French food books - the perfect foodie gift guide for Christmas and birthday presentsWhether there’s a birthday looming or you’re seeking gifts for under the Christmas tree, French food books will warm the hearts of the foodies in your life. For lovers of French food, you can’t go wrong with a book on the subject. As you might expect, the list runs long so to help you narrow down the options, we’ve compiled 11 of the best. We did try to stop at 10 but when we’re talking food, the sky’s the limit!

11 French food books

Read on to discover 11 coffee table, or bedside table, French food books that are bound to please even the most discerning French foodie.

Quintessential French cooking

The Essence of French Cooking by Michel Roux

Legendary French chef Michel Roux combines the best of French cooking in a comprehensive selection of easy-to-follow recipes. The ingredients are refreshingly easy to source too so these dishes can be created in any domestic kitchen. Roux also adds variations on the theme and bite-sized anecdotes on the recipes or the ingredients.

His choice of recipes is based mostly on his wish to include classic French dishes with a touch of modernity. So, you’ll find terrine de pâté de campagne sitting pretty with bouillabaisse, for example. Roux also mixes “the grand and the humble” in his overview of French cuisine. Cream of mushroom soup (Roux includes the Parisian version of this comfort food) therefore rubs shoulders with the much more sophisticated tournedos Rossini. As French food books go, this is a must for any aspiring French cook.

 

New take on the table

New French Table by Giselle and Emily Roux

Keeping this list in the family are wife and daughter of Michel Roux in their new book on modern French cooking. Giselle draws on recipes from her childhood and her experiences as wife of one of the best chefs in France. Daughter Emily offers recipes from her formal culinary education and travels round the world. The result brings together an unusual mix of French and international, classic and modern.

On the French side, you’ll find snails and Niçoise salad as well as staples such as Dauphinoise potatoes and French onion soup. International influences creep in via the Thai recipes, the lobster ravioli and a tiramisu with strawberries. Wife and daughter have added their own comments to the recipes giving them a personal touch, which together with the stunning photos make this a must-buy cookbook.   

 

Round the regions

French Regional Food by Joel Robuchon and Loic Bienassis

When two heavyweights in French cuisine come together to produce a book about French regional food you know you’re onto a good thing. Chef Robuchon, who has a collection of no less than 25 Michelin stars, and Bienassis, an expert in culinary heritage, have compiled possibly the ultimate guide to regional cuisine in France.

The glossy coffee table book takes you on a tour of 27 regions – some of which are further divided into sub-regions – and brings the best of their cuisine to the pages. Maps pinpoint the culinary highlights, which run to pastries, cheeses, wine and local produce. There’s also a good smattering of regional recipes so you can make your own speciality from just about anywhere in France.

 

Beyond the recipe book

French food: on the table, on the page and in French culture compiled by Lawrence Schehr and Allen Weiss

As anyone who has spent some time with the French knows, food is not just about satisfying your hunger pangs. If anything, for the French, the physiological needs come second to the cultural experience and history of eating.

In their compilation of articles about French food, Schehr and Weiss understand the deep significance of being à table for the French. As they explain in the introduction, “eating a French meal implies much more than filling a physical need”. The 16 articles look at the origins of classic French dishes, the role of food in society and how it’s portrayed in the arts. With titles such as “Monsieur Marcel’s Gay Oysters” and “Existential Cocktails” an eclectic round-up of French foods is guaranteed.

 

In real life

In a French Kitchen: Tales and Traditions of Everyday Home Cooking in France by Susan Herrmann Loomis

American born Loomis has wholly immersed herself in French life and French food since she was an apprentice at La Varenne École de Cuisine. Since then, she has made her home in Louviers, converted a dilapidated convent, opened a cookery school and written both fact and fiction on the topic of food in France. While her candid memoir On Rue Tatin (now also the name of her blog) placed food at the heart of her efforts to settle in her new home, her latest tome brings us to the heart of her home – the kitchen.

