The Quintessential French Cheese Tray

The quintessential French cheese platter or the “Plateau de Fromage is a staple at every French meal. With over 400 cheeses made in France in every region, we could easily eat a different cheese every day of the year. Traditionally, between 350 to 450 distinct types of French cheese are grouped into eight categories, “Les Huit Familles de Fromage” made with three types of milk: cow, goat, and sheep. Did you know that there can be many varieties within each type of cheese, leading some to claim closer to 1,600 different types of French cheese? Some traditional regional cheeses (about 40 of them) just like wine also have AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlée or Designation of Controlled Origin). Le Roquefort was the first one to be so prestigiously labeled AOC in 1925. (more to come!) Back to our cheese platter, for now.

To make an interesting well-composed cheese platter we need to learn more about the kinds of cheese available and the 8 categories of cheeses or Les Huit Familles de Fromage:

  1. Les fromages frais – Fresh Milk Cheese such as Petit Suisse or Brousse
  2. Les pâtes molles à croûte fleurie – Soft Cheese with Natural Rind such as Brie, Camembert of Normandy & Neufchatel
  3. Les pâtes molles à croûte lavée -Soft Cheese with Washed Rind such as Munster, Reblochon,Pont l’Evêque
  4. Les pâtes persillées – Blue Cheeses such as Bleu de Bresse, Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne
  5. Les pâtes pressées non-cuites – Pressed Cheeses such as Cantal, Morbier, Saint Nectaire
  6. Les pâtes pressées cuites – Pressed Cooked Cheeses such as Emmental, Gruyère, Comté & Mimolette.
  7. Les fromages fondusProcessed Cheeses such as Boursin
  8. les fromages de chèvres – Goat Cheeses such as Chevrotin, Crottin de Chavignol,Valençay, Buche de chèvre

More details to come on the regions of France and their traditional cheeses, but for now, please find below a general map of cheese or carte de Fromage de France. I also found a treasure of a book for all you cheese connoisseurs… which has got to be the most expansive and expensive beautiful 400-page hardcover book on French cheeses from all regions of France called The French Cheese Book created by Patrick Rance. Filled with pictures and details!

Ideally, a well-balanced cheese platter would include one type of cheese from the main categories, with some red or white wine (goes well with chèvre for instance), and a French baguette. It will be a matter of your personal preference of course, and also what your guests like. Is it a formal meal? or an informal get-together? What are the best choices of cheese selection for a traditional platter? Well, for a nice selection, you would need a minimum of three kinds of cheese and you cannot go wrong with Camembert or Brie, Chèvre, Gruyère, Roquefort, Munster, and a Comté for example. Fresh grapes are always a nice touch on the wooden cheese platter, but remember that in French culture less is more with a focus on the quality of the cheese.

Also, this is a cheese platter that would most likely be served on the weekends when family and guests have the time to linger on and relax after the meal. During the course of the meal, there would still be another dish served la salade! It would be eaten before or after the cheese, and sometimes it is served together with the cheese. Nothing is more refreshing after a meal than a simple salade verte or quelques feuilles de laitue fresh lettuce with homemade vinaigrette.

During the week, the cheese would often be casually served on a plate or even in its own container such as the king of French cheese Le Camembert! Another custom would be that each family member had his or her own preferred cheese. Mine, I think, was camembert, my sister’s was blue cheese. This is what fond childhood memories are made of. The food and our cultural customs!

Un repas sans fromage (et vin ) c’est comme une journée sans soleil! Proverbe de France

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