French Cheese: All You Need to Know

Cheese is a serious business in France - it is one of the country's largest exports and, quite frankly, a source of national pride.

The exact origins of cheese have been lost in the mists of time but lets just assume it was a careless French (undoubtedly) herdsman who accidentally left milk out in the sun and then decided to taste the results.

Since there has been milk, and cheese, there has been French cheese.

In the beginning there were priests, then cheese

French Cheese

In France, it was the monasteries that began the delicious tradition that is French cheese. The monks took great care and pride in their cheese, being meticulous in their creation.

A bit of experimentation ensued and so we have numerous varieties today. Through the years, the French people have refined the work of producing milk, extracting the curd and turning it into intense regional flavor meaning that it really is possible to be a French cheese expert.

French cheese has come to command an important reputation on the world stage, for example, brie may be produced anywhere, but a brie with the "Produce of France" stamp denotes a certain standard, thereby demanding a higher price.

Modern Cheese

Traditionally, there were between 350 and 400 different types of French cheese, but today there are close to 1,000 varieties. These varieties include cheese made from cow, buffalo, sheep or goat's milk. Different regions are famous for making different types of cheese because the distinctive climate and vegetation helps to create the unique flavor.

Some French cheese varieties have been aged in the same damp caves used for hundreds of years.

If you want to seem like a cheese connoisseur it is important to know where the different varieties come from. For example, Brie and Camembert come from the northern region while Emmental, or Swiss cheese, is only produced in the French Alps.

The bulk of goat cheeses are made in the western part of the country and the pungently veined Roquefort cheese comes from the south.

Traditional French Cheese Recipes

It is no secret that the French, or the stereotype at least, love cheese and eat a lot of it. Whether that means grabbing a hunk of Brie and baguette as a snack, tucking into a cheese board after dinner or eating a meal whose main ingredient is cheese.

Part of the joy of experiencing French culture is experiencing French food so you can't go to Paris without indulging in some of the best cheese you will ever eat.

Below we have chosen a few of the most well-known of French cheese dishes so that if you see them on a menu, you know what you are in for.



The word 'fondue' is relatively modern, but the idea of dipping bread into melted cheese and wine has been around for centuries. The first known recipe for the modern cheese fondue under that name, with cheese and wine but no eggs (which it previously contained), was published in 1875, and was already presented as a Swiss national dish.

Modern day cheese fondue consists of a blend of cheeses, wine and seasoning - in France the three cheeses used are Comté, Beaufort and Emmental. French tradition says that if a man loses his bread in the pot, he buys drinks all around, and if a woman does, she must kiss her neighbors.



This is the name of a cheese, and a specific dish that quite obviously contains the cheese. A favorite in ski resorts, this consists of melted Raclette cheese normally accompanied by potatoes, gherkins, pickled onions and cured meats.

Raclette goes a long way back - the medieval times in fact. Peasants in mountainous Switzerland (not France I know...) used to eat it a lot. Traditionally, the Swiss cow herders used to take the cheese with them when they were moving cows to or from the pastures up in the mountains. In the evenings around the campfire, they would place the cheese next to the fire and, when it had reached the perfect softness, scrape it on top of some bread.

That is pretty much the method used in modern restaurants now, albeit without the cows and campfire. Despite being of Swiss origin, Raclette is very popular in France around Christmas time.



This Reblochon-based dish is deceiving - it may feel like a traditional French recipe that is as old as the hills, but its not. In a very astute business move it was invented and launched in the 1980s by the Rebolchon trade union in an attempt to increase the sales of the cheese. Well hats off to them, it worked.

It comes from the Savoy region, and while there are probably a least two recipes per village, per valley in the region the base ingredients stay the same: potatoes, cheese and meat, usually bacon.

It is basically a gratin of potatoes, bacon and onion topped with cream and a wheel of Reblochon which is then baked. It might not be diet-friendly but it tastes like a cheesy, creamy heaven.