Alongside 85 mouthwatering recipes, tips and tricks, we meet her friends and her favourite French places. What’s most reassuring is that not everyone she writes about loves cooking, but they do love food. We read how they’ve found ways to serve delicious meals at home with minimal effort inspired by the still fresh memories of their favourite dishes. A genuine reflection of the innate place food has in the homes and culture of France.

 

Feast of fromage

French Cheeses (in English) by Kazuko Mazui

It often takes a non-native to provide the real perspective on a country and in the case of French cheeses it’s Japan’s Kazuko Mazui. French food books dedicated to cheese rarely come as refined as this. Her fromage knowledge is second to none and the fact that her book has been translated into French gives an indication of just how much she knows about the subject.

French Cheeses is published by DK so you know that photos will take centre stage. This book comes crammed with mouth-watering delicious pictures of cheeses, so realistic you’re almost surprised not to smell them too. Mazui gives the lowdown on 350 cheeses: their origin and appearance, plus what they smell and taste like at different stages of maturity. And just as importantly, what to pair each cheese with.

French language version 

What’s on the menu

French Menu Companion: Dictionary of French food, wine and cheese by T William Walker

We’ve all peered at a menu in France and often drawn a blank when it comes to understanding just what we’ll be eating. With this book, we no longer need to be lost in translation because it takes over 7,000 French culinary words and explains them in plain English. But not only that. This dictionary goes far beyond just the English equivalent: you get a list of ingredients and insight into how the dish is cooked.

The seemingly incomprehensible kig-ha-farz served in Brittany is a case in point. French Menu Companion explains what’s in the ‘porridge dumpling’ (milk, egg and buckwheat), tells you how it’s cooked and what you can expect on the plate to accompany it. A must for frequent travellers to France who would love to know exactly what’s on the menu.

 

Delectable desserts

Modern French Pastry by Cheryl Wakerhauser

No list of French food books would be complete without at least a small nod to the end of the meal. Cheryl Wakerhauser provides much more than a nod; she opens up a world of cakes, tarts and petits fours, all modelled on the classic French tradition of pastry making but with a modern twist. Just the photos make opening the book worthwhile and by the introduction your mouth will be really watering.

This cookbook isn’t for the novice in the kitchen – you do need a basic grounding – but helpful hints plus a long list of techniques offer more than enough assistance. You’ll discover how to make the perfect caramel and chocolate ganache, and how to glaze like a pro. And then you’re ready to create a Pistachio Picnic Cake and Blue Cheese Truffles good enough to open your own patisserie.

 

Marvellous macarons

Mad about Macarons! by Jill Colonna

French food books and macarons are probably ten-a-penny, but look no further. If you fancy creating your own macarons, this is your book. While Jill Colonna doesn’t pretend it’s easy, she breaks the recipe down step by step and turns it into a do-able creation. She’s certainly had plenty of practice after more than 20 years in the capital of macarons, Paris.

Colonna includes the classic flavours you’ll find in any French patisserie – vanilla, pistachio, rose and praline. She then takes macaron making up a level to some more challenging chocolate creations. She even gives you some ideas for creating savoury versions – her Thai green curry macarons guarantee an interesting start to any party. And there are tips for pairing this delicious bite with wines and teas.

 

Truffle truths

Simply Truffles by Patricia Wells

Despite their mundane black appearance, truffles are anything but simple. They hide a world of flavours, aromas, stories and folklore, all of which is revealed in this book. As a long-time resident of Provence, the world capital of truffles, American Patricia Wells certainly knows what she’s talking about. And this book does exactly what it says on the cover: “recipes and stories that capture the essence of the black diamond”.

Wells takes a long look at the finding of the elusive truffles and offers a few anecdotes on the myths behind them. She then dives deep into cooking with truffles with over 60 recipes, all of which showcase the unique flavour. Some recipes require skill and time to prepare while others such as the truffled Croque Monsieur take a humble snack to gourmet heights. There’s also a useful guide to pairing truffles with wine, which could make this the queen of French food books for us!

