There is nothing like a bit of cheese to get you through January — or any day, any time of year. To me, le frometon, as it’s affectionately called, is the perfect comfort food. Along with eggs it is the reason I could live fairly happily as a vegetarian but not as a vegan. Let me give you a tour of a few personal favourites.
Leading a sheltered life outre-Atlantique until my mid-twenties, I was only aware of maybe three types of cheese: cheddar, Swiss and Gouda. I won’t count Philadelphia. Somewhere in the early 1980s our culinary horizons expanded in Canada and I discovered such delicacies as Brie and goat’s cheese.
None of it prepared me for France. The first time I opened the fridge door and was hit by that smell — What or who died? — I knew things were going to be different. Raw-milk cheeses, especially the softer ones like camembert, are like living creatures whose enzymes keep maturing until they reach a level bordering on the putrid. This is when many French cheese lovers consider them ripe.
These days, while cheese is a staple of my diet, I rarely venture into the ‘fromages qui puent’ like camembert. I have nothing against them but it just so happens that my preferred varieties are less inclined to stink up the house.
Comté (the ‘m’ is pronounced like ‘n’) is my go-to hard cheese. Made from unpasteurized cow’s milk in the Franche-Comté province of eastern France, it is ubiquitous in France. I love it for its somewhat rich texture and easygoing flavour — not too strong or too bland. My favourite way to eat it is as a snack, on its own or with an apple. It’s also lovely grated and melted in an omelette.
Saint Agur is my favourite of the blues. Unlike the famous Roquefort, which is a sheep’s milk cheese from the south, it is softer and creamier with a bit of a tang but not the raw force. It is not a traditional cheese but was developed commercially in the Auvergne region to woo the French back to the fading glory of the blues. The move was apparently successful as it is the most-consumed blue cheese in France today.
There are no holes in my favourite Swiss cheese. What we generally think of as Swiss cheese in North America is actually Emmenthal — it’s the one with the holes — and while it originated in Switzerland, it is also made in France. Gruyère Suisse (preferably d’Alpage, meaning from Alpine pastures) is by far the tastier Swiss cheese. Dense and flavourful, my preferred aged variety has little hard crystals that tell you it has reached its nirvana of maturity. Can you see them?
I love goat’s cheese in just about every form. Its tangy taste, its velvety texture. ‘Rocamadour’ is one that I often buy as it’s just the right amount for one serving. A tiny, perfect raw-milk delight.
Okay, I’m going to get some people’s goats now by naming another Swiss cheese. Apologies to my French friends but I live very close to the border and it must be said that the Swiss also know a few things about cheese as well as chocolate.
La tomme Vaudoise is another tiny, perfect wonder of a cheese. It is one of the few whose edible mould of a skin I eat without qualm. It comes from our area, just across the lake on the Swiss side in the Canton of Vaud, and is often flavoured with ‘ail des ours’ (wild garlic leaves), truffles or grilled pine nuts. I enjoy it plain.
So there you have it, the cheeses that most frequently populate my frigo.
Although I do have a confession to make. I could be shot for treason saying this but if I could only have one kind of cheese, it would probably be a good old, sharp cheddar.
Comfort food, right?
What’s your favourite cheese?
I also love Gruyère. And Comte. And anything from a goat. And camembert. And brie…anything with a chewy white crust and creamy innards. And anything creamy.
The cheese that seems to be most ubiquitous is Emmenthal. It practically has its own aisle in the supermarket. My SIL, who works for a Swiss cheese giant, says to buy cheese in a block and grate it yourself because already-grated cheese is treated with icky additives to keep it from clumping.
So many cheeses, so little time.
Good advice from your belle-soeur! I had heard that about grated cheese a long time ago and always do my own. it’s one of the relatively few ‘joe jobs’ in cooking that I don’t mind. This year at Christmastime my sister made the mistake of using pre-grated cheese in a macroni dish and discovered it does not behave like regular cheese — it became very hard instead of melting into the sauce. As for Emmenthal, I’ve never been a fan — too rubbery and little taste IMHO. Blows me away how much of the dairy aisle is devoted to it!
Hi Mel . I have a terrible confession to make, an awful secret to my peers, but as these pages are only read by Barbarians I may say it here : I can’t stand cheese …
The first time this little toddler was exposed to the experience of cheese I reacted as you describe in your third paragraph, a natural infantile reaction . But – and that’s my fault, my terrible sin – my palate never grew up . For me the taste of cheese is exactly as horrible as its smells . I can’t understand how normal humanoids manage what remains for me a magical operation .
