Wine and cheese is arguably one of the most popular combinations for hostesses. It’s perfect for crowds, can be customized to any budget and generally easy to cater to just about any palate. We love to create basic wine and cheese plates as well as Italian charcuterie and cheese boards, but let’s be honest: no one does fromage like the French.
We recently experienced a lovely cheese tasting party with our friends from The Cheeses of Europe, where we sampled everything from Delice de Bourgogne to Bleu D’Auvergne and many more in between. Even though most people love cheese, few of us know the difference between basic varieties and even fewer of us know how to pair them with wines or even other cheeses. Before you start compiling your cheese plate, get to know the difference between some of the most common French cheeses everyone should know and your next foray with the fromagerie will be c’est du tout cuit.
Delice de Bourgogne
Originating in the Burgundy region of France, Delice de Bourgogne is a cow’s milk cheese with a white, bloomy rind and an ivory paste. It’s soft-ripened and aged about four weeks, resulting in a smooth texture that varies from creamy near the rind to whipped, like butter, near the center. It has a rich, delicate flavor with the tanginess of sour cream. Like most cheeses, Delice de Bourgogne pairs well with champagne or spread over a piece of walnut bread.
With a pungent scent, Bleu d’Auvergne is a cow’s milk cheese aged a minimum of four weeks. From the Auvergne region of France, it has a washed rind and creamy texture, with spicy flavors of grasses and wildflowers. A perfect addition to salads, served with apple slices, or on a burger, Bleu d’Auvergne pairs well with sweet dessert wines, strong reds, or a rich dark beer.
Produced in the largest metropolitan region of France known as the Midi-Pyrenees, Bethmale is a cow’s milk cheese aged from three to six months. It has a leathery, orange rind and a buttery, pasty interior dotted with tiny holes. Expect a firm, open-textured paste, a slightly sweet flavor and an earthy aroma on Bethmale, which pairs well with a light red or a sweet white, particularly Grenache Noir, Languedoc Syrah or Mourvedre.
Also from the Auvergne region in France, Fourme d’Ambert is aged in caves for two months and has a narrow, cylindrical shape with ivory colored veins throughout. It’s semi-hard and smooth with a milky, delicate flavor and evident mushroom overtones. Fourme d’Ambert is delicious in salads or alongside bread or pear slices. Pair it with fruity red dessert wines, a red Cotes du Rhone, Saumur Champigny or Sauternes.
Known as the king of French cheeses, Comte is a cow’s milk cheese made in the Franche-Comte region and has a hard, yellowish-brown rind with a firm and supple paste. It is aged a minimum or four months, up to 18 months and has an intriguing, complex flavor that can include hints of apricot, chocolate, butter, cream, hazelnuts and toast. Enjoy Comté in cubes, on a sandwich, melted in fondue, or grated and sprinkled on your favorite dishes. Serve Comté with a dry white or light red wine, like a Chenin Blanc, Gewürztraminer d’Alsace, Pouilly-Fumé, Quarts-des-Charmes, Riesling d’Alsace, Sauternes, Savennières or Vouvray.
Abbaye Sainte Mere
A member of the Port-du-Salut family, Abbaye Sainte Mere is a cow’s milk cheese that can be recognized by a fine, moist rind and yielding texture. From the Marche region, its slightly salty taste, smooth fruity taste and slightly stronger finish make this cheese easy on the palate and perfect for people who are new to French cheeses. We love a mild cheese paired with a crisp Champagne or in your favorite savory dish.
Petit Pont L’Eveque
From the Normandy region, Pont L’Eveque is a cow’s milk cheese recognizable by its square shape and washed white rind with a slight orange-brown coloring. The soft-ripened cheese is aged six weeks, yielding a smooth, round flavor and pungent aroma like buttered popcorn. Experts recommend pairing with Champagne, medium-bodied whites, hard cider, or apple brandy and as an excellent choice to serve before or after a meal.
A cow’s milk cheese from the Pas-de-Calais region, Mimolette is a cooked, pressed cheese of four different ages—3, 6, 12, or 24 months. Hard and round (the shape of a cannonball about 8″ in diameter), Mimolette has a unique, pitted, crusty rind of brownish color tinged with orange. The sharp, nutty, fruity cheese has sweet notes that pair well with red wines or a rustic ale.
Le Châtelain Brie
Most people are familiar with white rind of brie, aged at least four weeks in the Ile de France. Châtelain Brie, awarded a Gold Medal from France’s biggest food competition, the Concours General Agricole, is soft and creamy with full, mellow flavor and a rich aroma. It’s always a crowd pleaser served on bread or crackers alongside a fruity jam or folded into an omelet. Pair it with a light, fruity red wine or a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
Another cow’s milk cheese from Auvergne, Saint Nectaire is a hard pressed, cloth-wrapped cheese aged up to six weeks. It has an orange tinted rind and a semi-hard texture, with a fruity and nutty flavor. The cheese tastes of a hint of salt and spice and pairs nicely with bold, fruity reds and silky white wines. It’s balanced flavor makes it a good option for any cheese plate, as it will complement different flavors depending on what aroma your palate detects the most.
Triple Crème Brie
Triple crème cheeses are the result of extra cream being added to the milk in making soft-ripened cheeses. Triple crème brie is made from cow’s milk with additional cream added. This gives the cheese a decadent, buttery interior that’s much richer than traditional brie, with 70% butterfat. Triple crème brie, as the name indicates, has an extremely creamy interior and is smooth to the point of being spreadable. Serve on bread or crackers and pair with Champagne or a light, crisp, white wine.