 

Dinner parties to remember

Host with confidence by Anne and Bahia de Montarlot

The French are world experts at hosting meals chez them, an art they seem to carry off with effortless ease and perfection. This little book reveals the secrets behind a dinner party to remember and for all the right reasons. Written by sisters Anne and Bahia de Montarlot, this is your reference book to discover how to be a great host and most of all, enjoy the evening.

Taking the trio of ambiance, psychology and organisation, the de Montarlots break a dinner party into easy-to-follow chunks. From the flowers and music to the who sits where, no aspect of organising is left uncovered. They also offer tips on identifying what sort of host you are. Sample dinner menus and amusing anecdotes – it’s always comforting to know you’re not the only one having disasters – complete a useful book that turns a stressful event into a fun evening.

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The River Lot is to be deprived of its ‘lifeline’ – access for boats from the Canal de Garonne via a short length of the river Baïse and the free-flowing river Garonne. The ‘Garonne Crossing’, as described in our Practical Navigation page, is to be closed by the operator, the Lot-et-Garonne département, from January 26, 2018. The decision came as a shock to all those who live and work on the navigable river Lot in this lower section, which extends for 75km up to the lock at Saint-Vite. Read our detailed background article on this decision and its likely impacts. To save an annual operating cost of 160 000 euros, the Conseil Départemental de Lot et Garonne (CDLG) risks accelerating the spiral of decline on this delightful waterway, on which it has invested 120 million euros since restoration works began in 1991. The reason for the shortsighted decision is the desperate state of the finances of this département. In this context, the Nouvelle Aquitaine region is contributing 500 000 € to the cost of restoring Saint-Vite lock. Some observers suggest that filling the gap of Saint-Vite lock and Fumel dam, thus opening up 120km of continuous waterway, would create a self-contained destination that could thrive with boats transported by road. Inland Waterways International is nevertheless campaigning for a solution to save the river Lot from its not-so-splendid isolation.

A hard nut to crack: the aging dam and hydropower plant at Fumel (PK 78) (© Pierre Lasvesnes for Euromapping)

The grape harvest (vendange) in France covers some 750,000 hectares of vineyards as well as unrivalled history, ceremony and celebratory festivals.It’s harvest time, for grapes that is. The grape harvest (vendange) in France can start as early as August and finish as late as the end of October depending on how ripe the grapes are and which region they’re in. During just under three months, a frenzy of activity takes place in the 750,000 hectares of vineyards in France. And before we know it, this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau will be uncorked.

In this post we delve into the history and ceremony of grape harvesting in France. Plus list some of the best wine harvest festivals taking place throughout the wine-growing regions in autumn.

A brief history of wine in France

With almost 3,000 different types of wine grown in vineyards throughout the country, France is one of the leading nations for fine wines, champagnes and liqueurs. And the French have certainly had time to learn a thing or two about wine production since the Romans were the first to grow vines for wine in France, probably as early as the 6th century BC.  

After the decline of the Roman empire and the rise of Catholicism, wine in France grew in importance. Medieval religious orders began to hold a strong influence over the production of wine and perfected techniques to create the perfect taste. In the Middle Ages, the region of Bordeaux with its handy seaports became the wine capital of the world and was the purveyor of wines to most of Europe’s monarchs.

Other wine-producing regions then joined Bordeaux in the country’s huge output. Despite a rollercoaster of climatic, economic and natural ups and downs over the years, France remains the global leader of wine exports. Even within the very varied world of wine with huge competition from Spain and Italy as well as from the new world wine producing destinations of Australia, New Zealand and California, France is considered the leader of the pack and a benchmark for the world wine industry.

The wine harvest and grape picking in France

Grape harvest dates

The grape harvest counts as the highlight of the wine producing year. The cutting of the carefully nurtured fruit marks the end to a year of hard work. Actual dates for the harvest, however, depend on the area and the weather conditions during the previous spring and summer.

