France's 400 sorts of cheese could puzzle Mickey mouse ...
We also get confused when confronted with the uncountable designation of cheese (cheese of guaranted origin, made with milk or pasteurised milk, farm made or mass produced ...). It is a matter of local flavour as well as a matter of money ...
We're here to help you and help you learn more about cheese, for a start, take a look at this map of France, with a few cheeses placed on it.
The origin of cheese is lost in the mist of time. Thousand of cows and sheeps and goats have been milked since someone first decided to curdle milk. The French have always regarded cheese as essential, whether they buy it on site (in farms), or in supermarkets. But which sort of cheese shall you choose ? According to the legislation, cheese means " fermented or not fermented, matured or not matured food, made from dairy produce (milk, can be more or less skimmed, or cream or dasher). It can be used as such or coagulated, before it se drained, partly or not. It keeps at least 23% of dry matter". The kind of milk used has to be notified, it not cow milk.
The 400 sorts of French cheese recorded can be made with milk or with pasteurised milk. The "milk" label means that the milk was not heated over 37°C. "This way, it keeps all its properties, although il lose certain pathogenic baceria which can prove dangerous for human beings", Mr Garsault, Head-manager of the International cheese Institute explains. Farm cheese bears such as label. "They back up the French cheese tradition", G. Ripaud, who is in charge of technical cheese related problems near the Food Office asserts.
From a legal pont of view, farm cheese "is a hand made in farms, with the milk of a single drove, each day". Small scale production is back again as proved by the high price of products !
The milk used to make pasteurised cheese is heated up to 72°C, for 20 to 30 seconds, which annihilated any pathogenic germ. Then, the milk is seeded again with lactic bacteria, in order to restore the flora indispensable for maturing the paste. "Is it a crime to take the main bacteria out of milk and to replace them by others, which are selected and standarkised in laboratories ? Is it a good thing to add to this milk other synthetic ingrediens ?" Pierre Androuet, a supporter of high quality cheese, asked as far back as 1973. In 1909, he opened a creamery in Paris, rue d'Amsterdam, which, since then, has been crowded by cheese lovers from the whole world. But P. Androuet's question has not been answered yet.
For some, mass-produced cheese is not cheese actually : but it ranks first in house-hold consumtion. So, on one hand, you find mass production and low costs, and on the other small scale production. Prices differ mainly. "Still, cheese is a matter of native tang", Raymond Felix, a head cheesemonger at Androuet's notices. "Similar sorts of cheese cna be more or less expensive according to their fame and to the price of milk," Pascal Moingeon, sales manager in charge of Lanquetot labeled camemberts from the calvados region, sets the example fo camembets : "There is a segmentation as concerns brands : Lanquedoc, Lepetit, Gillot, Cooperative d'Isigny are made with milk. Their prices are over FF 10, and they are chosen by 15% of consumers . The pasteurised camenberts, branded President, Bridel or Coeur de Lion are the market core, with a 85% of share ; They are sold under FF 10 ; Ladle moulding accounts for the price difference. For Lanquetot camenbert, the mould is filled with five layers of curdled milk, which are spaced 40mm, so as to allow a slow draining and a different taste".
"The difference between cheese made with pasteurised milk or with milk is a bit ambiguous", Mr Garsuault notices, "some prefer to give no detail about it".
So, keep your eye skinned ! If you read "Normandy camembert"
on the label, it means that it is a ladle-moulded camembert, made with milk : the origin is guaranteed even if for 15 years or so, most of the cows in Normandy are of Dutch origin. Camemberts "made in Normandy" are pasteurised mainly : for cheese lovers, this is not full flavoured cheese. The ordinary label "Camembert" can be used for cheese made in any French region,as well as in China; its main asset is its low price
So can one actually see the difference between a pasteurised and a milk camembert ?
"Yes" Pascal Moingeon asserts, "non-pasteurised cheese has an uneven rind of various colours, whereas it is even and white when cheese is pasteurised : the ripening process is stopped then. The sides of a ripen cheese are soft to the touch ; and it goes on ripening stores :a gourmet never mistakes one for the other."
Is pasteurised cheese really inferior ? There is no answer : some unwaveringly support the category that other cannot bear. "Cheese lovers enjoy milk cheese of guarented origin. But 85% consumers prefer milder pastes, enjoyed by the whole family. "
In French supermarkets, huge cheese counters are quite a sight.
But should you buy it near a traditional or a self-service departement ?
"As concerns supermarkets, it's a load of rubbish : suppliers have to pay to get a
good place at the self-service departement; so they overvalue their products so as
to recoup the expenses"; says claude Bajolet, who used to be the head of a Leclerc
hypermarket dairy produce departement for over 6 years. Today, he manages his own
dairy in Paris 10th district.
Is the traditional shop better ? "Clients don't want to wait, and self-service buying is impulsive. People only care about the price of already packaged slices. That cheese is pasteurised, mass-produced and tasteless mainly : it is produced for just anyone, any Europeen folk; But the lower the price, the lower the quality..."
On the other hand, Claude Barjolet favours traditionally sold cheese. "As a head departement, I was dealing with producers directly : this is a token of quality, and a real cheesemonger is able to tell clients when the optimal tasting is over : the colours of rinds change : no way to sell then !". Today, this experienced man fully carries on his job. "A professional cheesmonger, thanks to his know-how and to his presence in the shop, can sell any fresh product, while standing apart from mass distribution systems. Here, I offer my clients as many farm products as possible, plus Dutch cheese, such as old Gouda. I buy small quantities of cheese, in order to keep it splendid. I will soon care with the ripening of some sorts myself. My prices are not higher than anywhere else."
For health-related motives, some make a stand against farm cheese, which, they say, is not asceptic enough, and which could harm fragile people. No fear ! "Agriculture and health Ministries would never allow the sale of any dubious product", Gerard Ripaud strongly retorts.
In farms as well as in
factories, hygiene is irreprochable.
The veterinarian inspections are many, at any stage of the manufacturing process. The ticketing of cheese is also submitted to strict rules; several mentions have to be found on labels :
Cream cheese bears a particular mention : "moisture content superior to 82% or 85%".
Only cheese of guaranteed origin is exempted from bearing certain references.
"Each sort of cheese reveals a pasture of a differente green , under a different sky". Italo Calvino wrote. And each sort will however please a differente consumer, with his taste buds and his gustative education.
Now if you need advices on the way to choose your cheese, it will be a pleasure for us to help you.