I don’t know about you, but I have pretty much been stalking Maggie’s tweets, Facebook updates, Instagrams, and blog updates since she arrived in Paris a few weeks ago. While she is there for work purposes, she also seems to be soaking up every Parisian moment she can, visiting old favorites and finding new gems to share with all of us. With all those beautiful images coming across my screen, I finally couldn’t take it anymore, and booked a trip to Paris myself. Yes, I am heading to France in just one month!
Now I am (happily) in research mode, planning a few days in Paris, a trip to Brittany, and hopefully a day or two in the Loire Valley. I am soaking up as much as I can, reading David Lebovitz, Dorie Greenspan, Clothide Dusoulier, and Maggie’s Paris Guide, trying to get a feel for what I want to do (and what I want to eat and drink, of course!)
To really get into the spirit, I visited my favorite cheese shop in Boston’s South End last weekend, Formaggio. With some help from my favorite cheese-monger, Anthony (who is also the beer buyer and in charge of all UK imports–best job ever!) I pulled together a cheese plate that featured the best of several French regions. I also learned a bit more about creating a cheese plate, and wanted to share that with you here.
The best thing to do is to pick a variety of cheeses in firmness, milk type and provenance. Try to choose at least one hard, one medium and one soft cheese, and those that were made from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk and goat’s milk. You might notice that I am missing a goat’s cheese here. I had a beauty all picked out to go, and somehow it didn’t get into my basket (sob). Covered in ash and coming from the Loire Valley, it was mild and oh-so-tasty. I think I was looking forward to it the most, but alas, it was a no-show to my French cheese party. I consoled myself with Camembert and Comté though, so life was still pretty good.
Camembert au Calvados, Cow’s Milk, Normandy
A mild, creamy cheese made with cow’s milk, Camembert is similar to what we Americans know as Brie, except (in my opinion) a whole lot tastier. Though we aren’t able to get the unpasteurized version here in the US (which is apparently all the more delicious), I do look forward to getting my hands on some in France. But in the meantime, this was an excellent stand-in. This particular round had been washed in Calvados, (an apple brandy made in Normandy) which produced a slightly stinky, sweet rind. Be sure to let this one come fully to room temperature.
Comté Fort St. Antoine, Cow’s Milk, Jura
A fixture in most French households, Comté is very similar to Gruyere, which is made in Switzerland. Comté can exhibit a wide range of flavors, depending on its age. Younger Comté is fruitier, grassier, a bit sweeter. Older Comté can taste nuttier and saltier. The one that we tried last weekend was on the younger side, and was one of the group’s favorites. A must-have for any French cheese plate.
Ekiola Ardi Gasna, Sheep’s Milk, French Basque Country
Similar to a Manchego (a Spanish cheese made not too far from this particular cheese), this was a mild, pleasant cheese to eat. Cheese made in the Basque region is often known for the sweet, grassy flavor imparted from the milk of the sheep that graze the hills and mountains of the Pyrenees.
Mimolette, Cow’s Milk, Nord-Pas-de-Calais
This cheese is made in the north of France, near the Belgian border. Bright orange in color and somewhere between a Gouda and a cheddar in taste, this cheese was a great addition to the cheese plate.
Roquefort Vieux Berger, Sheep’s Milk, Roquefort
I’ll admit it, I’m not much of a blue cheese lover. Anthony convinced me that it was important to have to round out the plate, and I couldn’t say no to such a gorgeous piece of cheese. Though I am still not over the moon for Roquefort, I did very much enjoy this on top of a bit of bread with a drizzle of honey on top.
Wine: Traditionally, red wine was recommended to go with cheeses. However, white wine has become more and more popular to pair with cheese. I think you should choose whatever kind of wine you like, but feel free to ask someone at your wine or cheese shop what they might recommend. Anthony showed me a white wine I had never tasted (or heard of before): Altesse, Roussette du Bugey-Montagnieu, a white wine from an area located between Lyon and Geneva, at the foothills of the Jura mountain range (close to where Comté is made). It was a really nice medium-bodied white that went very well with all the cheeses–bringing out the grassy notes of the milder cheeses and offering a bit of sweetness to temper the Roquefort. A great choice!
Sides: Cheese is wonderful on its own, but it can be even better with a few simple additions. I like to add a few sweet spreads (this time, I served black cherry preserves) and honey and a few sides with a stronger taste, like grainy mustard and cornichons. Crackers work, but I prefer cutting up a good quality baguette into small, almost bite-size pieces.
Etiquette: For a really great explanation about French cheese plate etiquette, check out David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris. In short:
- Eat the milder cheeses first and move to the stronger cheeses next.
- In restaurants, one typically does not go back for seconds. In the home, seconds can be okay, but going back for thirds is pushing it.
- Maintain the shape of the cheese (if it’s a wedge, cut a slice along the long side, never cut off the “nose”).
I think I have finally gotten over the missing ash-covered goat cheese. But you better believe I have put the Loire Valley on my travel itinerary, not as much for those famous Chateaux, but for that exemplary cheese that I so covet. Vive le France! Vive le fromage!
All photos styled and taken by Shelby Larsson, except for the French cheese print.
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