In the summer, local wine experts carefully examine the grapes 100 days after the vine flowered. Depending on the size and appearance of the grape, they set a date for the harvest. It’s then up to the local council to give authorisation to halt the grape-picking ban that is in place during the rest of the year.

In the hottest parts of France such as Corsica, the Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence, the grape harvest generally starts at the end of August. Beaujolais and the southern Vallée du Rhône quickly follow suit. By the middle of September, the rest of the Vallée du Rhône, Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Loire Valley start their grape harvest. Alsace and Champagne generally join the grape picking at the end of September leaving Charentes, Cognac and Lorraine for the beginning of October.

But in practice, a lot depends on the weather conditions. This year, 2017, vineyards in France basked in a heatwave in the summer. The hot and dry conditions brought the grape harvest forward and Champagne began picking grapes on 25 August with Beaujolais just a few days later.

However, severe frost in April and general lack of rain have reduced the 2017 grape crop. Some experts are predicting the smallest since 1945. But the summer heat helped to keep pests and diseases from the vines, improving grape quality. This points to the possibility of an exceptional year for French wine even if there will be less of it. Let the battle for the best commence!

Pick your own grapes

Nowadays, sophisticated machines do a fair amount of the picking, but the vineyards producing grands crus (the highest quality French wine) still harvest by hand. Cutting the thousands (and thousands) of kilos of grapes from the vines requires lots of extra hands and every year armies of seasonal workers descend on vineyards to take part. You can choose to pick the grapes (coupeur) or carry the baskets (porteur). The 1 to 2-week contracts involve back-breaking work so you need to be reasonably fit.

When to pick wine grapes

There’s an art to deciding when a grapevine is ready to be picked. A few days too early or too late can make a difference to the end result. Unsurprisingly, taste is the best way to measure if a grapevine is ready to be picked. Grapes should be sweet in taste and show no sign of becoming shrivelled, which happens when they begin to overdevelop. Grapes should also look colourful and plump.  

Once the decision has been made to pick the grapes, the harvest needs to happen quickly. Grapes keep best in the cool so picking is best done in the very early morning or, if it’s hot during the day, at night. Once off the vine, they should be taken as quickly as possible to the grape presses or kept in a cool place.

Grape picking festivals

France holds a number of festivals to mark the beginning of the wine harvest. Some have been going for decades while others are more recent additions to the French wine calendar. But they all share their appeal to both locals and tourists in droves. Here’s our round-up of the best:

Festivini Festival of Food and Wine in Saumur on the Loire heralds the start of the grape harvest at the beginning of September with 10 days of celebrating the best of the area’s wine and food. Concerts, vineyard tours and river cruises take place daily, although the highlight of the festival is the pairing menu served every evening in participating restaurants.

The Grape Harvest Proclamation in Saint Emilion (Ban des Vendanges de la Jurade de Saint Emilion) takes place in mid-September in one of the most hallowed spots for wine in France. The village of Saint Emilion, in the Bordeaux region, not only produces some of the best French wines but holds the seat of the area’s oldest wine guild, founded in 1199. A solemn parade of local wine producers and the priest make their way through the village to declare the harvest season open.

The Wine Pressing Festival (Fête de la Pressé) takes place during the third weekend of September in the village of Chenôve in the Côte d’Or region of Burgundy. Highlights include watching the traditional grape pressing in the Dukes of Burgundy’s ancestral machines and then trying the bourru juice that flows from the first pressing.

The Montmartre Grape Harvest Festival (Fête Des Vendanges) probably counts as the most famous wine harvest festival. The small hilltop neighbourhood in Paris has been growing vines for centuries and the celebration of the annual grape picking is one of the most popular events in France. Now in its 84th year, the festival takes place in mid-October and honours the wine of the Clos Montmartre vineyard through exhibitions, concerts, parades, and of course, wine tastings.  

Banyuls sur Mer Grape Harvest Festival in the very south-west of France in the Languedoc-Roussillon region celebrates its wine harvest in mid-October too. The week-long celebrations include seaside wine tastings and barbecues, and concerts that culminate when the grape harvest is brought into the village by boats.