My partners always fast discovered I’m a child in many aspects, but women are merciful, and my other handicaps never reached such a level of national sacrilege, which in other decades would have sent me in front of a firing squad, or at least sentenced to a lifetime ban . I count on you to keep this infamy a secret for my countrymen . No kidding !
Whoa, Phil, that is huge! A native-born Frenchman who detests cheese? Your secret is safe with me because as you note you’re perhaps the only native reader of this blog. But how sad I feel for you. The joys of cheese are just so…indescribable really. It’s funny, though, how we are marked by some of those early childhood experiences. I remember being punished as a young child for eating butter straight out of the dish and not being able to stomach it for years. Unfortunately (for my waistline) I made my peace with it long ago. Some things are just too important not to work on. Maybe it’s not too late for you. Could you try a cheese therapist? If such a thing exists, it could only be in this fair land. 😂
Shh … I’m afraid it’s worse than that . Most of my life I found wine at best uninteresting, and often not pleasant in my palate .
As even a Frenchman must not exaggerate beyond a certain limit, this time I faced the problem with Caesar’s determination . A strong will, thousands of attempts, hundreds of listenings, readings and learnings, serious trainings under expert friends direction, the accurate and timely use of South American psychotropics… et voilà ! Now I can drink wines and even really appreciate some of them provided the minimal ration be a few liters . But I’m afraid undertaking again such a noble but arduously long quest is beyond this little child’s capacity, even with a guru .
Sniff, but let’s not forget my favorite Confucius’s eternal pearl of wisdom : “Don’t worry that much, for soon it’s the end of the world .”
Oh my…things are more dire than I thought. Glad you conquered your most gaping defect, even if it did take unusual methods. At least we can be consoled in our final moments. 🙏🏻
I love cheese. Just about anything can be made better by adding cheese. Having had European parents, I was exposed to good cheese at a very early age. My mother looked down with disdain at what she called the artificial cheeses of North America.
I love different cheeses for different purposes but my favourite nibbling cheese would be a hard one, and yes, a good sharp cheddar would rank up there. However the most memorable cheese I’ve ever had came from Luchon. My husband had been there a few years ago attending a cycling training camp, and he smuggled home several rounds of their local cheeses from the Luchon region. It was heavenly!!
Hmm…will have to look that one up! Your parents’ story reminds me of my French husband’s shock in Canada upon once being offered a camembert…in a can! 😂
My favorite…The word itself, said when smiling, of course!! Hope your New Year has taken a good turn, dear friend. Bisses from Florida. Eeeeee
Ah, so lovely to hear from you, Elyse! The magic of ‘fromage’ is that it works just as well as the English original to produce that big, glorious smile! 😍
Like you, I lean toward the Swiss cheeses, especially comté and gruyère, apart from the chèvres. I also love the little Saint Marcellin that comes in its own little crock. Have you tried mimolette to satisfy your cheddar cravings?
Funny, I was going to include Saint Marcellin on my list, but ran out of time! I don’t know mimolette but will check it out. Too many cheeses, not enough time as FranceTaste says!
My choice is an extra mature English Cheddar. in the same way as yours, if there was no other available. I also like aged Gouda but you do get tired of it after a while.. Have you ever tried Caerphilly Cheese a bit like Manchego but not quite the same? I can’t seem to get it anymore but I did love the light creamy sour taste it still lingers in my memory
I have not tried that, is it Welsh? 🧐 Nor Manchego, but I’m sure I’d enjoy both. I think if you love cheese, it matters not from whence it hails. As long as the taste and texture are there, and the cows happy.
I love all of the cheese you mentioned and I must admit that I missed a good old Cheddar when we were living in France so I would always stock up when we made a foray into England and friends from England visiting us would always bring some. I must admit that I am partial to a ripe Camembert and that is something we can’t really find in Montreal (not the real good ones) so we always have some when we make it to France. I also couldn’t become a vegan as I would miss cheese too much. I do like the Swiss cheese as well and one of my favourite is Gruyere de Grotte. I also like the Beaufort which is the French version of the Swiss Gruyere. I could go on forever naming all of the cheeses I like but I will stop here! (Suzanne)
I always assumed you had a better choice of French cheeses in ‘la belle province’ but I guess a raw-milk Camembert is hard to find outside of France. Beaufort is lovely, and I always thought it a tiny bit like cheddar, but I find it far more expensive than even the good Swiss Gruyère. Interesting that you (and several others also) are big cheddar fans!
