France produces between 350 and 400 varieties of cheese. Made mainly from cow’s milk by artisan farmers or industrialists, our country currently has nearly 1,800 cheeses, classified by region and by family. 3rd world exporter after Germany and the Netherlands, France is also the second European producer in terms of cheese. Sold worldwide, the most exported French cheeses are Camembert, Roquefort, Brie and Emmental. There are also many other types of French cheese popular abroad, such as goat cheese, reblochon de Savoie or gouda. In this article, we will take a closer look at the different types of cheese, the different cheese regions and we will also take a look at the most exported French cheeses.
The making of French cheeses
Derived from dairy products, French cheeses are mainly made from cow’s milk, but also from sheep’s or goat’s milk. To make cheese, it is first necessary to coagulate the milk which turns into a homogeneous and smooth gel. This gel, which is called “the curd”, is obtained from rennet or from a fermentation caused by lactose, a bacterium from milk. The curd is then fragmented. The larger the fragments, the more water they contain, and the lower their moisture content, the firmer the dough. The results obtained are then transferred into molds in order to carry out draining to empty the curd of its whey or water. 10 liters of milk thus make it possible to obtain 1 kilo of cheese. Several types of draining are carried out depending on the type of paste that one wishes to obtain. The cheese obtained is then immersed in a saline solution to guarantee its conservation. Finally, refining is the last stage where the cheese is placed in the maturation phase in rooms called ripening rooms. It is during this final stage that the cheese forms its rind, its texture and its color and develops its flavours. The cheese wheels are also regularly turned over and brushed by the affineur to finalize the production.
The different types of French cheeses
In France, there are mainly 8 types of cheese classified by type of paste. The 8 major families of French cheeses are as follows:
- Fresh cheeses: these cheeses contain 14 to 30% dry matter, or 86% water. Their homogeneous, smooth and white paste does not require refining. Cottage cheese, cottage cheese or even petit suisse are fresh pasta cheeses.
- Soft cheeses: these cheeses contain 40 to 50% dry matter, or 50 to 60% moisture. Their degree of refining makes it possible to obtain different flavors and a creamy paste. Soft cheeses are listed according to the type of rind: soft cheeses with bloomy rind, washed rind and natural rind. Soft cheeses with a bloomy rind have a fluffy white rind and flavors containing aromas of butter and mushrooms. Among the best known are Camembert, Brie and Neufchâtel. Washed-rind cheeses have a stronger flavor and smell and a smooth rind. Maroilles, Livarot, Langres or Munster are the most consumed. Finally, soft cheeses with a natural rind are mainly made from goat’s cheese, such as Crottin de Chavignol or Chabichou du Poitou.
- Uncooked pressed cheeses : these cheeses contain 44 to 55% dry matter. These homogeneous and creamy cheeses may have a few fermentation holes, such as Tomme, Saint-Paulin, Morbier or Saint-Nectaire. Raclette cheeses and Reblochon are also uncooked pressed cheeses.
- Cooked or semi-cooked pressed cheeses: these cheeses contain 58 to 64% dry matter. These firm and unctuous cheeses also have fermentation holes, such as Comté, Beaufort or Emmental.
- Hard cheeses: these cheeses contain 64 to 72% dry matter and are generally laying down cheeses. The best known are of Italian origin such as parmesan, asiago or even grana padano.
- Veined or blue cheeses: these cheeses are melting pastes characterized by blue mold which develops inside. Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne, Fourme d’Ambert or Bleu des Causses are the best known.
- Processed cheeses : these spreadable cheeses are made from melted cheeses or from the mixture of several cheeses. The laughing cow, the small kiri or the cancaillote are the most famous.
- Goat’s milk cheeses: these cheeses are generally found in the form of a log, dung or pyramid.
French cheeses and cheese regions
Many regions of France produce cheese. The main cheese regions are:
- The Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region : it is the largest cheese-producing region in France. It produces more than 45% of AOC (controlled designation of origin) cheeses and 78% of farm production of AOP (protected designation of origin) cheeses. Bleu d’Auvergne, Cantal, Saint-Nectaire and Reblochon de Savoie are produced in Auvergne Rhône-Alpes.
- The Normandy region : known mainly for its camembert, Normandy mainly produces soft cheeses with bloomy rinds such as brie, neufchâtel or pont l’évêque. The region has 4 AOP-AOC cheeses.
- The Burgundy region : with its famous cheeses such as Comté, Epoisses, Brie de Meaux, Brie de Melun and Munster, Burgundy boasts 13 AOP-AOC cheeses.
- The Midi-Pyrénées region : with 10 AOP-AOC cheeses, this region is best known for its excellent cheeses such as Rocamadour, Roquefort, Ossau-Iraty or Cantal.
- The Center and Pays de Loire regions: these two regions are mainly known for their production of goat cheeses, such as Saint-Maure-de-Touraine, Valençay, Selles-sur-Cher, Chabichou du Poitou or Chavignol, for a total of 6 AOP-AOC cheeses.
- The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region : with 3 AOP-AOC cheeses, we note banon, brousse du rove and picodon.
- The Hauts-de-France region, located in the north of France and famous for its maroilles with a very pronounced taste, has 3 AOP-AOC cheeses.
France currently has 46 PDO cheeses (28 cow’s milk, 15 goat’s milk, 3 sheep’s milk, including the only Corsican PDO with the famous cheese from the island of beauty: brocciu).
The most exported French cheeses
Many French cheeses are consumed every day throughout the world and France is the third largest exporter in the world. Exports of French cheese represent 640,000 tonnes per year, including 100,000 tonnes outside the European Union. The most exported French cheeses are:
- Bries : Bries from Meaux and Melun represent 11.3% of French cheese exports worldwide.
- The Emmental family : 5.8% of exports.
- Camembert : 3.7% of exports.
- Saint-Nectaire : 3.6% of exports.
- Cheddar : 1.7% of exports.
- Roquefort : 0.5% of exports.
Fresh cheeses represent 4.3% of exports.
But then, how many cheeses are there in France?
There are between 1500 and 1800 varieties of cheese, but it is difficult to give an exact figure, because many varieties are created each year. The cheese sector is made up of approximately 30,000 milk producers and 1,400 cheese producers. To these figures must be added cooperative and private processors, as well as exclusive refiners. In France, it is sold each year:
- 165,000 tons of Emmental,
- 48,000 tons of Camembert,
- 38,000 tonnes of raclette cheese,
- 37,000 tonnes of mozzarella cheese,
- 37,000 tonnes of goat cheese logs,
- 35,000 tons of county.
Époisses is the most expensive French cheese, with an average sale price of between 45 and 55 euros per kilo. The French consume an average of 24 kilos of cheese per year and per inhabitant.