The Fete du Vin Bourru in Burgundy is also hugely popular and takes place from 21-22 October. This celebration allows visitors to try the newly fermented wine from local vineyards, based in this fiercely passionate wine region. Take a picnic in the vines, enjoy a concert in the winery, or tickle your tastebuds with samples straight from the cellar.

And no list of wine festivals in France would be complete without the Nouveau Beaujolais Festival (Fête du Beaujolais Nouveau), a national event. At midnight on the third Thursday in November, the first bottles of the year’s new wine are uncorked to the cheer of Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!” All of France celebrates the uncorking but the heart of festivities happens in the village of Beaujeu itself where wine tastings go hand in hand with vineyard visits, torchlight parades and fireworks.

Your very own French wine festival

You don’t have to wait till the autumn to celebrate French wines. All our hotel barge cruises offer the very best of French wines on board. And many give you the chance to visit wine cellars and vineyards – some not open to the general public – in the main wine producing regions during your cruise.  All you have to do is pick your date

PS: Please be aware that September and October are not the best months to choose for wine tours and tastings – they are actually too busy getting the harvest in to entertain visitors.

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Bordeaux wine: part 2 of regional guide to French winePart 2 of the French Waterways guide to French wine looks at the king of vin, Bordeaux wine. A wine region that needs no introduction, Bordeaux produces some of the world’s finest wines. Any discerning wine connoisseur includes Bordeaux clarets in their collection. Bottles from some of the region’s most exceptional vintage years fetch small fortunes at auction.

In this piece, we take a snapshot of the history of this fine wine, look at the different regions behind Bordeaux production, sample its bouquet and offer tips on how to match the wine with food for the perfect pairing.

A bit of Bordeaux history

Bordeaux has been producing wine for centuries. The Romans first introduced vines to this maritime area, but it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that the region reached its first heyday. In the 12th century, Bordeaux enjoyed the reputation as the world’s finest wine and was the wine purveyor to European kings and queens. In 1199, the region’s oldest wine guild Saint Emilion was founded.

Historic, economic and natural ups and downs followed throughout the centuries. Perhaps the most devastating was the arrival of the deadly phylloxera, a pest that almost single-handedly finished off the Bordeaux vineyards in the 19th century.

Fortunately for lovers of fine wine, the region’s vines recovered and by the 1950s Bordeaux had regained its status as one of the top wine producers in the world. Today, vines cover some 306,000 acres in the region. 10,000 wine producers make wine and Bordeaux boasts 57 appellation d’origine controlee (AOC) labels.

Did you know? Bordeaux isn’t the largest wine producing area in France – that accolade belongs to the Languedoc – but it is the country’s most famous.

Bordeaux terroirs

The entire wine producing region lies within Aquitaine in south-west France and all its vineyards within the Gironde area. The wide Gironde estuary shaped by the confluence of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers forms an essential part of Bordeaux wine. Rich river sediments feed the soil, which also benefits from the unique maritime climate.

As is the case with all French wines, the key to Bordeaux is its terroir, which defines where the wine is from. Bordeaux is made up of five main terroirs.

The Médoc

This wine producing area lies to the west of the Gironde estuary and is known as the ‘left bank’. It’s the nearest to the Atlantic of all the five Bordeaux terroirs and this proximity to the sea gives wine from the Médoc its characteristic bold taste. It’s also the most tannic of all Bordeaux wines. Cabernet Sauvignon grapes form the base for most wines from this region, which has eight AOCs.

Blaye and Bourg

Situated to the right of the estuary, this area is characterised by its hilltop vineyards and well known for its prehistoric caves. One of the smaller terroirs, Blaye and Bourg have seven AOC labels from largely family owned vineyards, bringing a very personal touch to wine tastings and tours.

The Libornais

To the north of the Dordogne river and known as the ‘right bank’, this area is home to several Côtes de Bordeaux labels as well as Saint Emilion. Merlot grapes dominate wines from the Libornais, which are bold but with softer tannins than those produced on the left bank. No less than 15 AOCs are produced here.

