Variety of French cheeses on sale

From Comte to Roquefort: An introduction to the cheeses of France

Slice, dip, dunk and taste your way through the iconic cheeses of France – from Camembert de Normandie to Bleu d’Auvergne.

Cheese lovers take note: France is the place to indulge your savoury side, with hundreds of varieties of time-honoured cheeses waiting to light-up your palate. Nowhere in the world is cheese as beloved and respected as France, with centuries of tradition and artisanal expertise going into every indulgent morsel and mouthful.

If you love cheese as much as the French, or simply admire all things gourmet, our introductory guide to the nation’s best-loved cheeses can help inspire your next foodie getaway. Here, we explore the origins and legacy of cheesemaking in France, before taking a look at its signature varieties. Best not to read on an empty stomach.

What does cheese mean to the French?

Cheese is a staple of the French diet and has been since year dot. It’s difficult to think of another country where a single product is as universally cherished, such is the adoration that local people have for this indulgent dairy creation in every region of France.

To put the French’s collective love of cheese into perspective, take a look at some of the facts and figures surrounding its consumption…

While cheese is beloved the world over, few treat it with the same respect as the French. Here, it forms the cornerstone of many a great meal, and remains a distinguished, elegant addition to the dining table in all its guises – be it a slab of rich Comté, a commanding wedge of Roquefort, or a steaming vat of raclette, ready to embrace a hunk of baguette.

Learn more about the history and varieties of French cheese below.

A brief history of cheesemaking in France

Cheese, like wine, is entrenched in the very fabric of French history and culture. Experts believe cheese has been made in France since the Bronze Age, with each generation advancing the process and bringing new varieties and flavours to the fore.
Plate of cheese with jam and honey
If you’re a great lover of all things French fromage, extend your knowledge of the country’s cheesemaking heritage with our interactive timeline, which highlights key dates in the origins and development of France’s beloved cheeses.

French cheese types and varieties

French cheeses come in an assortment of shapes, sizes, flavours and textures, all as distinctive and indulgent as the last. In the era of modern cheesemaking, six overarching categories are used to classify the many different varieties, and these generally refer to the property and ingredients of the cheese and how they’re made.

Take a look at the characteristics of each type of French cheese below.

White mould cheese

Bread dipped into warm cheese

White mould cheeses are among the most popular in France and internationally. This category, which is almost always made using cow’s milk, includes favourites such as Brie de Meaux and Camembert de Normandie. To create the distinctive ‘white mould’ case, the cheese is dusted with penicillium, which causes bacterial growth and essentially encases the cheese in an edible outer layer.

Ideal wine pairing: Chardonnay

Washed rind cheese

Slices of cheese

Washed rind cheeses are made in a similar way to white mould varieties, with the only real difference being the longer affinage period (normally 6-8 weeks, compared to 2 weeks for white mould). Some washed rind cheeses are brushed with a ‘morge’, which gives it a natural yellowy-brown colouring; sometimes, brandy, beer or Muscadet is used for a similar effect. The most celebrated cheeses in this category include Munster, Époisses, Pont-l’Évêque and Livarot.

Ideal wine pairing: Alsace Gewurztraminer

Uncooked semi-hard cheese

Uncooked semi hard cheese

The uncooked semi-hard category encompasses a huge number of cheeses, including industrial, homemade and artisan-produced varieties. After moulding, the cheese curd is put under pressure to release its moisture, before soaking in a salted brine to impart intense flavour. As opposed to brining, some premium AOC varieties are simply rubbed and seasoned with rock salt, which is considered the most traditional form of curing the cheese. Standout products to look out for include Tomme and Morbier.

Ideal wine pairing: Pinot Noir

Hard cheese

Man cutting hard cheese

Hard cheese is among the oldest types of cheese in France. Traditionally made by shepherds in the French Alps who needed sustenance for long, hazardous journeys through the wilds; French hard cheese is beloved for its rich, earthy flavour and long shelf-life. Hard cheese has a long affinage period, with some of the most premium varieties aged for two or more years, enhancing and bolstering the flavour. Look out for historic varieties such as Beaufort and Comté, both of which are made from cow’s milk in the alpine regions of south-eastern France.

Ideal wine pairing: Champagne

Slice of blue cheese

For many cheese lovers, nothing beats a French blue. In many ways, this is where it all began for French cheesemaking, with varieties such as Roquefort among the oldest continually-produced cheeses in Europe. Intense in flavour yet decidedly creamy, French blues such as Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne and Fourme d’Ambert pack a serious flavour punch, making them delicious served simply atop a slice of freshly baked bread. Cool, damp ageing cellars help produce the blue mould veins within the cheese, imparting powerful, iconic flavour.

Ideal wine pairing: Bordeaux Sauternes

Goat's cheese

goats cheese

Goat’s cheese is, of course, defined by the type of milk and not the method of production. That means there are many types of goat’s milk cheeses available in France, varying greatly in texture, colour and flavour. Goat’s cheese isn’t as popular as cow’s milk cheese, so production is usually farm-based, using traditional tools and ingredients. This adds to the authentic, regional flavour of goat’s cheese, and some varieties, such as Sainte-Maure Caprifeuille and Soignon are beloved for their rich, natural flavour.

Ideal wine pairing: Sauvignon Blanc

Exploring French cheese on an Emerald Cruises river cruise

Selection of french cheeses

As part of a boutique French river cruise with Emerald Cruises, you’ll be well placed to taste your way through the country’s indulgent cheeses – with itineraries on the Rhône and Saône rivers, as well as optional city stays in Paris, providing tasting opportunities aplenty. There are also wine/cheese tasting sessions on select Emerald Cruises sailings.

Sample indulgent Camembert de Normandie; pair rich Roquefort with sweet Sauternes; taste alpine hard cheese over a glass of Champagne in Provence; and seek out an indulgent raclette on the streets of Paris.

If cheese is your forte, France is the place for you. Our boutique river cruises are available on the Rhône river, with optional city stays allowing you to immerse in the gourmet culture of Paris. For more information or to book your place, visit the homepage or call us on 855 444 0161.