From the peaks of the Pyrenees to the valley of Loire, France’s spirit of joie de vivre unfurls across an astonishing diversity of terroir, as if to confirm, “Oui – only in France.” Cheese is an ideal case study in the French sense of national singularity, reminding us that these trappings cannot be convincingly duplicated anywhere else on the globe. French President Charles de Gaulle famously wondered how anyone could “govern a country that has 246 varieties of cheese,” and the fact that France actually showcases nearly 1,600 varieties of cheese only adds weight to his question! Roughly the size of Texas, France’s storied connection to cheese traces back to prehistory, and Ossau Iraty’s ancient recipe is still closely followed in Basque country to this day. The following centuries saw Roman conquests bring their own traditions to the table; medieval French housewives pioneering brie styles while simply trying to preserve surplus milk; the actualization of transhumance (the seasonal movement of animals to higher pastures in colder months) throughout the Alps; shepherds stumbling into creating blue cheese by storing their leftovers in caves; and abbeys where monks perfected the intricacies of washed rind cheeses – and that’s just to name a few! So cry out, “Vive le France!” and follow our lead into these gorgeous specimens of the breadth France bestows.
Fromagerie Jacquin et Fils: La Vernelle, FRANCE
Pasteurized Goat Milk, Soft-Ripened/Bloomy
Milk production surpluses throughout the Loire Valley have historically given rise to many inventive cheese creations, such as this uniquely shaped goat milk cheese. Originally pyramid-shaped, legend informs us that Napoleon, returning home in defeat from Egypt, spotted Valençay cheese resembling Egyptian pyramids. In a rage, he whacked the tip of the cheese right off with his sword, birthing the trademark ‘truncated pyramid’ shape that Valençay is famous for. Established in 1947, Fromagerie Jacquin et Fils is nestled between the Touraine, Berry and Sologne regions of France’s Loire Valley. Regarded as one of France's superior cheeses, a blanket of charcoal ash (‘couverture cendrée au charbon de bois’) tempers acidity levels as the cheese ages, creating supple and creamy textures that unveil clean, bright, almost lemony sensations. Fruity aromas meet nutty notes with hints of light caramel and black pepper, before revealing a long, spicy finish.
Dazzle your eyes – and your taste-buds – and pair Valençay Ash with generous spoons of Blueberry Pinot Noir Jam from Round Rock Jelly & Co.; complete your taste of place with a glass of minerally-crisp Gassier Viognier.
Fruitières Chabert; Savoie, FRANCE
Pasteurized Cow’s Milk, Washed
We at Antonelli’s are well aware that any mention of the King of Cheeses pulls up visions of a certain Italian powerhouse; however, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that – for the French – this is not quite accurate. France’s version of the title, ‘Le Roi des Fromages,’ possibly traces back to the year 774, when cheeses from the monastery of Reuil en Brie enticed the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne into arranging regular, long-distance deliveries to his distant capital. Fast forward to today, where a third generation family of cheesemakers has operated Fruitières Chabert with care since 1936, and milk from neighboring Savoie dairies ensures superior freshness and quality. Siblings Luc and Céline have been in charge since the 1990s, heralding an era of evolving the family’s traditions for international markets. This delightfully buttery lil’ disk ages into a decadent, creamy center paste underneath a thin, tangerine-hued rind, which discloses subtle notes of grass and hay.
Gassier Viognier’s zingy mineral notes unite with Chablochon for a long and lush finish, and balancing the cheese on Divina Mini Toasts makes for a harmonious whole.
Comte by Marcel Petite
Essex St. Cheese; Granges-Narboz, FRANCE
Raw Cow’s Milk; Firm
A disciple of simplicity, cheesemaker Marcel Petite viewed the commercialization of 1960s cheesemaking as a shameful sacrifice of quality, leading him to practice “Affinage Lent” (Slow Maturation). Marcel Petite raw milk Comte is made in the Jura Mountains of Eastern France, where farmers bring their Alpine milk to local cooperatives. Only produced May-Oct, it takes 140 gallons of milk to make one wheel of Comte! Aged in an underground fort that was converted into a cheese aging cave in the 1960's, cave masters tap on wheels with small hammers to discern when the wheels are ready to be enjoyed – and Antonelli’s is privileged with only the finest, hand-selected wheels! This cheese is known for exhibiting a wide range of flavor profiles and aromas, ranging from herbaceous and fruity to earthy, complex and nutty; and always with a base-note of deep heavy cream.
Tiny, punchy gherkins the French elegantly term ‘Cornichons’ may be unassuming, but with Comte Petite, they unlock a next level of flavors. It’s perfect timing to open up your bottle of Château Maris Pays d'Oc Rouge – and liberate its fresh red fruit notes.
Gabriel Coulet; France
Raw Sheep’s Milk, Blue
“The King of Blue Cheeses” feels like an especially royal title, and King Charles VI (15th century) granted exclusive production rights to the inhabitants of Roquefort, making the caves 'protected.' This was a very significant ‘First’ for France, and in 1925, Roquefort officially became the first recognised Appellation d'Origine, or A.O.C., cheese. In 1872, Guilhaume Coulet built a wine cellar that later was turned into a cheese aging cave, and today, five generations later, the company is still family-run. Limestone native to the area affects native grasses and wildflowers in the sheep's diet, contributing to a flavor profile that cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. Loaves of Rye bread are placed in the aging caves, which encourage Penicillium Roqueforti – bestowing the cheese with its distinctive flavor and brilliant blue-green marbling. Rich, high butterfat raw milk yields a creamy, snow white paste, and a perfectly balanced sweet-meets-salty flavor profile.
Pair Roquefort with the “all juice and freshness” of Château Maris Pays d'Oc Rouge; further Roquefort’s soul-fruit journey with Ebee Honey’s Orange Blossom honey sticks.