French cheeses and its characteristics

French cheeses and its characteristics

Cheese is one of the main foods that characterize French art of living. Cheese is made from curdled milk, drained and then more or less matured. From the milk of cows, sheep, goats, buffaloes or other mammals, cheese is said to have appeared for the first time 7,000 years before our era. While cheese was initially a delicacy reserved for mountain people and the working classes, today it has definitely gained its reputation and can be found on the finest tables around the world and represent without a doubt French art of living.

A little bit of History

Cheese is the first food shaped by the hand of man. And yet his discovery was completely fortuitous. According to legend, our ancestors transported milk in bottles made from the stomachs of mammals. In contact with the animal rennet (an enzyme naturally present in the rumen of ruminants), the milk would have produced curds and whey. The history of cheese begins.

Believe it or not, but cheese itself is not a creation of the Frenchs even though it is so intertwined with French art of living. The cheese is part of the habits of the French.

In the 15th century BC, the first cheeses appeared in Mesopotamia and India, as evidenced by very old Mesopotamian mosaics discovered by archaeologists. At the time, man discovered that the drained and dried curds made a rich food that could be kept well.

In the year 60 AD, the use of rennet in the manufacture of cheese became more democratic. Columella, a Roman agronomist, advised putting milk in calves’ stomachs to curdle it. Then drain it in drilled containers before pressing the curds with stones or using a press. The Roman Empire passed cheese making to its colonies. In no time, the cheese is reaching Europe.

In France, cheese making was mainly done in the “fruitières” (a 1000 L wheel where the peasants pooled their milk to produce a large cheese) and in the monasteries. It is therefore no coincidence that most of the great French cheeses are old monastic recipes: Pont-l’Évêque, Munster, Maroilles, Tête de Moines, and many more. This is why they represent French art of living!

Today, there are no less than 1,500 varieties of cheese divided into 8 major families. We will explain to you what are those 8 families that are a part of French art of living.

French cheeses and its characteristics:

Fresh cheeses

This is the first stage of any french cheese. Fresh cheeses can be made from more or less skimmed cow, goat and sheep milk, or conversely, enriched with cream.They are not fermented and have no rind since they do not  ripen. The predominantly lactic curd is slowly and naturally drained and may or may not be molded. The fresh cheeses are very white to ivory and very moist. They don’t have to be salty and offer a tangy and fresh flavor. Often associated with aromas, they are tasted as well salty as sweet (spices, herbs, honey, flowers …). They should be kept for a short time at a temperature between 0 and 4 ° C.

Main characteristics :

Crust: none

Paste: white, wet

Scent: lactic, cream

Aromas: in combination with salty or sweetness

Flowery or natural ribbed soft paste

The French cheeses of this family are carefully matured. They can be made from curdled cow, goat and sheep milk by lactic and enzymatic coagulation. This curd is neither pressed nor cooked. Their rind is white, their texture is fluffy and their paste is supple and smooth.

The term “bloomy rind” is used when the cheese has been sprayed, after removal from the mold, with a liquid containing a fungus (Penicillium candidum for a camembert). A fine white down appears over the days. It is called the “Flower”. The term “natural rind” is used when cheeses naturally develop their rind without spraying. For the cheeses of this family, the ripening lasts only a few weeks.

Main characteristics :

Rind: white, fluffy, soft

Paste: supple, smooth, creamy, creamy or even runny

Scents: yeast, mushrooms, damp earth, undergrowth, moss

Aromas: hazelnut, butter, cream, mushroom

Washed crust soft paste

The family is mostly characterized by its strong smell and powerful aromas. They can be made from curdled cow, goat and sheep milk by lactic and enzymatic coagulation. This curd is neither pressed nor cooked. Their rind is orange (varying in density ranging from ivory to red) and moist, their texture is sticky and their paste is supple and smooth. It is during ripening that the cheeses are rubbed or washed regularly with a liquid in order to promote the development of a bacterium called “ferment du rouge” (Brevibacterium linens).

Washing or rubbing is usually done with salt water (brine), but also with beer, Burgundy marc, white wine … Their smell is intense but their taste is generally more delicate. For the French cheeses of this family, maturing lasts a few weeks to a few months.

Main characteristics :

Rind: orange-red, moist, sticky

Paste: supple, smooth, creamy, creamy or even runny

Scents: macerated, ammonia, penetrating

Aromas: fruity, frank, distinctive, terroir

Uncooked pressed paste

It is the most atypical family. There are French cheeses made from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk (rarer), of all textures, all colors, small and large (from 500g to more than 40kg), farmers or industrialists from all shapes! Their common point: the curd, which must not be heated to a temperature greater than or equal to 50 ° C, undergoes extensive pressing to eliminate the whey (or whey). Pressing can be done before or after molding. This manufacturing method allows the cheeses to be stored for longer. Their rind, more or less thick, can be flowery, washed or natural! It is often she who brings all the aromas. The ripening of these cheeses, which generally lasts from 2 months to more than a year, takes place in a humid and cool cellar. This dough takes its time.

