Paris Tips: 6 Favorite Cheeses

Trekking to Paris Just Say Cheese! (Image: T. Brack's archives, photos below by Brack)

Trekking to France?  Just Say Cheese! (Elle Magazine, 1953, Image: T. Brack’s archives)

BRACK Say Cheese 9

Brillat Savarin tastes like buttah (Photos by T. Brack)

(Apologies for Monday’s technical glitch. Moo, la la!)

By Theadora Brack

Blame it on the summertime weather, but I’ve been picnicking in parks with beaus and paramours like there’s no tomorrow. I nibble. I whisper. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul reaches when you’re in reach. Dear fromage, how do I love you? Let me count the ways.

Updating my little red book, here’s a list of my favorite French cheeses, guaranteed to make a splash at your next backyard shindig, or cocktail party. Grab a knife and a ballpoint pen. A slew of them are available outside of France. Prepare to swoon.

1. Brillat Savarin (Tastes like buttah!)

Butter. Brillat. Butter. Brillat. That’s what he said. Thank my cheese monger friend Ishai (extraordinaire!), for introducing me to this very velvety, voluptuous beauty. I’m a fool for fresh salted butter, so for me it was love at first bite. In fact, I squealed. Read my hips. This decadent triple-cream cheese from Rouen contains a whopping 75% butterfat and about 40% fat overall.

Yes, this little piggy will be returning to the market for more. Tip: I recommend serving it with a sparkling wine or a palate-cleansing beer. The carbonation will cut the fat, while enhancing its milky mushroom flavor. Visiting Paris? Sample Brillat Savarin as a fresh young’un. For the love of cream cheese or ice cream, you won’t be sorry.

Oh, Mighty Mimolette

Oh, Mighty Mimolette

Meet Brillat-Savarin

Here are a few historical tidbits to help pump up your plateau de fromages and cocktail party conversation. Created in the 1930s by Henri Androuët, he named the cheese after the 18th-century French gastronomic guru, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. A master of words and cuisine, B-S is responsible for such gems as: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” and “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” (Huh?)

2. Oh, Mighty Mimolette

Scatter close, my history bugs, because I’ve got another royal story to tell. After the Sun King banned imported goods from Holland in the 17th century, the folks in Lille, in northeastern France, put their heads together and created a copycat version of Edam, their favorite Dutch cheese. To make it sound more French, they called it Mimolette. After all, a rose by any other name is just as stinky!

So what’s the difference?

Though both have the same basic texture and spherical shape, Edam is dipped in red wax, while Mimolette features a natural (waxless) rind that gives it a neon orange hue. And thanks to the addition of cheese mites, it is riddled with holes. Yes, that’s right—mites!—as in bugs. But fear not, they’ve all flown the coop by the time the finished Mimolette makes it to market. So don’t even think about it!

Basking in the Sun with Endless Cheese Platters (Elle, 1953)

Here’s a tip

Go vintage! The older, the better, my friend, is what my fromager tells me. Yes, given enough time, Mimolette eventually blossoms, revealing a rich, salty, hazelnut flavor. Looking a lot like a cantaloupe, both inside and out, just try the flaky “extra-vielle” (that’s been aged 18 to 22 months). By the way, it was Charles de Gaulle’s favorite cheese.

3. Saint-Nectaire

The Maréchal de Sennecterre introduced Versailles to Saint-Nectaire, a superstar from near Clermont-Ferrand in Auvergne. Boasting an earthy aroma acquired while curing on straw for eight weeks, the thick, gooey Saint-Nectaire has long had its share of fans.

Even Louis XIV gave this taste sensation his Good Palace-Keeping seal of approval!

My musician friend (and Charlotte Gainsbourg look-alike) Cat is absolutely mad about it. “It’s from where I grew up. The cheese is not industrial. Outside, the crust is grey, but inside it’s creamy, nutty, and fruity. Délicieusement fondant, baby! When I eat it I think of home and my family.”

Keep your eyes peeled for its cousin Pavin, too, dressed in a bright orange rind. Named for Lac Pavin, its strong mushroom flavor will send your taste buds over the moon.

