Soft cheeses seal France’s global renown14-05-2018
If you know your fromages, chances are you will also have heard of “Fromage à pâte molle”, but for the less fortunate, this is the group of soft cheeses made in France.
Think Camembert, Brie, Coulommiers and Munster, and you are bound to have come across at least one of these regional delicacies and its distinctive flavours. Read on to discover many more in our French soft cheese course.
What is “Pâte molle”?
“Pâte molle” cheeses, meaning soft, are neither cooked nor pressed. They are generally ripened for a relatively short period of time, then drained and moulded. The ripening process begins with the rind, and steadily works its way through to the centre of the cheese. When fully ripe, the cheese is creamy, even runny in consistency. Soft cheeses are split into two categories: those with a natural rind and a white, bloomy exterior, such as Camembert, Brie or Coulommiers, and washed-rind cheeses, where the surface of the cheese is washed in mild brine during ripening, which produces a more colourful rind. Munster, Pont-l’Evêque and Epoisses are all washed-rind cheeses.
France’s most celebrated soft cheeses
Created at the end of the 18th century in the eponymous village in the Orne area of Normandy, Camembert is France’s most popular soft cheese. It was awarded the coveted AOP label in 1963, limiting its provenance to a defined geographical area of France, and its production to a strict set of authentic and historically correct rules. It is made from raw cow’s milk produced by Normande cattle grass-fed only in local pastures for at least six months of the year. The curds are then transferred into moulds in five successive layers and drained.
Brie de Meaux
This is one of the most popular soft cheeses outside France. Known for its supple, creamy texture, it originates from the greater Paris area, and attains its runny consistency towards the end of the ripening process. It owes its popularity to the distinctive, delicate notes of hazelnuts, fresh mushrooms and raw milk. This washed-rind, soft cheese is made from whole, unpasteurised cow’s milk. Awarded the AOC label in 1980, and PDO status in 1996, it is known as the “Prince of cheeses.”
This is one of Normandy’s oldest cheeses. Its washed, relatively smooth, orange rind contains a soft, off-white interior. Its square form sets this cheese apart from the rest, and is approximately 11cm square and 3cm deep. Pont l’Evêque is also made in three other sizes, ranging from the “petit Pont l’Evêque”, which is 88-95mm in length, the rectangular “demi Pont-l’Evêque” and the largest of all, the “grand Pont-l’Evêque, which is 190-210mm in length on each side. When selecting your cheese, it is important to check the colour, its slightly plump appearance and it should be soft to the touch. On the inside, it should be firm, not too dry, nor too runny. A good Pont-l’Evêque cheese will have a slight hint of hazelnut on the palate.
This cheese is produced and ripened in Alsace in Eastern France. Munster, or Munster-Géromé, is a highly pungent cheese. It is characterised by its supple, slightly damp, orange rind, soft, even creamy interior, and pronounced flavours with a strong, rustic taste. Some like to serve it with bread and cumin seeds. It also lends itself well to warm potatoes or in salad. Munster can also be enjoyed as a vital ingredient in tartiflette (cheese and potato heaven).
Created by a community of monks in the heart of Burgundy more than 500 years ago, Epoisses, referred to in the 19th century as the “king of cheeses”, is testament to France’s rich, ancestral cheese tradition. Awarded AOC status in 1991, its production, using whole cow’s milk, follows a specific expertise handed down through generations of dedicated producers over the course of five centuries.
Originating in Pays d’Auge in Normandy, Livarot is a washed-rind cheese made from whole cow’s milk. The 5 reeds or “laîches” around its exterior evoke the five stripes on a colonel’s uniform, which explains its “Colonel” nickname in French quarters. It is a sweet-tasting cheese, emitting aromas of warm milk. Its texture is soft and creamy, with an almost gritty rind. It is a pungent cheese, which will become more strongly flavoured as it ripens.
Provencal product extraordinaire, this goats’ cheese is wrapped in chestnut leaves and tied in place with raffia. It is wonderfully creamy on the palate, revealing balanced flavours and intense, characteristic goats’ cheese character. Smooth and glossy on the inside, and very creamy, even runny in texture. Rumour has it that Banon was served to the Roman Emperors.
Cheese with style: Brillat-Savarin and truffles
As well as its trademark, extremely creamy interior, Brillat Savarin is flavoured with truffles, imparting intense perfumes and flavours. A renowned Parisian affineur, or refiner, named this cheese in honour of the celebrated magistrate and gastronome, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, who wrote his famous work, Physiologie du Goût, (Physiology of taste), published in 1830. Brillat-Savarin is a triple cream cheese that is sweet on the palate, best enjoyed young and fresh. It is made in Burgundy.