Archives for August 2018

The History of Cheese

Like many origin stories throughout human history, the discovery of cheese and the beginning of cheesemaking remains one of the most famous legends. Much like the history of France itself, the history of cheese tells a remarkable story of human progress and ingenuity.


The Beginnings of Dairy

Long before France even became an independent nation, milk was being used to create cheese. While many historians agree that milk consumption dates back to sometime during the Neolithic Era, depending on the region of the world, it is usually considered to have begun in Europe around 7500 years ago. Around this time, dairy farming began increasing as Central Europeans underwent a genetic change, allowing their bodies to produce the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for breaking down the milk sugar lactose.


From Milk to Cheese

While dairy farming began to become prevalent in Central Europe during this early period, the actual making of cheese is believed to have begun in the Mesopotamia region around the same time. From this period, we are left with interesting fables about how cheese was first discovered, along with beautiful illustrations depicting the process of milk turning into cheese. However, we don’t begin to see the first written records of the exact steps that go into the cheesemaking process until the Roman Empire in the first century AD.

Even though many cheese recipes were lost after the fall of the Roman Empire, many of them, such as well-known ones like Maroilles and Munster, were preserved in monasteries, where cheesemaking remained a very delicate and unique art.


Cheese Finding its Way to France

From these monasteries, we are able to trace the origins of the French tradition and love of cheesemaking. As cheese gained more popularity throughout France, it continued to only be produced and consumed in local regions. With this production pattern, French cheese began to take on very specific regional characteristics, which are referred to today as a cheese’s terroir.

Within each region of France, ingenuity and creativity led to the blossoming of a robust and unique culture of cheesemaking science and art. Local cheese producers began experimenting and cultivating new types of cheese, as well as producing distinct variations of already established cheeses. As this process continued, France slowly became recognized around the world for producing the greatest variety of delicious and exceptional cheeses.


Modern Day Cheese

Today, the basics of the cheesemaking process actually remain mostly the same. Basically, cheese is created from milk through a process known as coagulation, which occurs when rennet, a set of complex enzymes, or an acidic substance, such as lemon juice or vinegar, is added to milk, causing it to coagulate. During this process, the milk protein casein forms into solid masses known as curds, which are then pressed together to form what we know as cheese. This process can be used for any animal’s milk, however, typically animals such as cows, goats, or sheep are used.

While the basic process to produce cheese has mostly remained the same since its origin, interesting variations, such as the type of animal, the type of bacteria and mold, the aging process, whether or not it is pasteurized, the butterfat content, the temperature and humidity, and the brine, represent specific elements that determine the type of cheese and its overall profile. Beyond this, herbs and spices are also used to enhance flavors and colors.

With the incredibly large degree of variation among each of these extremely important details, the number of different cheeses, specifically in France alone, has reached an extraordinary number of around 400, and because there actually exists variations within these categories themselves, some people consider there to be over 1000 different styles of cheese throughout France today.

Come to one of Left Bank’s restaurants and try the superiority of French cheese today!

France, “Land of Milk”

While we have written in other posts about the importance of cheese for French culture and cuisine, today we will discuss the equally important source—milk. Due to France’s immaculate natural environment and climate, which includes large regions of green meadows and grassy fields, as well as the perfect amount of rain to bring the vegetation to life, the French dairy farms are situated in one of the most suitable regions in the world to raise dairy cows.


The Beginnings of Dairy

Long before France became an independent nation, milk was being consumed all across Europe for thousands of years. While many historians agree that milk consumption dates back to sometime during the Neolithic Era, depending on the region of the world, it is usually considered to have begun in Europe around 7500 years ago. Around this time, dairy farming began increasing as Central Europeans underwent a genetic change, allowing their bodies to produce the enzyme lactase, which is responsible for breaking down the milk sugar lactose. Due to this incredible genetic mutation, people were able to consume milk throughout their whole lives without suffering any severe complications.