Entre Deux Mers

Between the two rivers (or two seas) of Garonne and Dordogne, this Bordeaux wine region produces red but is better known for its whites, several of which boast AOC status. Some Côtes de Bordeaux labels are produced here along with 18 AOC wines.

Graves and Sauternais

This wine-producing region lies to the south of the Garonne river and includes the city of Bordeaux at its tip. One of its most famous wines is the sweet white Sauterne, famed as one of the world’s best dessert wines. Graves and Sauternais have eight AOCs.

Did you know? Bordeaux wines don’t have to sport an AOC label or be classified in the five-level crus (see below) to be good. Some of the tastiest (and cheapest) come from vineyards not on the AOC list.

Main types of grapes in Bordeaux wine

Bordeaux wines are overwhelmingly red. Around 88% of wine produced in the region is red and made from the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. Some wines also include Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot or Malbec grapes.

The much smaller proportion of white wine comes from three grape types: Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle. Sémillon grapes form the base of the sweet Sauterne.

Bordeaux reds come medium to full-bodied with a variety of tastes. Blackcurrant and plum make up the main fruity undertones with an earthly graphite and woody cedar adding to the body of the wine. You may also sense a dash of violet.

Whites on the other hand tend to have sharper, more acidic undertones. Grapefruit, lemon, lime and gooseberry, all tart fruits, are common in the fruity bouquet where you may also taste chamomile.

Did you know? Over 300 vineyards in Bordeaux take part in the annual En Primeur week when they open their doors and present the wine made from the previous year’s grapes. The Grands Crus guild organises the event at the beginning of April.  

Best Bordeaux vintages

Bordeaux wines have enjoyed numerous excellent vintages. Recent goodies for red include 2016, 2015, 2010 and 2009. For whites, 2015 was an exceptional year as were 2001, 1996 and 1990.

The Bordeaux wine classification is generally considered to be one of the most important in the world. It goes back to the 1855 Classification of the Médoc, invented to grade French wines for the Paris Exhibition. 58 of the region’s best wine estates were classed in five levels of growth (crus classes). The classification continues to exist today, although 61 estates now form part of the Classification of the Médoc.

Did you know? Baron Rothschild spent 50 years trying to upgrade his Mouton Bordeaux wine from second to first cru. He finally succeeded in 1973.

Food and wine matching

The scope of Bordeaux wines means you can pair them successfully with almost anything. The region’s official wine website does just that  and recommends a type of Bordeaux for whatever’s on your table from escargots and cassoulet to pizza and puddings.

Reds pair perfectly with any red meat. The bold Médoc wines go especially well with steak while almost any red pairs well with duck. You can even pair a Bordeaux red with chilli dishes and still appreciate the wine’s texture and taste.

Sauvignon blanc wines come into their own with fish and seafood, particularly mussels. The sweet wines pair most obviously with desserts but also combine well with lobster – try it!

Did you know? Bordeaux reds should always be served at just below room temperature (18ºC/65ºF) and always be decanted.

Taste Bordeaux wine for yourself

How better to discover the best of Bordeaux wine than from the Garonne itself? Our hotel barge cruises make their way leisurely up river giving guests plenty of time to soak up all this lovely region has to offer, including, of course, its magnificent wines. Book your space on board now. 

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A dictionary of French cheese - a brief guide to fromageThere’s perhaps nothing more quintessentially French than cheese. Nowhere else in the world tucks into a spot of fromage after lunch or dinner with such gusto. And few places can rival France for variety in cheeses. They say it would take you well over a year to get through the full list of French cheese if you tried a different one every day.

All this makes a dictionary of French cheese something of a challenge. In this latest French Waterways foodie post, you won’t find a definitive list of French cheeses or even one per letter of the alphabet. Instead, we’ve looked at what makes a bon fromage and put together a guide to the best. Plus some of the things all discerning lovers of French cheeses should know.