We do have a very good selection of cheese from various countries including France but some cheese don’t travel well so it is difficult to get them here. Camembert does come but it isn’t always the best ones and they aren’t always ripe. Beaufort is indeed very expensive so, as you do, we often buy Gruyere instead. A good aged Cheddar is as good as any French cheeses despite what the French will say. There are a number of very good cheeses from a lot of countries… It is always fun to make new discoveries.
Camembert IN France!!!!! It is just not the same in the US.
I can’t imagine it would be…and you’re not allowed to import it in your suitcase so you’ll just have to visit France!
Oh we loved the cheeses available to us in France, and I’d still say that our favourites are a good Comté or Brie de Meaux. Which luckily we can get good examples of here. Yet I still have a sneaking preference for a really mature, sharp Cheddar. And that of course was the only English cheese we could ever get in France – and not good Cheddar either. Because that is the only cheese we have right? I once went into a really good affineur who sourced interesting cheeses from petits producteurs half way up a mountain – that sort of thing. He had just one English cheese – a bright orange rubbery Cheddar. When I complained that he was selling the English short, he explained that people would only be using it on burgers in Barbecues so it didn’t matter. No wonder the French think we don’t ‘do’ cheese 😦
I think the proximity of the UK to France is a real advantage for cheese lovers, but I agree the French tend to think that good cheese stops at their borders. What about Stilton? The sad thing is that your affineur was probably right: most people here only put orange slices on burgers and wouldn’t know a good old white cheddar if it hit them in the face!
Yes, but as every single other cheese in his shop was top notch, it doesn’t do anyone any favours that the Cheddar was at best a 3/10 type. Bargain basement belongs in the supermarket! You’re right, there is Stilton to be had, and I did once see in a specialist shop in Toulouse some really cracking Cheddar.
lol – I’ve made my peace with some cheeses, but for most of my life I loathed cheese so…I’ll take you word on all these comfort foods 🙂
Oh dear….😢 Meeks, I have no words except: take your comfort where you find it!
lmao! I do, I do! 😀
Muenster is my favorite cheese. It reminds me of my childhood more than Cheddar, although that’d be a close second.
Muenster? An unusual choice, if it’s half as smelly as the French version! Certainly the one I’d vote for as having the best name! 😅
This made me so hungry Mel! I will be keeping my eyes out for that Swiss cheese. I can’t eat much dairy anymore and cheese is what I miss the most. But when I do, I love manchego, a good Tasmanian sharp cheddar, la buche d’affinois, reggiano Parmesan and a lovely soft blue cheese here called Shadows of Blue by Tarago River.
Lisa, I feel so sad for poor souls like you (my sister is one) who cannot eat dairy for health reasons. Or like my daughter, who truly loved cheese but is now vegan. There are decent-tasting subs that do in a pinch but it is not quite the same! So glad you can enjoy a few good tasty cheese treats from time to time. Real-deal parmesan is definitely a staple in my fridge. And I’ll remember to try some of your local blue and cheddar specialties if we ever make it down under!
I was given a link by Lisa @cheergerm to pop over here, and I’m so glad I did. I love cheese lovers! And French cheeses are the best. L’epoisses, Reblochon, saint Felicien, Gruyere, Brie, raclette…. i could go on. I obviously prefer stinky cheeses!!!
Thanks for stopping by and welcome, Chef Mimi! (Also thanks to Lisa for the recco 🤗). L’époisses is pretty strong stuff, so you clearly know your fromages! One you develop a taste for the stinky stuff, they are hard not to love, eh?
I am French and I love cheese
Regarding the smell …. not all cheeses “smell” so strongly. And if their smell is strong we put them in a box (so as not to stink inside the fridge)
Camenbert I don’t really like it … not because of the smell it spreads when it matures but the taste of this cheese I hardly appreciate.
The “COMTE” on the other hand is delicious, I prefer it much older than 18 months of ripening if possible, alone, with bread or in a salad.
After the “real” Swiss gruyere
So the TOMME DE SAVOIE is a pure treat too
A good brie is delicious
In general it is better to buy cheese or cut cheese but not packaged cheese from supermarkets which are less tasty in my opinion.
You had me at CHEESE! 🙂 Such a great post and so many great comments. Morbier is a favorite, but I agree with so many others here — Camembert in France is far better than any found in the US; mimolette is worth a try; nothing like a two-year-aged (or more) cheddar from the UK; and Spanish manchego is wonderful with a plate of accompaniments like olives, tomatoes and avocado. We just had some grilled halloumi with dinner a few nights ago — the heat accentuates its salty deliciousness. But probably my favorite way to enjoy cheese is as homemade mac & cheese, made with aged cheddar and gruyere. Classic, comforting and so delicious!