One of the hypothesized reasons that this genetic mutation was naturally selected for, allowing it to become a dominant trait among Europeans, is because it was especially helpful during periods when food shortages had occurred. During these times, dairy consumption increased because it was extremely conducive for providing the nutrients we need to stay healthy, and since only certain adults could consume milk without suffering digestive complications, the people who were more likely to pass on their genes were people who had the genetic mutation that allowed their bodies to comfortably consume milk.


Modern Day Dairy

Today, the dairy industry in France has grown to an epic size. Even though this industry has grown to around 65,000 dairy farms and 650 processing plants, the individual farms still remain relatively small compared to the industrial-sized dairy farming we see in the United States. Most dairy farms are still family-oriented operations, consisting of herds between 30 and 120 cows, which allows them to ensure each individual cow is cared for properly, with special attention given to health and well-being.

While France has always has strict policies surrounding the dairy industry in order to maintain the high quality of milk that France is known for around the world, such as specific requirements for the feed and care for the cows, as well as frequent inspections to ensure farms are following these guidelines, in recent years, France has been especially focusing on improving the overall well-being of the animals. Furthering continued efforts over the last couple centuries to improve overall farming practices, France has expanded their work to improve the health and well-being of the cows to include goals such as lowering cows’ stress levels and also ensuring the cows are able to express natural behaviors. These efforts not only improve the lives of the animals that provide us our nutrients, but it also improves the overall quality of the milk.

The typical life of a cow in France includes stress-free grazing outdoors between April and October, where the cow will be eating the natural grasses of the land. During the other part of the year, the cows will be fed fodder that is naturally grown on the farm, which typically consists of hay and cereal. As previously mentioned, the dairy farming process in France pays special attention to the cows health and stress levels throughout their whole life, not only to ensure the overall well-being of these incredibly important animals, but also to guarantee the highest quality of milk.

While cows dominate the dairy scene, with approximately 3.6 million across all of France, sheep and goats also make up a large portion of the dairy industry, with 1.2 million and 850,000, respectively. With 20 different breeds of cows across France, the diversity of milk allows the French to produce a wide-range of delicious and unique products, including cheese, butter, cream, and yogurt.

Not only is the milk produced in France of superior quality, but the dairy industry is also one of the most important components of France’s economy. With nearly 28 billion euros in revenue each year, 300,000 jobs across the dairy industry, and 3.6 billion euros in trade surplus from dairy alone, milk and other dairy products have become one of the strongest supporters of France’s overall economy.


The True “Land of Milk”

 With its rich history in the development of French culture and immense importance for French cuisine, dairy farming remains one of France’s most cherished traditions. Not only is the milk craved by nations all over the world because of its superior quality and diversity, but all of the dairy products created with it are as well. Together, all of these attributes have truly given France the right to be known as the “Land of Milk.”

Steak Frites

While exploring all of the traditional and unique dishes French cuisine has to offer, an extremely  common and popular dish you are likely to come across is Steak Frites. Despite the fact that there still exists disagreement regarding whether it originated in Belgium or France, it is still considered to be one of France’s most iconic dishes.

There’s good reason for such a high degree of popularity and love surrounding this dish. The combination is too perfect—the juicy, tender steak, usually cooked rare, pairs so eloquently with the sweet starchiness of the fried potatoes. Even though it sounds like a basic dish, you will find variations throughout every restaurant in France, from the cut of meat used, to the thickness of the fries, and of course the sauce. As a hearty meal with a rich history, it’s no wonder that Steak Frites has become a cornerstone of French cuisine.

Throughout history, this dish was predominantly made with Rump Steak, which refers to a cut of meat either from the sirloin region or the round region. Today, however, Steak Frites is typically made with the Ribeye, cooked in a pan with a reduction sauce and served with Pommes Frites, or French Fries. Other common sauces include béarnaise, a sauce made with butter, egg yolks, vinegar, and herbs; and graine de moutarde, which is made with white wine, mustard, and cream. You will also find other cuts of beef commonly used, such as the Tenderloin, Filet Mignon, Skirt Steak, and the New York Strip.

