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The Rules of French Cheese Eating and tips from the best cheesemongers in London
How gloriously addictive it is! An overpowering obsession with it is the birthright of any self-respecting French citizen ! Cheese… !!!!!
Some countries may be richer in other natural resources but France leads the world in one area of deliciously inexhaustible wealth. Our gastronomic treasure trove comes from our rich individuality, our determination to be different, our stubbornness to never be outdone by our neighbours, and our loyalty to the regional idiosyncracies of our ‘terroir’. It is little wonder that De Gaulle ascribed the difficulties of ruling France to the frustratingly, deliciously diverse range of gastronomic delights of our national cheeseboard (‘How can you rule a country with more than 400 different types of cheese?’).
English supermarkets now boast pale own-label imitations of some of our better-known cheeses, but you must hunt out the authentic ‘artisanal’ versions of these delights and also be prepared to venture off the beaten track into the lesser-known regional offerings. Who could resist a 24-month-matured comté or a piece of beaufort ? How about the guilty pleasure that is the Basque-ewe-tomme with black cherry jam. This sweet-savoury mix is the equivalent of a gastronomic orgasm (or so we are told)! Not forgetting the wonderfully-named tête de moine. This one even comes with its own serving apparatus called a « girolle » which creates « cheese petals » with the
turning of a scraper. This cheese has the unfortunate disadvantage of being Swiss, but it is clearly, like the Swiss, doing its best to be French.
The philosophy of cheese
This is perhaps the most vexing and controversial of the philosophical debates which animate dinner tables on the opposing sides of the Channel. To the consternation of visitors from ‘Outre-Manche’, cheese in England is traditionally served after dessert and generally with a glass of claret or port. This is sacrilegious for the French.
In France, cheese must be served before dessert, enlivened by a fresh green salad. Many experts would also recommend that you swap your red wine for the subtler alternatives of a good yellow wine of the Jura, a Silvaner from Alsace or a Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc. The English may feel that the robust coarseness of their Cheddar benefits from being swilled down with red wine but too much tannin can drown the more refined delights of the great French cheeses.
The art of cheese
A good cheese tray should offer the extra range of flavours and colour that come with the decorative addition of walnuts and dry fruits. It should offer visual and gustatory variety but should never be overloaded such that there is too much choice (you must show that you have chosen your cheese with the same care as your wine) or such that guests have difficulty serving themselves (on the assumption that your dinner parties do not include a ‘maitre d’hotel’ with a cheese trolley).
It is also clearly a major ‘faux pas’ if your cheese is too cold , so your choices must be taken out of the fridge at least one hour before serving to allow their flavours to develop properly.
Last but by no means least, you must not forget the bread. A delightfully simple baguette, a gloriously tasty walnut and grape loaf, or some interesting sourdough - anything but the biscuits that too often disgrace English tables !!
French cheesmongers' recommendations
For Christmas, The Androuet cheese shop has on offer a selection of Christmas hampers. For example, the “Henry Androuet hamper” is composed of Brie de Meaux, Epoisses, Westcombe Cheddar 16 months, Stilton and Titounet.
Old Spitalfields Market
107b Commercial St
London E1 6BG
Tel : 020 7375 3168
For Beillevaire, “Cheese is such a generous product that it must be shared with friends!”
7 Montpelier street - Knightsbridge
SW7 1EX - LONDON
Tel: 0207 584 1231
Tray Gourmet is first and foremost a service company. They provide customers with the best-suited solution to their catering needs, with the help of their professional and dedicated team.
With 13 years of experience behind them, there are loads of very happy and satisfied customers. They offer private and corporate catering with a hint of 'Frenchness' : breakfast, buffet, cocktail, launches, weddings...
Tray Gourmet also sells some delicious cheeses. Nicolas Dreyfus, Managing Director of French caterers Tray Gourmet, gives his recommendation for the perfect cheese tray pick one in each category:
- Full fat soft cheese: Camembert, Brie, Triple Cream
- Washed rind Cheese: Munster, Stinking Bishop
- Medium soft cheese: Port Salut, Tomme de Savoie, Saint Nectaire
- Hard Cheese: Meule de Savoie, Comté, Beaufort, Cheddar, Cantal
- Blue Cheese: Stilton, Roquefort, Fourme d'Ambert
- Goat Cheese: Crottin de Chavignol, Saint Maure, Pouligny St Pierre
240 Fulham Road,
Tel: 020 7352 7676
Une Normande à Londres
Une Normande à Londres sells a large variety of French cheeses on markets in London. Their selection includes more than 70 different cheeses from the classic Camembert or Brie to the more obscure Tête de Moine or Sainte Maure.
Une Normande à Londres is run by Franck and Yann Leblais, originally from Normandy. They work with a team of dynamic cheese sellers coming from all over France (Savoie, Paris, Britanny,...)
The Perfect Cheese Board
Cheeses selected this year by une Normande à Londres
This year, une Normande à Londres has chosen Charolais, an unpasteurized goat’s cheese, with a cream or blue-tinged rind. Its slightly acidic, walnut and mushroom flavours work well with a drizzle of Corsican honey.
Beaufort d’Alpage is a nutty lingering unpasteurized cow hard cheese from Savoie, The Prince of Gruyere cheese made right up the mountain in a chalet.
Brillat-Savarin with truffles follows, it is a triple cream lush buttery unpasteurized cow’s cheese, that was prepared with black truffles.
The Vacherin du Mont d’or never fails to attract interest, spoon it at will.
Bleu des Basques is a dense Stilton like blue veined cheese made of pasteurized ewe’s milk in the Basque country. It has a lingering nuttiness and fruit hints that will conclude well any cheese platters.
To accompany the cheese, our new favourite Champagne the Waris-Larmandier Sensation, it fizzles on your tongue with zesty citruses bubblying cheese flavours around your mouth, both white and walnut and raisin bread, some quince paste, it works admirably with blue cheese, a small pot of Corsican honey and some black cherry jam. Merry Christmas!!!
Tel: 020 8607 9762