Main characteristics :

Crust: varied

Dough: varied

Perfumes: a multitude

Aromas: a multitude

Cooked pressed paste

Some members of this family come in the form of very large wheels weighing more than 100 kg. The French cheeses of this family are also called “hard paste”. The vast majority of cooked pressed doughs are made from cow’s milk. The curd is gradually heated to a temperature of 57 ° C, generally in large copper vats. It will be stirred there permanently in order to separate the solid part and the liquid part. The curd grains obtained are then strongly pressed for long hours.

The powerful heating and the intense pressing make it possible to eliminate as much as possible the whey (dry extract is what matters) and thus obtain cheeses that keep longer. The dough of some of these cheeses is dotted with holes of varying sizes. They are caused by the CO2 diffused, during ripening, by the microorganisms present in the dough. The hotter the maturing cellar, the larger and numerous the holes are! Regular care is given to the cheeses during their maturation which can last from 6 months to several years: washing, brushing, turning. These are cheeses recognized for their fruity aromas; they are traditionally made in the mountains during the summer months when the milk is rich and plentiful.

Note: In this family, we also classify pressed cheeses called semi-cooked because their curds are heated but at a lower temperature.

Main characteristics :

Rind: hard, variable color

Dough: smooth, soft or firm, sometimes dotted with holes

Scents: flora, milk, sugar

Aromas: fruity, flowery, milky, slight bitterness

Veined cheeses

The family that never leaves you indifferent. In this family, we find so-called “internal mold” or “blue” cheeses. These French cheeses, which can be from cow, sheep or more rarely goat, have a colored texture of green, blue to gray veins or marbling. They are made like other cheeses but they have the particularity of being “seeded” with a fungus of the penicillin family such as Penicillium glaucum or Penicillium roqueforti. For these fungi to develop and give the cheese its blue marbled appearance, the supply of oxygen is essential.

For this, the cheeses are matured in ventilated cellars and are regularly “pricked” with fine and long needles, manually or mechanically, in order to “enter” the air. The Penicillium grows there from the center to the edges. The cheeses of this family are the only ones to mature from the inside out! In this family, there are some cheeses with “natural” and “spontaneous” internal molds, which are therefore neither seeded nor pitted, but they are very rare!

Surprising? Ultimately no … this is quite simply explained by the fact that molds are present in the plants that animals eat. These molds pass into the milk and marbling the maturing cheeses. For these cheeses with spontaneous molds, the parsley appearance can therefore be very present to non-existent, from one cheese to another, from one year to the next … it is nature that expresses itself! The ripening of veined pastes generally lasts between 2 months to 8 months. Finally, and contrary to what the trend suggests, know that marbled dough does not always mean strong cheese!

Main characteristics :

Rind: thin, variable color

Dough: soft to firm, dotted with blue holes or dressed in bluish marbling

Scents: mushroom, milk, cellar

Aromas: mushroom, fruity, cream, sweet to more marked animal, slight bitterness

Whey (Lactoserum) cheeses

The most protein and with less fat. The French cheeses of this family have the particularity of being produced from whey (and not milk), whey, resulting from manufacturing predominantly rennet. Whey is the liquid recovered when the curd drains. To collect all its protein richness, it is heated to around 70 ° C or even 90 ° C and sometimes enriched with milk or more rarely with cream before being molded. Whey cheeses are often eaten fresh, with sweet or savory accompaniments, but they can also be aged. Their paste is very white to ivory.

Main characteristics :

Rind: none to very thin

Paste: white, moist, chalky, soft

Scents: lactic, slight acidity

Aromas: milk, sweet or typical depending on the ripening

Processed (Melted) cheeses

For the less fond of French cheeses. Processed cheeses in most cases result from the melting of cooked pressed cheeses (Emmental, Comté, Gouda …). They are made with milk (sometimes cream and aromatics) and “melting salts”, giving them a soft and runny texture.

Filata cheeses

The least French cheese ! The spun paste is obtained from a curd, resulting from a very renneted milk and cut into pieces. The pieces of curd are immersed in boiling water then vigorously stirred until a more or less long, thick and melted “thread” is obtained. Filata cheese can be eaten fresh or matured. It is an Italian specialty.The best known of this family is Mozzarella made from cow or buffalo milk.

We hoped you liked learning about Cheese, that food that represents so well French art of living !The tasting will be even better accompanied by a glass of champagne! If you need more information you can check the article on genesis of French champagne or on the art of champagne making.

If you want to know more on French art of living, please feel free to contact us, we love hearing about you ! 

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