Paris Shopping Tips: Big Cheeses to Try

Triple Threat Plateau de Fromages Photos by Theadora Brack

Chez Virginie on rue Damrémont

By Theadora Brack

Big wheels do keep on turning in Paris! Like skirts, cheese is seasonal, and in France the variety is never-ending. So here’s a shopping list to use as a starting point. I’ve also asked a few friends for recommendations. Grab a pencil!

1. 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!

Here’s how my musician friend Cat describes Saint-Nectaire. “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.

Something Blue: Morbier Fermier

2. Morbier Fermier

Film editor Yohan and media analyst Stéphanie are cheese enthusiasts. They know! “We like Comté, Vacherin Mont d’Or, and Morbier Fermier. They’re all from Yohan’s hometown, Besançon,” said Stéphanie.

“We shop at Chez Virginie Fromagerie at 54 rue Damrémont in the 18th arrondissement. She’s a third-generation cheese monger. If you need help, just ask questions. They’re very friendly.”

Morbier Fermier is easily identifiable by the horizontal line of bluish ash cutting through it like a layer of icing in the middle of a cake. This dates back to when farmers would half-fill their cheese molds after the evening milking and then scatter a little ash on the curds to keep nighttime bugs away. In the morning they’d milk the cows again and top up the molds. Amaze your friends with this tall cow tale (but it’s true!).

My pick! Meet Mimolette

3. Mimolette

History bugs, scatter around because I’ve got another royal story up my sleeve. Here’s my pick! After the Sun King put the brakes on imported goods in the 17th century, the folks in northeastern France (Lille) took the matter into their own hands, and created a copycat version of Edam, their favorite Dutch cheese. They called it Mimolette. And in the world of fermented dairy products, a star was born!

So what’s the difference?

Though both share a similar texture and spherical shape, Edam is dipped in red wax, while Mimolette shines with a natural (waxless) rind that gives it a groovy, Day-Glo orange hue.

And thanks to the addition of cheese mites, it is riddled with holes. Yes, you heard me—mites!—but don’t fret. They’ve all left the building by the time any finished Mimolette hits the shelves. So don’t even think about it!

How to choose?

Go vintage! The older, the better, is what my fromager tells me each time with a wink. Yes, with time on its side, firm Mimolette slowly blossoms, later revealing a rich, salty, hazelnut flavor. Looking very much like a cantaloupe, inside and out, I recommend trying the “extra-vielle” (that’s been aged 18 to 22 months).

Bon Appétit! Do you have a favorite French cheese?

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45 thoughts on “Paris Shopping Tips: Big Cheeses to Try

  1. oh lord, I’m packing my bags to move to France. At lunch today I had this conversation with a friend about how we can’t get good cheese in Argentina. It’s totally weird that they have all these cows and yet the dairy products here are so terrible! great post.. makes me want to lick my computer screen.

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  2. Oh cheese (especially french cheese who are we kidding here?), how I love thee! You know I am just going to print every one of your posts and take them with me! Thanks Theadora!

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    • Thanks, Shira! Add “Cantal jeune” to your list. Hands-down, it’s my favorite cheese in the world. Named for a region filled with volcanic peaks, it’s difficult to find outside of France. Also try the rugged six-month-old Cantal vieux and its cousin, Salers. (I feel the same way about your recipes!) Theadora

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    • Ah, thank you! Saint-Nectaire is living beauty. Give it a shot. (Of course a cheese story had to follow the big cat parade. My kitty has groovy kind of love for crème fraîche. I have to hide the tubs!) Theadora

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  3. I love mimolette that’s so old it crumbles when you cut it and very old comté or cantal. Tomme de Chevre, too. And the morbier you got looks great. But my all-time favorite French cheese is Boursin. (Just kidding!!!!!)

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    • I agree! Both Comté and “Cantal jeune” top my list. Boursin! You made me smile. A few of my friends love both Boursin and the iconic Vache-Qui-Rit! Since 1921, the laughing cow is the perfect shindig food. Confession: I dig the packaging and the logo! Theadora

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    • Hello Meghan, I enjoyed your French Candy” post! How was the Brebis cheese? Did you like the shop in the 19th arrondissement? Would you recommend it? Cheers! Theadora

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  4. What a cheesy post! “Good Palace-Keeping” indeed! Brought big smiles to tired eyes this morning, after all my fitful snores.

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    • Yes, you can’t go wrong with Cantal and Comté! Ossau-iraty is an interesting choice. It’s a beauty! It’s a very old sheep cheese. I’ve been enjoying reading about its history. I think I’ll feature it in a future post. Thanks for the lead! Back to the land of Ossau-iraty. . .

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    • Thanks, Vivian! During the summer months, Virginie creates a chèvre, topped with pesto and tapenade. It’s fabulous. You’d love the colors! Theadora (The shop is located in the 18th arrondissement, Métro. Lamarck Caulaincourt. It’s worth the trek!)

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    • Great choices! I also love the soft cheeses. I have a recommendation for you. Have you tried the triple-cream Brillat-Savarin? It’s amazing. And oh. Yes. With a butterfat content hovering around 75, it tastes like buttah! I just discovered it. After tasting one bite, I screamed with delight! Theadora

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      • Brillat-Savarin?
        No… I don’t think so. We can only get brie and camembert here.
        But I am sure you can find Brillat-Savarin in cheese specialist shops. 😉
        I want to live in France now~~~

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  5. Wow! I love French cheeses with French bread and wine. And some French pate and terrine as well. 😉

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    • OH, I’m in complete agreement. How do I count the ways? I’ve got my eye on slice of comté as I type this. It’s winking at me! Come hither. Enjoy the weekend! Theadora

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    • Oh, I agree. We’re reading the same book! I love tasting and photographing cheese. It’s very much like shooting sculpture. And speaking of works of art, I’ve been enjoying following your woodwork. Beautiful!! Theadora

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  6. Having a Jimmy Buffet moment here: “Warm summer breezes, French wines and cheeses…”
    I have many, many more left to try, but I fell in love with Saint Albray on my recent trip, especially accompanied by a crusty baguette.

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    • Put his ambition at bay
      And Summers and Winters
      Scattered like splinters
      And four or five years slipped away

      Love the tune. Love Saint Albray!! Oh, yes. Paradise!
      Theadora

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