French cheese from A to B

A is for Appellation d’origine contrôllée, more easily shortened to AOC. Like the best French wine, quality cheeses too must meet rigorous quality controls to qualify for the highest accolade of AOC. In 2016, 45 cheeses met the criteria. We mention some of them below.

A is also for Artisanal. This type of cheese is highly-prized since it’s made on farms using artisan methods. Production is always small-scale.

B is firstly for Banon, an AOC cheese from the town of Banon in Provence. Made with goat’s milk, the creamy cheese is matured wrapped in chestnut tree leaves, bound with raffia.

B is then for Brie. France produces lots of versions, but Brie de Meaux, made near Paris, reigns as the king of brie cheeses. This AOC brie tastes rich and sweet, and is made from cow’s milk.

Next up for B is Brillat-Savain, named after one of the France’s most famous gastronome (see below). Made in Normandy, Brillat-Savain has an extra high fat content because it’s a triple-crème containing raw and pasteurised cow’s milk plus a good dose of cream. As a result, the cheese tastes buttery and sweet, and comes about as rich as possible.

Fromage facts

B is also for Brittany, a region that along with the Pays de Loire, doesn’t produce any AOC cheeses. But as anyone who’s visited these regions knows, there are lots of delicious cheeses to try!

And B is finally for Brocciu, the only Corsican cheese with an AOC label. Brocciu is made from whey from goat’s and/or sheep’s milk. The result is a fresh, mild cheese that isn’t easy to find but well worth seeking out at French cheese counters.

Cheesy quote

Un repas sans fromage est comme une belle à qui il manqué un oeil” (A meal without cheese is like a beautiful women with just one eye) Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 18th century writer and epicure.

French cheese from C to K

C is for cow’s milk, the main ingredient in French cheeses. 91% of them in fact. It might be used raw or pasteurised, on its own or mixed with sheep’s milk.

C is also for Camembert, one of the best known French cheeses. This soft, creamy cheese with a white rind hails originally from Normandy and the best comes with an AOC label.

And lastly, C is for Comté, another of the biggies on the French cheese stage. Made in the Franche Comté area and part of the Gruyère family, Comté is a firm yellow cheese. A whole cheese can weigh up to 48kg.

E is for Époisses de Bourgogne, a soft cheese with an unusual red-orange colour. This too is an AOC cheese and made from raw cow’s milk. One of the smelliest French cheeses on the board, it’s a match made in heaven for a red Burgundy.

F is for fermier, perhaps the most authentic cheese of all. Made in the farmhouse with home-produced milk, cheese with the fermier label on it is as homemade as they come.

F is for Fourme d’Ambert, one of the oldest cheeses in France and made in Ambert in the Auvergne region. It comes in a cylinder and although it’s a crumbly blue cheese, it has a surprisingly mild taste.

Fromage facts  

C is for that all-important cheeseboard. The most discerning showcase at least three types of cheese: a soft cheese, a hard cheese and a blue or goat’s cheese to add some fire to the board. And don’t forget to put out a separate knife for each cheese.

K is for kinds of cheese. It’s estimated that there are between 350 and 400 varieties of cheese in France. This doesn’t take into account the different versions of each kind of cheese, which number at least a 1,000. How’s that for choice?

French cheese from L to P

L is for Langres, from the Champagne region. This cow’s milk cheese comes in three sizes and has an unusual crinkly white rind. It’s at its best between May and August when the lush summer pastures provide the richest milk.

L also stands for Lingot de Saint Nicolas, a goat’s cheese made by monks in Languedoc-Roussillon for centuries. Just 80 goats make up the flock at the monastery whose monks produce the light, fresh cheese flavoured with thyme. Its shape literally resembles an ingot.  

And lastly, L is for Livarot, one of the oldest regional cheeses in France – records date it to at least the thirteenth century. This creamy variety comes with a light brown rind, bound in the centre with raffia. Made in Calvados in Normandy, it pairs well with Calvados liqueur or a bold red.