At Left Bank, our restaurants offer the classic Steak Frites with either an 8 ounce Skirt Steak or a 10 ounce Ribeye, perfectly paired with our crispy, golden Pommes Frites, and the choice of Bordelaise, Roquefort Butter, or Au Poivre sauce.

Bordelaise sauce originates from the Bordeaux region of France and is typically produced using red wine, butter, bone marrow, shallots, and demi-glace. It is considered to be one of the more traditional sauces for Steak Frites.

Roquefort Butter is a delicious butter sauce flavored with Roquefort cheese.

Au Poivre Sauce is a traditional French sauce that receives its flavor mainly from pepper, Cognac, and heavy cream.

If you find yourself in Paris and searching for Steak Frites, one of the most widely recommended brasseries is Le Relais de l’Entrecote. At this restaurant, you won’t even receive a menu, because the only thing they serve is a refreshing green walnut salad, followed by their extraordinary tenderloin, which is covered in their famous sauce, and a side of crispy, golden fries. The only question you’ll have to answer is how you like your meat cooked. Along with this, their wines are all superb pairings for Steak Frites, and they offer a large selection of decadent desserts, all of which serve as a perfect way to end a meal.

Other well-known brasseries in France that serve amazing Steak Frites include: Le Voltaire, Le Bistrot Paul Bert, La Bourse ou La Vie, and Cafe du Commerce.

When it comes to French culture and national identity, the first place to look is always the kitchen. Like wine and oysters, beef is one of the most treasured delicacies throughout all of France, positioning itself at the center of French cuisine. However, a succulent slice of meat wouldn’t be complete without its perfect pairing—fried potatoes. Therefore, the only true way to understand French culture and experience French cuisine is by enjoying the classic Steak Frites.

Whether you find yourself exploring France, or at one of our restaurants, when you order Steak Frites, you can always expect your steak to be tender and juicy, your fries to be crisp and golden, and your stomach to be full and happy.

Come try the iconic Steak Frites at any one of Left Bank’s locations today!

French Cheese Regions

Even though there are around 650,000 dairy farms in France, each one still remains loyal to the local culture and regional characteristics in which they are located. The unique characteristics of each French region are clearly translated into every dairy product one will find, especially cheese. Much like wine, French cheese is considered to have a terroir, or special characteristics that derive from the local environment and overall region in which it is produced. From the incredibly detail-oriented and dedicated cheesemakers, to the long, rich history of each cheese, the distinct and diverse regions of France are where each cheese receives its truly exceptional and one-of-a-kind character.

In this post, we will be discussing each unique French region, as well as highlighting a specific cheese from each one.



Located in the north-eastern region of France, Alsace is one of the most celebrated regions when it comes to French cuisine. While many people recognize Alsace for its superior wine and beer, the cheese produced in this luscious region is also incredible. When it comes to cheese, Alsace is well-known for the world-renowned Muenster cheese. Made from the famous Vosges cow breed, the Muenster cheese is a soft cheese that is AOC certified. Made from raw milk, the Muenster cheese is creamy and smooth, with a strong smell and an incredible savory taste. The red rind of the Muenster cheese adds a lot to the delicious aroma. Along with the aromatic rind, the flavor of the Muenster cheese pairs perfectly with a strong, full-bodied red wine.



In the south-west corner of France, one will find the extremely fertile landscape that is perfect for dairy farming and cheese making. Aquitaine is mostly known for the Ossau-Iraty cheese, which is one of the only two sheep milk cheeses that has an AOC certification. As a traditional French cheese, the Ossau-Iraty cheese has a beautiful yellow-orange crust and a white, creamy center that makes this cheese amazing for pairing with any meal or wine.



