Cheese is some serious bacterial business in France. Just like their wine, they have a system of Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) that defends the authenticity of particular cheeses. What comes to mind when an American thinks of French cheese? Probably one of three things: Stinky, Creamy, or Scary. The three things that should come to mind when you think of French cheese? Stinky, Versatile, and Delicious.
Here are some serious French cheeses and their descriptions to help you choose the one that’s right for you. There are American versions of a few of the cheeses below, so you’ll want to make sure you source out a reputable cheese market for the real thing. Go on. Have a cheese moment.
A hard but pliant cheese. Golden-ivory colored, smooth, mellow, and slightly sweet. Floral notes and hints of hazelnuts, ripe fruit, and a buttery aroma make up its flavor profile. Comté is a great melting cheese, so think gourmet grilled cheese, matchstick slices tossed in salads loaded with fresh herbs, or shred it over scrambled or fried eggs. Experiencing gruyère overload? Sub in some comté.
Roquefort – sheep
Also known as "The King of Blues.” Roquefort is a rindless and fudgy hunk with blue-green veining. Rich, creamy, crumbly - this cheese is super punchy and salty. Best in sweet-salty combos, pair it up with figs, nuts, and drink Sauternes with it. If using Roquefort in savory dishes, remember that a little bit of this aggressive wedge goes a long way.
Epoisses – cow
The famous stinky Burgundian cheese. An assertive soft, runny, chewy cheese with a washed rind with whiffs of ammonia, barnyard, and flowers. Traditional Epoisses is definitely for the more adventurous turophiles due to its powerful smell. Be sure to eat her at room temperature. For a fun contrast, pair the stinker up with good dark chocolate – the earthiness of the chocolate will marry well with the rustic quality of the cheese, and the chocolate’s sweetness will be an appreciated contrast.
Camembert - cow
Brie and Camembert are often compared. Camembert has a stronger flavor than its counterpart and is divinely lactic, rich, creamy, mushroomy, earthy, and has a tender, bloomy rind. Fresh Camembert has a hard texture and a sweet, milky taste. The rind should be eaten with the cheese. Camembert is a perfect melted seal atop French onion soup and lovely with Beaujolais.
Emmental - cow
One of the mildest hunks in the bunch. Emmental is a firm cheese with a buttery and slightly nutty taste and features the characteristic holes or "eyes" typical of Swiss cheese. A popular cheese for simple sandwiches in France, use this one in combination with stronger cheeses to add depth to casserole-type dishes, or grate it some over hot soups.
Mimolette - cow
Mimolette is electric orange in appearance and is super-hard to the touch. A floral aroma, flavors of deep caramel, and a smooth and fudgy melt-in-your-mouth finish makes this a bold chunk to savor all by itself. A nocturnal crumble of mimolette would be a perfect Liz Lemon night cheese.
Tomme de Savoie – cow
Semi soft with musky, buttery notes and vegetal aromas – tomme is totally rustic and simple choice. Definitely eat the rind; the earthiness of it would go superbly with Crozes Hermitage or a malty Belgian Dubbel.
Reblochon - cow
Reblochon has a creamy, softer-than-Brie texture, a nutty cellar-like after taste, and a strong herbal aroma with a velvety washed rind. This is a rich and sexy cheese. Eat it by itself and have your way with it.