M is for Maroilles, a square-shaped AOC cheese from Picardy in the north of France. This firm, yellow cheese is made from cow’s milk.

M is then for Morbier, a cheese from Franche-Comté, traditionally made in two layers with cow’s milk produced in the morning and in the evening. Nowadays, just one batch of milk is used but Morbier still comes with a layer of vegetable ash dividing the cheese into two sections. A bold cheese with a creamy texture, it’s made in large wheels weighing up to 7kg.

M is also for Munster, whose German-sounding name gives away its origin. From Alsace and made from cow’s milk, this AOC creamy cheese comes with a characteristic reddish rind.  

O is for Ossau-Iraty, perhaps the cheese with the least French-sounding name. From Bearn in the west Pyrenees, this salty firm cheese looks (and tastes) rather like a Manchego from next-door Spain.  

P is for Pont l’Eveque, a strongly scented but surprisingly mild cheese made in Normandy. It has a very orange rind and comes in a square shape packed in a wooden box. Unlike most French cheeses that are best served with red wine, Pont l’Eveque goes very nicely with champagne.

Fromage facts

M is for map of cheeses and the French one is certainly colourful, varied and delicious. 

M is also for Mondial de Fromage, the bi-annual cheesemonger competition held in France. This year’s competition was held in Tours and won by Nathalie Vanhaver from Belgium. French cheeses did, however, dominate the podium with most Super Gold awards.

P is for percentage of people in France who enjoy a bit of cheese every day. Currently around half the French population consumes it on a daily basis. And it isn’t actually a bit: the French eat half a kilo of cheese each, every single week.

Cheesy quote

Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays où il existe 246 de fromages?” (How do you expect to run a country where there are 246 cheeses?)
Charles De Gaulle, 1958-1969

French cheese from R to V

R is for Raclette, a French institution when it comes to cheese. Produced in the Savoie region, although originally from Switzerland, this mild cheese comes into its own when sliced and melted in a raclette pan. Popular accompaniments include baked potatoes, mushrooms, ham and gherkins. The tastiest version is made from raw cow’s milk.

Most of all, R is for Roquefort, another French cheese that needs no introduction. Known as “the cheese of kings and popes” in France, Roquefort also boasts the first AOC label, awarded in 1925. This blue cheese is made from sheep’s milk and has an unmistakable strong, salty taste.

R is also for Reblochon, a lesser known AOC cheese from the Alps in the Haute Savoie region. The semi-soft cheese has a yellow/orange rind.

And finally, R is for Rocamadour, a Perigord cheese that dates back to at least the fifteenth century. Made with goat’s milk, the round cheese has a sharp taste.

S is for Salers, a farmhouse cheese with AOC denomination from Auvergne. Perhaps the oldest French cheese of all – it dates back 2,000 years, it’s made with milk from the Salers breed of cow which graze on the high mountains. The round cheese is produced between May and October and has a striking dark rind with red stains.

T is then for Tomme de Savoie, another AOC cheese from the Alps. It looks a bit like Camembert, although the rind is thinner and the taste nuttier.

V is for Valençay, an AOC goat’s cheese from the Loire Valley. This one is made in an unusual pyramid shape and its acidic salty taste isn’t unlike a traditional blue cheese.

Fromage facts

T is firstly for temperature. Although you need to keep most French cheese in the fridge, room temperature brings out the best in all cheeses. Time the slot for the cheeseboard and take the cheese out of the fridge about an hour beforehand. This gives it time to breath and regain its full flavour.

T is also for timing and when to serve cheese at a meal. True connoisseurs only bring the cheeseboard out after the main course and before dessert. Never put cheese out as an aperitif and keep the pineapple and pickled onions firmly in their tins or jars!

 

Let’s not forget V for vin, the ideal accompaniment for any French cheese. Our hotel barge cruises bring you the best of both French cheese and wine while you’re on board. All you have to do is pick your barge!

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A brief guide to French cheese - need a dictionary of bon fromage, this guide will get you started on some of the best (of hundreds) of French cheese