When it comes to putting together a cheese plate, keep it interesting. Put together a selection that includes a variety of styles of cheese and types of milk. Listed below are 5 excellent French cheeses that cover each of the general styles (fresh, bloomy, washed, pressed/cooked, blue) and different types of milk (goat, cow, sheep). Keep the bread or crackers simple, but have fun and get more creative with the condiments served with each cheese. A good cheese will always be able to stand on its own, but a well-selected condiment pairing can help create an entirely new flavor and experience. The pairings mentioned below are just suggestions. There are no rules, so feel free to create or pick your own combinations.
What could be better than Brie? The answer is a Brie recipe with a healthy dose of cream added to it, raising the fat content up to 75%, and the deliciousness up to 100%. The result is referred to as a “triple-crème,” and Brillat Savarin is a prime example. Created in the 1930s by cheese-maker Henri Androuët, it is named after the 18th century French gourmet and political figure, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. Found primarily in Normandy, in the northwest of France, there are several producers that make this rich, luscious, soft-ripened cow’s milk cheese with the texture of ice cream, but look for the ones aged by Maison Mons.
Condiments: Stewed strawberries or cider-poached Seckel pears
Boule de Quercy
Although not as famous as the Loire Valley, the town of Quercy, in the Midi-Pyrénées in the southwest of France, produces some amazing fresh goat’s milk cheeses. The Boule de Quercy, from the Fromagerie Soréda, is one of the best. Topped with a twig of wild raspberry leaves, this little 5-ounce ball of fresh goat cheese tastes even better than it looks. Creamy and luxurious, it has a nice tangy, lemony brightness with a clean finish. It has the texture of whipped cream cheese when young, but gets a bit firmer and more fudgy as it ages and the moisture escapes.
Condiments: Rosé-poached rhubarb or lemon curd
Another cheese from Maison Mons, this 5-lb wheel from Aquitaine in southwest France is made with a blend of cow and sheep’s milk and washed with a brine solution during the 4– to 6-month aging process. The result is a pink to orange rind with a smooth, creamy interior and a semi-soft texture. The flavor is lightly pungent but with the sweet nuttiness of cashews or hazelnuts.
Condiments: Pea purée or parsnip chips
Some of you may already be familiar with Ossau-Iraty, from the Basque region of France. Although similar in flavor and appearance, Ossau is produced in Béarn, just to the east of the Basque region, and has a longer history. Aged by Affineur Jean d’Alos for 8 to 12 months, this 10-lb wheel of sheep’s milk cheese is firm, nutty, and a bit gamier than Ossau-Iraty. The flavor is complex but accessible to even the most novice and timid cheese enthusiast. Ossau is one of my favorites; I could snack on this cheese all day.
Condiments: Nut brittles, or whole-grain mustards
Bleu du Bocage
From the producer Pascal Beillevaire in the Vendée region of France, Bleu du Bocage is a truly fantastic goat’s milk blue cheese. The 4– to 5-lb wheels are aged for about three months. This cheese has a moist and creamy texture, beautiful blue-gray veins, and the perfect combination of grassy flavors from the rind, sweet, fruity flavors from the pate, and spicy, peppery flavors from the blue veins. This cheese will convert anyone who says they don’t like blue cheese.
Condiments: Preserved walnuts or pickled watermelon rind