Photo: cwbuecheler, Flickr
In Paris, the end of summer means that some of the best cheese shops, including Fromagerie Barthélémy and Fromagerie Trotté, will re-open their doors for business after being on holiday for several weeks. American tourists and gastronomes alike should take up this opportunity to taste France's most celebrated cheeses -- varieties that are either unavailable stateside or poorly represented in American food stores. Here are five must-buy French cheeses travelers should try next time they're in France.
Brie de Meaux – This is one of the most poorly represented French cheeses in the U.S. because of import rules stipulating that it must be aged for at least 60 days. As a result, stateside, it has been replaced by industrial pasteurized alternatives that are incredibly bland. Available only in France, Brie de Meaux is the "real thing" made from raw milk and aged four to six weeks. Notice the thick oozy texture permeating a mushroom-like aroma. And, savor its rich milky taste. After tasting authentic Brie, there's no turning back!
Roquefort Vieux Berger – In France, there are many different types of Roquefort. This one is by far our favorite thanks to its creamy, fudge-like consistency, strikingly long finish, and range of flavors, from spicy to sweet and fruity. Sure, this Roquefort can sometimes be found at American cheese shops, but chances are that it will be double the price (due to incredibly high tariffs) and in horrible condition (overly salty, dry, and crumbly).
Munster – This cheese has absolutely nothing to do with the firm deli-sliced pale white cheese ubiquitous in American groceries. Instead, this raw milk Alsatian cheese has a similar unctuous texture of a Livarot, but with a stinkier rind and more pungent bite. Those looking to experience a distinct French washed-rind cheese will appreciate Munster's sharp to meaty taste (depending on its age). For cheese amateurs, tasting Munster is like exposing their taste buds to a gastronomic roller coaster.
Pouligny Saint Pierre – Tasting goat's milk cheeses from the Loire Valley, like Valençay and Selles-sur-Cher, should be part of everyone's fromage-itinerary. Pouligny Saint Pierre's flavor development – from slightly grassy and mild to piquant and nutty – is unquestionably the most spectacular. Unlike American cheese stores that only sell chèvre pasteurized and young, France's fromageries age these precious pyramid-shaped chèvres to perfection. They're sold "frais" (fresh), "demi-sec" (aged for a couple of weeks at most and slightly dry), and "sec" (aged to the point that there is little to no moisture left). We recommend asking for one that's "demi-sec," when the texture is dense, yet creamy, and when the taste resembles that of hazelnuts.
Beaufort – Fans of Alpine cheeses such as Comté and Gruyère will enjoy Beaufort's bright buttery flavors, ranging from sweet and caramel-like to earthy, nutty, and meaty. Unlike its Alpine cousins, Beaufort's texture is creamier. For an especially tasty slice and for one that is more traditional, check out Beaufort "chalet d'alpage." It's produced from summer milk, produced by a single herd of cows, in mountain chalets at an altitude of just short of 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) -- as a result, this one has a more intense flavor with a longer finish.