Morbier Fermier is smelly (and delicious) when ripe

4. Morbier Fermier

Morbier Fermier is easily identifiable in display cases by the horizontal blurred line of bluish ash cutting through it like a layer of icing in the middle of a vanilla cake. This dates back to when farmers would half-fill their cheese molds after the first milking and then scatter a little ash on the curds to keep bugs away till they’d milk the cows again and top up the molds.

Warning: When ripe, it can be smelly! But fear not, its aroma is stronger than its (grassy-with-a-lemon-twist) bite.

How did I discover Morbier Fermier? Again, with a little help from my friends. Television editor Yohan and media analyst Stéphanie made the grand introduction. Whenever I attend one of their dinner parties, I always take notes. “We like Comté, Vacherin Mont d’Or and Morbier Fermier. They’re all from Yohan’s hometown, Besançon,” says Stéphanie.

Where do they shop?

Chez Virginie Fromagerie is their secret weapon. Located at 54 rue Damrémont in the 18th arrondissement (Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt), Virginie herself is a third-generation cheese monger, and extremely friendly and accessible. If you need help, just ask questions. I also recommend the shop’s signature chèvre, topped with pesto or tapenade.

My favorite chocolate shop in Paris: La Mere De Famille is located at the intersection of Rue Richer, Rue de Provence and Rue du Faubourg Montmartre (Founded in 1761!)

 

5. Soumaintrain

My pal film editor Laurent discovered Soumaintrain while completing a documentary about the late French New Wave filmmaker, Claude Chabrol. “The film story took place in an old house, where some friends of his came to visit him to enjoy a really good lunch, and he served them Soumaintrain.” After days spent editing this mouthwatering scene, Laurent had no choice but to set out on a quest to find it on his own.

“It’s from Bourgogne. It’s creamy and smelly. You can find its cousin Époisses at many cheese sellers, but only a few of them sell Soumaintrain. It’s very difficult to locate because the producers don’t always identify themselves. It’s like a secret society. Soumaintrain has a stronger taste and even more pungent smell than Époisses. You must drink it with a red wine—a Burgundy, or a good Bourgueil from the Loire Valley.”

6. My guilty pleasure: Cantal

Flummoxed by all these choices? Then I recommend starting off with a satisfyingly buttery number that’s everywhere in Paris but difficult to find outside of France: the “Cantal jeune.” Named for a region filled with volcanic peaks and Saler cattle, even the Sun King was a fan.

Also worth a nibble are the rugged (and rarely exported) six-month-old Cantal vieux and its cousin, Salers. Take any one of the varieties and ménage à trois it with a baguette and a bottle of wine, and you’ve got the perfect mid-summer meal—morning, noon and night.

Clipping Julia Child, “Life itself is the proper binge!”

Meet the oldest cheese in Normandy! Look for Livarot’s (a.k.a. “the Colonel”) 5 stripes!

Firm and spicy, Livarot plays nicely with red wine and cider

Firm and spicy, Livarot plays nicely with red wine and cider

Pavé du Nord has always been a favorite of the weavers in the Roubaix, France

Our Mighty Mimolette meshes well with all light and fruity wines

Our Mighty Mimolette meshes well with all light and fruity wines

Cheese Platter + Summertime = Dreamy Bliss (Elle Magazine, 1953)

Cheese Platter + Summertime = Dreamy Bliss (Elle Magazine, 1953)

BRACK Say Cheese 50

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89 thoughts on “Paris Tips: 6 Favorite Cheeses

    • Thanks, D.! I know! I know! What a wacky quote! B-S was quite the charmer, eh? His Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste) was published in December 1825. It is still in print!

      Here’s another B-S quote for the road.

      “A man who was fond of wine was offered some grapes at dessert after dinner. ‘Much obliged,’ said he, pushing the plate aside, ‘I am not accustomed to take my wine in pills.'”

