It was French President Charles de Gaulle who famously said, “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” That was in 1962. Today there are nearly 400 distinct cheeses in France, and discussing and eating them is a national pastime. Anyway you slice it, this is the land of fromage and it is a source of regional pride. Just like with wine, many varieties have their own AOC, or Appellation d’origine contrôlée. Roquefort only comes from Roquefort and it must adhere to strict regulations to earn the name. The types of cheese in France are as varied as the landscapes, and while it may seem like a love of pungent cheese is in the blood of the French, I believe it’s an acquired taste. Rather than going straight for the Brie on your next trip to Paris, push your palate by trying one of the following stinky cheeses and do as the French do: savor it after your meal, preferably with a digestif.
Made in the Champagne region, the cylinder shaped Langres has a concave top for holding a bit of the famed sparkling wine. Beneath the wrinkly rind you’ll find a dense and creamy cheese that is soft and slightly crumbly. The flavor is fresh and grassy at first, but rounds out with a nice smokiness. Langres needs five weeks of aging and is excellent between May and August (even cheese in France is seasonal). Pair with rosé champagne; the wine’s strawberry notes make for a great accompaniment to the smoky cheese.
2. Pont l’Évêque
Pont l’Évêque, a semi-hard cheese made with uncooked and unpressed cow’s milk, is one of the oldest cheeses in France and has been made in Normandy since the 12th century. It has a very pungent aroma due to its moist crust, but the cheese inside is creamy with a mild and earthy flavor. Pont L’Évêque has had its own AOC since 1976 and it can be enjoyed in the spring, summer, and fall. Pair it with regional Norman cider or calvados.
3. Trou du Cru
Ivory-yellow Trou du Cru comes from the Burgundy region of France and is made with pasteurized cow’s milk. The smooth, creamy fromage is complex with a nutty flavor and a sharp aftertaste. Made in small molded rounds, it matures more quickly then its relative, Époisses de Bourgogne. Each cheese is smear ripened, or washed individually with Marc de Bourgogne, a strong local brandy, so it smells a bit like alcohol and hay. Trou du Cru works well with the toasted and vanilla notes you find in a Bourgogne white wine like Meursault.
4. Époisses de Bourgogne
Napoléon was reportedly a fan of Époisses de Bourgogne, a soft cheese so smelly it’s been banned from some public transportation in France. The distinctive red-orange cheese is made in the village of Époisses, between Dijon and Auxerre. After nearly going extinct during the World Wars, it was resurrected by French farmers in the 1950s and Fromagerie Berthaut still manufactures nearly all Époisses. The unpasteurized cows milk cheese is smear ripened just like Trou du Cru, and it’s a bit chewy with a salty, sweet; and slightly spicy flavor. The strong cheese works better with a hearty beverage, like Trappist beer, than with wine.
French Munster is nothing like the mild American muenster cheese you may be familiar with. The strong tasting, semi-soft cheese comes from the Alsace town of Munster and is made mainly with milk from cows who graze in the Vosges Mountains. Left to age in a damp cellar for anywhere from five weeks to three months depending on the size, the odor is pungent (some compare it to sweaty feet) and the rind, which is periodically rinsed with brine, is quite tangy. The cheese itself has a savory and salty flavor that pairs well with Alsatian whites, like dry Riesling.
The King of French cheeses, Roquefort was the first recipient of an AOC in France in 1925, though it’s probably much, much older. Roquefort is mentioned in literature as far back as 79AD. The sheep’s milk blue cheese comes from the south of France, and to earn the name Roquefort, cheeses must be ripened in the natural caves of Mont Combalou in Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. Roquefort is tangy and crumbly with veins of green mold and is at once sweet, smoky, and salty. Roquefort packs a punch, and a full-bodied and well-balanced red like Bordeaux pairs nicely, but if you really want white, try a minerally Sancerre.
The aroma of Maroilles, a cow’s milk cheese from Northern France, is funky — it smells like a barnyard— but the flavor of the creamy cheese is a bit milder with a slight sweetness. Maroils was invented in the 10th century by a monk and was reportedly the favorite cheese of several French Kings, including Phillip II and Francis I. Pair this cheese with something sweet, like cider or late-harvest Gewürztraminer.
8. Vieux Lille
Vieux Lille is ripened Maroilles and is often called the most pungent cheese in France—its nickname is “old stinker.” The semi-soft cheese is soaked for three months in brine to give it a salty taste, and while the aroma is undoubtedly strong, I actually find the flavor to be more nuanced and well-balanced than Maroilles. It’s spicy and salty with a lingering nutty aftertaste. This cheese is more readily available during the winter months and it pairs well with red Burgundy or champagne.
Some great cheese shops in Paris are:
Barthélémy – 51 Rue de Grenelle, 75007. Tel: +33 (0)1 42 44 82 24
Fromagerie Jouannault – 39 Rue de Bretagne, 75003. Tel: +33 (0)1 42 78 52 61
Laurent Dubois – 47 Ter Blvd. Saint-Germain, 75005. Tel: +33 (0)1 43 54 50 93
- Our advice on navigating the French fromagerie and properly storing your cheese.
- Casey also gives advice on amazing and affordable wines from Burgundy. Consider picking up a bottle of red to pair with your Vieux Lille.
Written by Casey Hatfield-Chiotti for the HiP Paris Blog. All images by Casey Hatfield-Chiotti. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, London, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.