By Theadora Brack in Paris—
Who doesn’t want to be a big cheese whiz? But with so many enchanting fromageries in Paris, how to make a cheese selection? Like hemlines, the variety of cheeses is seasonal and never-ever-ending.
I have been there. So to help out, I’ve created a shopping list to use as a starting point. Crank up the printer, because I’m about to share three cheeses that are not to be missed!
1. Brillat Savarin (Tastes like buttah!)
Butter. Brillat. Butter. Brillat. That’s what he said. Thank my cheese monger friend Ishai (extraordinaire!), for introducing me to this very velvety, voluptuous beauty. I’m a fool for fresh salted butter, so for me it was love at first bite. In fact, I squealed. Read my hips. This decadent triple-cream cheese from Rouen contains a whopping 75% butterfat and about 40% fat overall.
Yes, this little piggy will be returning to the market for more. Tip: I recommend serving it with a sparkling wine or a palate-cleansing beer. The carbonation will cut the fat, while enhancing its milky mushroom flavor. Visiting Paris? Sample Brillat Savarin as a fresh young’un. For the love of cream cheese or ice cream, you won’t be sorry.
Here are a few historical tidbits to help pump up your plateau de fromages and cocktail party conversation. Created in the 1930s by Henri Androuët, he named the cheese after the 18th-century French gastronomic guru, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.
A master of words and cuisine, B-S is responsible for such gems as: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” and “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” (Huh?)
2. Oh, Mighty Mimolette
Scatter close, my history bugs, because I’ve got another royal story to tell. After the Sun King banned imported goods from Holland in the 17th century, the folks in Lille, in northeastern France, put their heads together and created a copycat version of Edam, their favorite Dutch cheese. To make it sound more French, they called it Mimolette. After all, a rose by any other name is just as stinky!
So what’s the difference?
Though both have the same basic texture and spherical shape, Edam is dipped in red wax, while Mimolette features a natural (waxless) rind that gives it a neon orange hue. And thanks to the addition of cheese mites, it is riddled with holes. Yes, that’s right—mites!—as in bugs. But fear not, they’ve all flown the coop by the time the finished Mimolette makes it to market. So don’t even think about it!
Here’s a tip: Go vintage! The older, the better, my friend, is what my fromager tells me. Yes, given enough time, Mimolette eventually blossoms, revealing a rich, salty, hazelnut flavor. Looking a lot like a cantaloupe, both inside and out, just try the flaky “extra-vielle” (that’s been aged 18 to 22 months). By the way, it was Charles de Gaulle’s favorite cheese.
3. Morbier Fermier
Morbier Fermier is easily identifiable in display cases by the horizontal line of bluish ash cutting through it like a layer of icing in the middle of a vanilla cake. This dates back to when farmers would half-fill their cheese molds after the first milking and then scatter a little ash on the curds to keep bugs away till they’d milk the cows again and top up the molds.
Warning! When ripe, it can be smelly! But fear not, its aroma is stronger than its (grassy-with-a-lemon-twist) bite.
How did I discover Morbier Fermier? Again, with a little help from my friends. Film editor Yohan and media analyst Stéphanie are self-proclaimed “food enthusiasts” and proud of it. Whenever I attend one of their dinner parties, I always take notes. “We like Comté, Vacherin Mont d’Or and Morbier Fermier. They’re all from Yohan’s hometown, Besançon,” says Stéphanie.
Chez Virginie Fromagerie
54 rue Damrémont, 18th arrondissement (Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt)
Where do Yohan and Stéphanie shop? Chez Virginie Fromagerie is their secret weapon. Virginie herself is a third-generation cheese monger, and extremely friendly and accessible. If you need help, just ask questions. I also recommend the shop’s signature chèvre, topped with pesto or tapenade.
Do you have a favorite French cheese? If so, let us know. Moo-la-la! Bon Appétit!
Also in our guide: If you’re planning a visit to Paris and are looking for a little hotel to go with your favorite cheese, look no further than our guide to inexpensive places to sleep. Our editors have visited, inspected and reviewed affordable hotels in central Paris and offer their recommendations for those offering the best value. Read more in our Paris guide.