Insider's Tour of French Cheese Culture

Explore a bit of Europe and meet a few of our local partners through the eyes of Jodi Bart, the winner of our Foodie Fantasy Food Blogger Video Contest.

Jodi Bart is the Austin-based blogger behind Tasty Touring opens in a new tab, who won a trip to Europe through our Foodie Fantasy Food Blogger Video Contest. She’ll be sharing some of her adventures in this 2-part blog feature. Read about her tour of M. Chapoutier Vineyard here opens in a new tab.

I recently returned from a fabulous European vacation for two, thanks to Whole Food Market’s Foodie Fantasy Food Blogger Video Contest opens in a new tab. One of the highlights of the trip (an Intrepid Travel opens in a new tab tour from Berlin to Paris) was the Paris cheese tour that was specially arranged for us by Whole Foods Market.We took the train from Belgium, arriving in Paris on a Friday morning. When we arrived at our hotel, Antoine Marsot, general manager of Interval Export opens in a new tab, was there to greet us with a smile.

Antoine has worked in the exporting business since he graduated from business school in the late 1980s. For a decade he managed exports for Laïta opens in a new tab, a French dairy cooperative, before buying Interval from its founder, who was retiring after twenty years in business.Antoine is passionate about running his business in a way that will make a positive contribution to the longevity of small- and medium-sized dairies, the happiness of his employees, and to share his management philosophy with others. He believes that people who work at Interval should be there because they are passionate about the work and because they feel it is contributing to their self-development, apart from the salary. Two US companies that he most admires are Whole Foods Market and Patagonia opens in a new tab.

We took a taxi over to the first stop on our tour, La Grande Epicerie opens in a new tab, the grocery store inside an Au Bon Marche, a high-end department store. We walked to the Boulevard Raspail Market (an outdoor market open three days a week). From there, we hopped in a cab to Quatrehomme opens in a new tab Maison du Fromage (the official Fromagerie to France’s president), walked to the adorable and delicious Chez Germaine opens in a new tab bistro for lunch, and after enjoying a bottle of rosé, a multi-course meal and espresso, we made our way to Pascal Beillevaire opens in a new tab shop for a private degustation (tasting), and finally a visit to Fromagerie Laurent Dubois opens in a new tab.

In the U.S., most cheese is sold either in the refrigerated section of the grocery store or by a cheese monger who stands behind a counter, educating customers about the cheeses, providing samples and cutting wedges to order.In Paris, both of these methods are used to sell cheese, but there is also a new style of Fromagerie where the cheese lines the walls and the cheese mongers stand inside the store with the customers, in order to create a more approachable environment. Both Pascal Beillevaire and Laurent Dubois are designed this way, along with the store being set up with temperature-controlled sections based on the needs of different cheeses.

In these stores, the cheese is treated like the living organism that it is. It is left unwrapped when stored, and then wrapped in plastic (for those cheeses without protective rinds) during store hours, then unwrapped at lunch when the store closes, and re-wrapped two or three hours later when it opens again. The care provided to these cheeses is astounding.We learned about cheeses marked “au lait cru,” meaning that they are made with unpasteurized (raw) milk. In the US, raw milk cheeses are only legal if they have been aged at least 60 days at a certain temperature. Because of the Protected Designation of Origin opens in a new tab (P.D.O.) regulations, all European cheeses must be produced in certain regions and under specific conditions to market themselves under recognizable names.

This means that most of the soft cheeses in the U.S. that we call Brie, Mont d’Or, or Camembert do not meet the AOC or PDO requirements of being produced using raw milk. Even if they come from the correct region, the FDA law does not permit these cheeses due to the age regulation.While at the amazing Pascal Beillevaire store for our degustation, we learned more about the company. One of their processes uses milk still warm from the cows. Twice a day, they collect fresh milk (warm from the animal’s body temperature) from small farms to be processed at the nearby cheese factory within one hour of milking. They then age the cheese in their own cellars.

The company is dedicated to this extremely time-sensitive process in order to avoid having to process the cheese more than necessary by heating then cooling then heating the milk again. Since the cheese is only warm once, it retains the flavor of the food eaten by the animal, and other subtle factors that make up the terroir of each cheese.Tasting Pascal Beillevaire’s cheeses was a pleasure, not just because they were delicious and had strong flavor, but also because of the care they put into making each wheel. Feeling connected to the process really elevated the tasting experience to a new level.When has learning more about a producer made you appreciate their product in a new way?Check out more stories from Jodi’s European Foodie Fantasy vacation on her blog, Tasty Touring opens in a new tab. You can watch her one-minute winning video here opens in a new tab. All photos courtesy of Adam Holzband.

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