of French cheeses is certainly the smelliest of the lot. Thankfully it's gentle flavour is nowhere near as pungent. AOC sine 1969, the Munster is produced in 7 French departments including Lorraine and Alsace. It is a relatively small cheese, weighing an average 1kg and takes a minimum of 3 weeks to refine. Legend has it that the recipe for this cheese comes from a passing Irish monk in the 9th century. Take a look at our independent walking holiday in the Alsace.

Munster cheese Alsace France independent walking holiday

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