Friday, January 9, 2009

French cheese....and Friday rant

I know I've ranted about the state of cheese in the United States before. But I'm going to do it again, and go more in detail about the cheese itself.

The United States does have some very good hard cheeses. Like cheddar. I love me some sharp cheddar, great for a snack, and it can still be made pretty tasty even when lower in fat than the regular kind. We also make the world's worst cheeses, including Cheez Whiz (cheese in a can? Seriously? And yes, I did eat this as a kid, I will admit it) and American cheese (I'm convinced that cheese-flavored is as much a euphemism as is watermelon-flavored for Jolly Ranchers. I love Watermelon Jolly Ranchers, but seriously, they don't taste like watermelon. I don't love American cheese).

France, however, has some of the best cheeses. Ever. Part of the reason for that is the use of raw milk in their cheese (not pasteurizing, which is the heating of the milk to a certain temperature to kill the bacteria). Now, pasteurizing was invented for a reason. Hell, my high school was on Avenue Louis Pasteur, so it's a major step in science. But I have to say that cheese that hasn't been pasteurized is oh so yummy. I'm not a big fan of the moldy cheese, like Roquefort or Gorgonzola, but the rest are very tasty. Here are some examples:

Brie is ubiquitous in Cheeseland. Every party you go to has it. Now, here in the States, Brie has a fairly bland, rather ho-hum flavor, and to me seems more like spreadable cheese (preprocessed) than real cheese (brie here, even if it was made in France, tends to be pasteurized). It can still be tasty, depending on the batch, but it's a shadow of tasty. Now, compared to other French cheeses, brie does have a very mild flavor. But it's got more flavor than the stuff here.

One of my favorites is camembert. This is also a wheel and looks rather like brie. But it's got a much stronger flavor. I've heard people say that you know the camembert is ready to eat when it smells like stinky socks. I've also heard that it was a great cheese for poorer families because you take out a slice, leave it to sit for a little while, and the soft cheese will fill in the area you sliced out (though I imagine this would reduce the overall size of the cheese). Camembert is also available in the States, often pasteurized, and on the grand scheme of things is relatively mild (though stronger than brie).

Chevre (goat cheese) is one of my absolute favorites. My local farmer's market has a stand which sells goat cheese in various flavors (citrus lavendar, orange cardamom, chive, pepper, etc), and it's still yummy even though the flavor of the cheese isn't very strong. In Paris, I had slices of goat cheese on baguette, topped with a softer cheese (I'm not sure if it was parmesan or what) and then baked in the oven. Absolute heaven!

Comte (com-tay, I don't have accents) is a hard French cheese which is rather mild but also fairly nutty in flavor. It's great on a stiffer bread than baguette, like a rustic loaf of some kind. The cheese was originally made to nourish shepherds who were on the road for long periods of time, so the cheese would stay good for months (can you imagine?! I should go buy some of this, if they have it, because it takes me a long time to eat cheese!)

Emmental (Swiss) is a cheese I've never really gotten behind. At least, in the US incarnation. I know tons of kids loved the holey cheese on their sandwiches, and I was just never a fan. It's still not one of my favorites, but I at least find the real emmental to be palatable in small doses (ringing endorsement, isn't it?).

Roquefort is the characteric moldy cheese that scares a lot of people. We've been conditioned by evolution to avoid mold and nasty-looking stuff to safeguard our health. But the French have figured out a way to harness the mold in a tasty way. It's also known as the "King of Cheeses" but maybe that's just because the bright blue/green mold will scare away the other cheeses, or cow them into submission. I now feel like I should go back and try it again. And hey, a little penicillin couldn't hurt, right?

There are so many more French cheeses, it's not even funny (there are about 500 different kinds). As much as France is known for wine, it's known for cheese. Here's a wikipedia page listing a bunch of them (though it isn't an exhaustive list). One of my favorites when I was in Toulouse was a hard mountain cheese that for the life of me I can't remember the name of (except that it started with an M), but I had the impression it was more of a local cheese, so I don't think I'd be able to find it around here.

I understand the reasoning behind the laws against raw milk. They don't want people to get sick. But seriously, millions of people every day in this country eat McDonald's, which is even worse (yeah, cheese has bacteria and saturated fat, but McDo's has tons of chemicals on top of the saturated and trans fats). I think we should be able to make raw milk cheese in this country (though given we don't have a culture of it, it probably wouldn't be as good as European cheese for a good while), and just put labels on it saying that it could potentially be dangerous. I mean, hell, that's what we do with cigarettes. There are warnings on cigarettes that they could kill you or give you cancer or whatever, there are warnings on alcohol to warn pregnant women about its effects. If people disregard those warnings, that's their own problem.

My two cents. Finis.


Charlotte said...

I'm SO with you about the raw milk ridiculousness! Esp. when it comes to cheese. Anyhow, cheese is my chocolate. And camembert is one of my ultimate faves. Darn you for giving me another craving!!

The Lethological Gourmet said...

"Cheese is my chocolate" - that's awesome, I love that!

I really want some of that baked goat cheese right now. Mmm.

Romny said...

I just love cheese!