A lesson on French cheeses

French cheese_8I was lucky enough to enjoy a fun-filled week trekking through Paris and some of France’s lovely little villages with my mom and family friend recently. As most people know, the French know how to do food–from its sumptuous wines to rich chocolates and pastries. But most importantly, the French know a little something about cheese.

And on this trip, I savored every bit of it.

During one afternoon aboard our river ship, our Program Directors put together a fabulous lesson on cheeses from the Normandy region of France, where they explained some of the important things to know about this little piece of pride and joy for the country.

French cheese_2
A traditional French cheese spread

First and foremost, I realized very quickly that I’ve been serving my cheese all wrong for a very long time. Every time I put together (what I think is) a fabulous platter of cheeses for guests, I serve the cheese alongside fruit, crackers, jams/jellies, and honey. Well it turns out, this is NOT how the French do a cheese plate. The proper way to compose a cheese platter is to set your cheese out with very thin slices of a baguette and wine (which helps to enhance the taste of the cheese). Although I plan to take this lesson to heart when I put together my next cheese plate, I can’t shy away from including a bunch of grapes (Sorry, French friends: I simply can’t NOT include the sweet accompaniment). But if I want to truly do as the French do, it means no jams, honey, etc. Sigh. And I thought I was being so fancy …


Now back to the main event: the cheese. We started by learning about Pont-l’Évêque, which originated in the the Calvados area of Normandy. It is a cow’s-milk cheese and is normally square in shape. Believed to be one of the oldest Norman cheeses still being produced, to say this cheese is a bit potent is an understatement. But it’s super creamy and is often compared to Brie or Camembert. It was divine!


We then moved on to Camembert, which originated in northern France at Camembert, Normandy. It’s a soft, creamy cow’s milk cheese, often compared to Brie. The cheese is typically found in a small round container and is fully covered by its rind (unlike Brie, which is normally found in a large round container and is not completely covered by the rind). Camembert tends to have more of a sour taste and is softer when compared to Brie. Another winner in my book!


The final cheese we sampled was Neufchâtel, a soft, almost crumbly cheese. Many compare this type of cheese to our American cream cheese. Neufchâtel is similar to Camembert, with an edible rind, but tastes a bit saltier and smells a little like mushrooms. You can most often find it packaged in a heart shape. One word: Glorious!

Who am I kidding? I love cheese, so it’s no surprise I adored each and every one. I was in heaven during this lesson. And there’s something special about learning about where each cheese comes from and how it got to where it is today. If you haven’t sampled these delightful types of cheeses for yourself, please do. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

And don’t forget your slice of baguette and glass of wine. Bon appétit!

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