  1. What a feast for the eyes, Theadora. Cheese is one of my most favourite foods and there are some new ones here that I must try. Lovely to be back online. I have missed your wonderful articles on my favourite city. Blessings from Isabella Rose [ex Lizzie Joy]

  2. My mouth is watering. One of my favourite cheeses is brillat savarin. I have never been to France but I was lucky enough to work in a very expensive Australian resort where it was ordered in by the wheel. There was a rumour/legend that went around the resort that the head chef would sit in his office and eat an entire wheel of the brillat with a bottle of red. After tasting it I’m not surprised!

    • You ordered it brillat savarin by the wheel?!

      Good. Golly. I’m green with envy. I loved, loved your story about the big cheese chef! What a great rumour. I believe. Tastes like butter, eh?! T.
      (Do you have any other favorite cheeses?)

      • I’m an absolute sucker for a heavy blue, there is actually a supermarket brand in Australia called Castello which I adore. Every party you will find that three different people have bought it, it’s just that good! They do a blue Brie that I love as well.

      • Ah, the blues! Blue Brie?! Dangerous. Thanks for the brainstorming. I’m off now to find my cheese books! It’s high time for nod to the blue cheeses! T.

  3. Been missing you, T, but hopefully you had a wonderful vacation. Vacationing is what we’re doing now, so stop by for a peek (or peak) at what’s going on. Wish we had some of these cheeses with us but we did pick up some wonderful cheeses from Carr Valley Cheese, http://www.carrvalleycheese.com/, on our way out to Wyoming. The guy makes some seriously good cheese!!

    From your always-beautiful, always-amusing, always-informative post, my favorite line has to be, “Read my hips.” :-) Hope your week’s off to a wonderful start.

    janet

    • Bonjour, Janet!

      You’ve been missed!! Have you posted any market stories? I’ll check out your Carr Valley Cheese site. Thanks for the link! Did you take any photographs? I’ll visit you tomorrow.

      Are you still on holiday? Safe journey!
      T.

      • Only a few days into the holiday, but I’ve been posting pictures both of the trip out and of the mountains. You’ll be able to catch more over the next week and a half, if you like. Lots of photos, of course. I’ll look forward to your visit. Glad you’re back, too.

        janet

      • I love bleu cheeses, especially Roquefort, but am a cheese lover in general :) In Nice, the Cours Saleya daily market is very touristy but lively and entertaining – especially the antique market on Mondays!

      • Kim, Thanks for the market recommendation. I’m jotting it down now! You’re the second cheese lover to mention the bleu cheeses. I’ve already started the research, er, tasting. Enjoy the weekend! T.

  4. Great post! I’m wishing I could travel to Paris and track some of these cheeses down. But I’m staying home and reading Edward Rutherford’s book– Paris. Have you seen it? 800 pages of Paris stories–summer fun.

    • Goodness. Gracious. Au Courant minds think alike! I’m actually reading Edward Rutherford’s “Paris” now. I love it. I’m totally enjoying each page. YES. It’s the perfect summertime read. I highly recommend to everyone!! T.

  5. Morbier Fermier, Savarin, Mimolette – love them all. I can taste them even as I write. I wasn’t a huge cheese fan until my first trip to Paris, and there was no turning back after that. I’m returning to Paris next year…so glad I found your blog!

    • So your trip is next year? Very exciting! Have you picked a season? Start creating your list of foods and drinks to try and site to see. Feel free to ask questions! T. (The vintage clothing scene is hopping in Abbesses and the Marais. Do you have a favorite shop or shops?)

      • I love the Marais, but don’t yet have a favorite shop. And I’ve never gotten to the Abbesses. So much to look forward to!!

        My French keeps improving, so each visit is easier and more enjoyable. I see different sights with each visit, but always go back to the Carnavalet. I can, and do, spend hours there.

        I’ve always gone to France in September/October, avoiding as much as possible the hoards of tourists (even though I am one myself).

        I would really like to go in Spring. My birthday is in May – what a lovely present to myself. But I don’t know if I can afford it by then. We’ll see.

        I would love to ask questions, thank you so much for offering. Which vintage shops do you consider ones not to be missed?