Other than the beautiful mountains of Auvergne, the staple of this region is the wonderful bleu cheese—Bleu d’Auvergne. Originating from the 1850s, Bleu d’Auvergne was discovered by the famous cheesemaker Antoine Roussel, who realized that the blue color in his cheese had a good taste. The blue color derives from different varieties of the Penicillium mold, giving the cheese a unique texture and flavor. As a blue cheese, Bleu d’Auvergne is a great cheese to use for salad dressings and even simple snacking, as well as pairing with heavy beers and sweet wines.



A central region that has incredibly vast vineyards, Bourgogne is mostly known for the Délice de Bourgogne cheese, which is a soft-ripened triple-creamed cheese that is special because it is made by adding cream to cheese making process. Due to this process, the Délice de Bourgogne cheese is creamy and smooth, with an extremely bloomy and pungent rind because of the Penicillium Candidum mold.



With a vast coastline spanning the northwest region of France, Brittany is mostly well-known for having an extensive selection of fresh seafood; however, the incredibly fertile soil and temperament climate also makes Brittany an ideal region for agriculture, especially dairy farming. In fact, Brittany is France’s leading region for livestock breeding and care, with nearly 16,000 dairy farms, many of which specialize in a certain breed of dairy cow, Brittany produces a fifth of France’s overall milk production

Based on this, Brittany is primarily known for delicious cow’s milk cheeses. Two of the best cow’s milk cheeses to be found in Brittany are Emmental and Saint-Paulin. Emmental cheese, while actually originating in Switzerland, is produced in large quantities across Brittany. A medium-hard yellow cheese with mild savory taste, the Emmental cheese is a great cheese to be used for a variety of dishes, whether grated as a topping or cooked down to a fondue. On the other hand, Saint-Paulin is a creamy soft cheese, with a gorgeous orange rind and a sweet, buttery taste that pairs perfectly with fruit or a light wine.



As the name suggests, this region is located in the center of France, right in the middle of the Loire Valley. When it comes to cheese in the Centre region, you will find amazing goat’s milk cheeses, including Sainte-Maure-de-Taurine and Selles-sur-Cher. Sainte-Maure-de-Taurine is an AOC certified cheese, which is a cylindrical, soft white cheese with a gray and ashy outer rind. Along with this, the Sainte-Maure-de-Taurine has a great earthy aroma and a nutty flavor. In a like manner, the Selles-sur-Cher cheese also has a soft white center with an ashy, gray outer rind. Due to the texture of the Selles-sur-Cher cheese, each bite will basically melt in your mouth, while the flavor is that of a tangy hazelnut.



While the Champagne-Ardenne region is mainly known for its world-renowned sparkling wine, which actually led to this region being classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the exceptional terroir also produces amazing cheeses. Among the cheeses of Champagne-Ardenne, two of the most well known ones are Langres and Soumaintrain. Made from cow’s milk, the Langres cheese has a beautiful yellow-orange color and unique rind that makes this cheese extremely recognizable. In comparison, the Soumaintrain cheese has a wonderful creamy texture that gets better as it ages.



Known as the “island of beauty,” the cuisine one finds in Corse truly has personality and character. A prized cheese of the Corse region is Brocciu, which derives its special texture and flavor from whey instead of milk. The unique process involves taking the leftover whey from the production of goat’s milk cheese, which is then heated to a high enough degree so that a creamy foam forms on the surface. Then, this foam is put into a mold where it forms into a white, creamy cheese that takes on the flavor of the goat cheese that is derives from.



Located on the Easter edge of France, sharing a border with Switzerland, the Franche-Comté region is made up of beautiful fields, luscious forests, and majestic mountains. With an environment as amazing as this, the cheese produced in this region is also of superior quality. Included among the superior cheeses of Franche-Comté is the Bleu de Gex and the famous Comté cheese. A certified AOC cheese, the Bleu de Gex has to follow strict guidelines during its production process, such as only coming from the milk of the Montbéliard cow. With a creamy, semi-soft texture, the Bleu de Gex is easily recognizable because its rind will be stamped with the word Gex. In contrast, the Comté cheese has a pale yellow color internally, while the rind is typically brown. While its flavor tends to be well-balanced, the aroma of the Comté can vary greatly, including interesting notes of fruit, wood, and butter.



