by Laura Glendinning
England has cheddar, Italy has Parmesan, Holland has Gouda, Greece has Feta and France has Roquefort, Camembert, Brie, Comte, Gruyere, and, well you get the idea. As Charles de Gaulle once asked “how can you govern a country in which there are 246 kinds of cheese?” Make that at least 1200 and some say 2000. You won’t ever taste it all, but you can try!
Cheesemaking goes back to the Egyptians, according to some archeologists, and spread throughout the ancient world via trade routes. In Europe, after the fall of the Romans and the descent of the Dark Ages, cheese was considered peasant food at best and unhealthy for a royal table. I can think of no better definition of a dark age than one without cheese.
Eventually it became fashionable again, about the time trade routes resumed in earnest, post Bubonic plague, Visigoths, and so on. By the time of the Renaissance, various nations registered their cheese recipes, making them official. France has ended up with registered cheeses in just about every region, much like their wines, though it’s surprising to learn the A.O.C designations weren’t formalized until the 1980’s in some cases.
Generally the cave-aged cheeses with a rind are from the colder parts of France like Alsace and Normandy, while the soft and spreadable goat cheeses dominate in Provence and the Loire. Perhaps the most famous cheese of all, Brie, became really popular because it was made close enough to Paris to catch on in the big city, not just because it’s delicious.
In Europe, a cheese course is as likely as offering dessert after a meal. It’s thought to aid digestion. Or at any rate, it satisfies those with no sweet tooth. As always, this idea came from the exacting standards of multi- course royal table protocol and trickled down to regular folks.
Whether you have never tasted artisanal cheese or are all but an expert, you’ll enjoy our Wine and Cheese Lunch in a Paris wine cave.