        I want to go to some of the big Paris flea markets, since I’ve never been. Even if I don’t find a thing it would be a great experience.

        And you are correct – now it the time to start making the list of food and drink. Mouthwatering just to think about it!

  6. Oh my stars and comets!! “With my lost saints I love thee T. with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life”. The incredible Miss T’s cheese tips and tidbits had me scrambling to the cellar for a bottle of l990 Moet & Chandon Champagne Cuvee Perignon. I blew the dust off the bottle, grabbed a Bardot pink and white tablecloth, a thin volume of Elizabeth B’s poems and the love my life. Into the picnic basket the precious cargo of Brillat Savarin at the perfect temperature to spread on crusty bread. We strolled down the banks of the mighty Fraser River. The tide came and went. The poems read. The bottle is empty, and the Brillat Savarin a consumed memory. Four more cheeses beckon. Perhaps a picnic on a local mountain top.

    • Exquisite paragraph, Virginia! I love the dust detail. Gorgeous. Did hoof it there or pedal push your magical bike with the basket? Now I’m looking for a bottle of bottle of Moet & Chandon Champagne Cuvee Perignon, along with my soft Bardot pink and white tablecloth and sundress, too. The power of suggestion. I’m now thinking about fromage, mountain tops, sun sets, and red, red wine! T. (Apologies for my delay. I’ve been trying to find out exactly where Robert Browning and Elizabeth B. honeymooned in Paris. Ah, the mystery. I’ll report back!)

  7. Oh T, you make my mouth water! A slice of cheese and glass of would have been just the thing to go with my tuna sandwich lunch, but alas, ’tis not to be. Diet cola and bbq chips will have to do . . .

  8. J’adore le fromage! When we were in Beaune enjoying good eats as always, we were introduced to Fromage Blanc or Fromage Frais. For three days we always ended our meal with this delicacy. Until it was all too much for our North American palate. But of the cheeses you mentioned we have tried and enjoy Morbier Fermier and Mimolette. But now you have whetted our appetite for more. And since we may not be able to find here, we will just have to return to Paris. Thanks for an inspiring post.

    • YES. YES. YES. I’m also mad about Fromage Frais. Goodness. Gracious. It’s time to create a post. I love it with fruit and nuts. Perfect for the end of the meal. Heck, perfect for any time of the day or night? What did you pair it with? I’d also add a drop to tomato sauces and salsa. Nice with vegetables, too. Thank you for the fromage brainstorming session! T. (Enjoy the week!)

  9. We hung on every word, and I entered every cheese in my iPhone Notes so that our next trip to Whole Foods may be a little more productive. Maybe.
    Nothing like Fromage En France, though!
    Merci, Theadora!

  10. Maybe a bit late in the whole commenting, but I’m going to stick my cheesy penny in anyway. LOVE the list of cheeses and I have made lots of notes for my upcoming trip to Paris. Yay! I will be taking pictures and adding them to my cheese pinterest board…. a board of cheese?!! why yes everyone needs one!

  11. Thanks, Theodora–this is one of your wackier posts–you can write the pants of the competition (I feel I can say this of a post featuring so many swimming suits.)

    I enjoyed the unlikely combination of calorific cheeses and bathing beauties. And I learned something about cheeses, too. Yes, I feel I am more knowing and civilized now. And with very little effort! Thank you

  12. OMG, Theadora. CHEESE PORN. The is the first year in many that I haven’t been back to Paris, and your photos are killing me (and making me hungry). You just can’t get cheese like that anywhere else, even New York. Le sigh. Le grand sigh.

  13. Ahh, Thea! I could feel my salivary glands activate and my mouth was filling with saliva as I read through your selections. We’ve had Brillat Savarin. Like you said, it’s like buttah! (say it like Mike Myersused to say it on Saturday Night LIve). I’m intrigued about Soumaintrain. We love Epoisses. But we used to eat it with some bubbly, figs, and nuts. The neighborhood grocer carries it sporadically, but most certainly during the holidays.

    We love cheese. Cheese please!!! Thanks for sharing your top choices. We will look for the others next time around!

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