“How could you possibly govern a country in which there are 246 varieties of cheese?” exclaimed Charles de Gaulle. This line went down in history, but it was far off the actual total: There are more than 1,200 varieties of cheese in France! It would be impossible to name them all, and so Dominique Bouchait, a cheesemonger from Southwest France and winner of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France contest, limited himself to those with the Protected Designation of Origin (AOP) label, a guarantee of quality and know-how introduced by the European Union in 1992.
Each cheese has its own page. Did you know, for example, that the Roman emperor Antoninus Pius died of indigestion after eating Banon, a Provençal goat cheese aged in chestnut leaves? Or that Louis XV was a “huge fan” of Mont d’Or? There is also a cheese for every season. Comté, Epoisses, and Roquefort can be enjoyed throughout the year, but Langres is better in the fall and Brie de Melun in winter and spring. Readers will also learn how to store, cut, and serve each cheese in the book. And they do not all pair well with red wine! To avoid a disastrous combination, match the colors. Vin Jaune from Jura is excellent with an aged Comté, while a Madiran red wine is well-suited to an Ossau-Iraty from the Pyrenees.
The author grew up in his parents’ cheese store before taking over the family business at the age of 22, and answers every question a cheese enthusiast might ask. Why do the French prefer cheeses made with raw milk? Is cheese good for your health? Do all French regions produce cheese? Why do some cheeses have holes in them? Should you eat the rind? And which cheese has most often been sent into space?
Cheese is traditionally enjoyed at the end of a meal between the final course and the dessert, but it can also be used in cooking. Fresh cheese thickens sauces and binds stuffing, while drier cheeses go well in soups, gratins, and fondues. In conclusion, Dominique Bouchait offers 40 recipes, traditional dishes, and gourmet creations from fellow cheesemakers and chefs. Expect fondue savoyarde with Abondance, Beaufort, and Etivaz, Reblochon tartiflette, Brie de Melun quiche, creamy turnip soup with Saint-Nectaire, drunken Munster with cream, Saint-Marcellin cappuccino with caviar, and banana gratin with Roquefort.
Fromages: An Expert’s Guide to French Cheese by Dominique Bouchait, Rizzoli, 2019.
Article published in the June 2019 issue of France-Amérique. Subscribe to the magazine.