One of the best parts about visiting any part of the world is enjoying the different regional foods and beverages. This is especially true when you visit France. Although France has many wonderful things to eat and drink, they are particularly known for their excellent and varied cheeses. Practically any region you visit has a locally made cheese, from mild Camembert to pungent bleu.
French cheese regions and the cheese they produce
French cheeses are as much a part of the region they come from as wine. The French concept of "terroir" describes this phenomenon and means the coming together of soil, grass, humidity, sun and temperature to create an ideal growing environment. Like wine, French cheese regions are protected by law. For instance, only cheese produced in Roquefort can be labeled as such. All other, similar cheese is bleu cheese.
Below are a few of the more popular French cheese regions and the cheeses they produce:
- Alsace -- Munster
- Auvergne -- Bleu, cantal and Saint Auger
- Burgundy -- Delice de Bourgogne , epoisses,
- Champagne -- Charouce, langres
- Corsica -- Brocciu
- Franche-Comté -- Bleu, comte, mont d'or, morbier
- Ile de France -- Brie, brillat-savarin, coulommiers
- Loire Valley -- Port salut
- Midi-Pyrenees -- Bethmal, laguiole, roquefort,
- Normandy -- Camembert, livarot, neufchatel
- Pas-de-Calais -- Mimolette
- Pays Basque -- Ossau-iraty
- Rhone-Alpes/Savoie -- Abondance, beaufort, emmental, fromager d'affinois, raclette, reblochon, saint-felicien, saint-marcellin, tomme de savoie
Pairing wine with cheese
Wine and cheese are a natural combination. However, the wrong wine with the wrong cheese can taste just awful. Follow these time-honored French wine and cheese pairings for success:
- Beaujolais with brie, camembert or most any soft-ripening goat cheese
- Cabernet Sauvignon with bleu, roquefort or camembert
- Champagne with beaufort, brie, neufchatel
- Gewurtztraminer with boursin, chevre
- Port with bleu, roquefort
- Chardonnay with epoisses, chantel, chource
- Chenin Blanc with raclette de savoie
- Pinot Blance with ossau-iraty, pont l'eveque
- Vignoier with light bleu cheeses, brillat-savarin, livarot
When in doubt, pair mild wines with mild cheeses and pair wines and cheeses together that are produced in the same region.
French cheese party tips
A French cheese party is a great way to share your passion for cheese with your friends. It's also a relatively inexpensive way to throw an elegant gathering. If you're hosting a French cheese party, follow these tips to get the most enjoyment from your Gallic cheeses:
- Don't overwhelm your guests' taste buds. Three to five cheeses are sufficient.
- You want to have a variety of flavor profiles, such as a mild Camembert, a robust port salut and a forceful Roquefort.
- To allow the flavors to fully develop, allow the cheeses to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes prior to serving.
- It's a good idea to have something else for your guests to nibble on other than cheese, but you don't want to outshine the cheese. Loaves of french bread, unsalted nuts, small sweet pickles, plain crackers and fruit like apples or grapes are good choices.
- Print cards that identify the cheeses, their flavor profiles and where they are produced, so that your guests will learn something about what they are eating.
- For taste and health reasons, use a separate knife for each cheese you serve.
- Keep the guest list to around six to twelve people. Any more than that and the food table can get crowded.
- Pre-cut at least one slice of each block or round of cheese so that guests will feel more comfortable diving in.
Tasting French cheese on a barge vacation
Many barge cruise itineraries lend themselves to a cheese and wine sampling tour. Among these are cruises through the waterways of Burgundy and Champagne with visits to Auxerre, Chablis and Noyers; cruises on the Upper Loire River; and voyages on the Canal du Midi with stops at Colombiers and the walled Provencal city of Carcassonne. Of course, you don't even have to leave the barge to enjoy wonderful French cheeses and other dishes. Each vessel has its own chef on board who makes gourmet meals each day using fresh ingredients found in local markets along the cruise route. The barges also offer a fun cheese chat during your cruise explaining all the different cheeses and history. It's a delicious way to learn.
This blog was brought to you by The Barge Connection, a leading provider in barge vacations since 1998. We specialize in matching customers with the barge cruise that best suits their lifestyle, interests and budget.