Who doesn’t love cheese? I’ve had great cheeses from all over, but my favorites tend to be French. I love creamy camembert, nutty salty hard aged Mimolette, and the deep savory earthiness of blue veined brie. For us there was a bit of a learning curve, an acquiring of taste to really enjoy strongly flavored ripe French cheeses.
The first time we went to Paris, it was to celebrate our 11th anniversary. We rented a tiny apartment in St. Germain that we later discovered was in a building the guide books noted as “the narrowest house in Paris”; though it was merely 1 meter wide at the entrance, thankfully it got wider toward the back, because it was shaped like a wedge of cheese! Once we had unpacked, our first trip was to the nearest supermarket to stock up on espresso, snacks, and wine for later in the evening.
As soon as we entered the store we were greeted by the aroma of freshly baked baguettes, but we knew immediately when we were approaching the cheese department. Though many French cheeses are kept at room temperature, even when wrapped in cellophane and in a chiller case, the combined aromas of all that ripe cheese can be overpowering. Within a few minutes we had filled two baskets with everything that caught our eye, several baguettes, a couple of mild and ripe cheeses, and wonderfully salty French butter. Although we had a long list of restaurants to try, that first night we dined solely on bread, cheese, butter, and wine.
Fast forward a couple of months, we had experimented with a variety of cheeses and discovered what we liked, and looked forward to the smelly cheeses as much as the milder ones we liked in the beginning. Luckily we didn’t have to drive the whole 6 hours to Paris every time we needed cheese; the drive from our house in Germany to the French border was only a bit more than an hour long, and there was a supermarket not far from the crossing. Once we discovered how easily we could make the trip, we visited often to stock up on cheeses and butter.
Sometimes we like to re-live that first evening in Paris with an array of French cheeses and a bottle of wine. When my friends at Revol asked if I’d like to work with their new cake stand and glass dome, I knew in an instant what I wanted to prepare, a lovely French cheese tasting. In the years since returning to Chicago, I have spent a lot of time perusing cheese departments, but have always struggled to pull together all of my favorites in a single trip.
Lately I have started buying my cheese through online retailers who ship their products directly from France as well as other European countries. Fromages.com is a company in France that will ship to the USA and sell a wonderful variety of cheeses we enjoyed while living abroad. Sensibus.com is a specialty delicacy online food store that ships products from various European countries. Between the two sites, we can experience a little taste of Europe without leaving our home. I hope you give them a try, I’m sure you will enjoy them as much as we have.
French Cheese Board
A good selection includes 2 hard cheeses, 3 soft mild cheeses, and 2 blue cheeses
Fresh baguettes, sliced
French sea salted butter (Beurre d’Isigny Butter – Doux (Unsalted))
Selection of crackers (pictured: LesleyStowe – Fig and Olive Raincoast Crisp)
Apricot and/or fig preserves (pictured: Bonne Maman Fig Preserves)
Champagne, Rose or even a nice light-bodied red wine will do. (pictured: 2016 French Blue Bordeaux Rosé)
My cheese recommendations
Cambozola Grand Noir
Beurre d’Isigny Butter – Doux
OAK CAKE STAND Ø13 LOW
LARGE GLASS CLOCHE, DIAMETER 27 CM
SUCCESSION DESSERT PLATE – WHITE
OVAL SERVEWARE EQUINOXE BLACK