As the region where Paris is located, the culture and cuisine of the Île-de-France region is full of life and excitement. With a rich history, the cheese found in this region shares in the unique characteristics, producing popular cheeses such as Brie and Boursault. As a cheese enjoyed all across France and around the world, the production of Brie is kept under strict guidelines to satisfy its AOC certification, as well as guarantee the quality of the creamy texture and sweet flavor that Brie is so famous for. Even though it might not be as famous as Brie, Boursault cheese has its own unique terroir. As a cheese that is enriched with cream during the production process, the texture is truly magnificent, while its flavor is buttery and citrusy.



In the south of France, the Languedoc-Roussillon region is mostly known for its viticulture, however, the cheese found here is not to be overlooked. Among these cheeses, two of the best are Brousse and Pelardon. Like the Brocciu cheese, Brousse is predominantly made using whey instead of milk, which is aggressively mixed to give it a moist and grainy texture. Made from goat’s milk, the Pelardon cheese has a very recognizable flavor, typically tangy and nutty, the flavor and aroma become much stronger and potent as the cheese ages.



With a beautiful countryside that is ripe for dairy farming, the Limousin region in the south-central area of France focuses mostly on goat’s milk cheese. One of the best cheeses found in this region is the Goutte du Limousin, which is a soft cheese that has herbal flavors and is perfect for spreading on crackers or bread.



As the neighboring region to Alsace, Lorraine shares in the beautiful hillsides and plateaus that are fertile and made for agriculture. Along with this, since Lorraine shares its border with Alsace, the cheeses found here are shared between the two regions, including the famous Muenster cheese. However, Lorraine also has unique cheeses of its own, such as the Carré de l’Est cheese, which is a thick soft cheese that has an incredibly smooth, creamy texture and a very subtle taste that makes it perfect to start your cheese exploration with.



A region with gorgeous landscapes and towns with deep personalities, Midi-Pyrénées is known for its refined cuisine and commitment to quality. While there are a many different cheeses to be found in this region, some of the best include Bleu des Causses and Laguiole. A classic blue cheese, Bleu des Causses is oftentimes compared to Roquefort. With a pungent aroma that can smell like mushrooms, the Bleu des Causses has blue-gray mold that grows in its crevices, giving this cheese a strong essence of traditional blue cheese. In contrast, Laguiole is a hard cheese originating in monasteries in the Aubrac mountains, which has a firm texture that crumbles and a buttery flavor.



On the northern tip of France, Nord-Pas-de-Calais is like every other French region, in that the land and soil is fertile and perfect for agriculture. Due to this, Nord-Pas-de-Calais has become of the top five dairy producers across France. In this light, the cheese found here is incredibly diverse, including unique varieties such as Gouda, Mimolette, and Boulette d’Avesnes. A classic cheese, the Gouda found in France is typically wrapped with wax and mainly used as an ingredient for cheese-based dishes. With a coarse, brown rind, and a beautiful deep orange color, Mimolette is usually a harder type cheese that has a salty flavor. Boulette d’Avesnes also has a vibrant color, specifically a red color that is created using annatto or paprika. Along with this, the Boulette d’Avesnes cheese is made with a mix of herbs that includes tarragon and parsley, which provides most of its flavor.



With one of longest histories of dairy farming and cheese making, dating back to the 10th century, Normandy leads France in cheese production. While Normandy is typically known for very large cheeses, it is also home to one of the world’s most widely enjoyed cheeses—Camembert. Camembert is oftentimes compared to Brie because of a similar creamy texture, however, Camembert aroma tends to be more pungent, while its flavor will usually be stronger, slightly more sour, and chalky. These characteristics of course change drastically depending on the age of Camembert, with a young Camembert having a much weaker aroma and flavor, and becoming extremely more prevalent as the cheese ages.


Pays de la Loire

As another region that produces a large majority of France’s dairy, one will find both goat’s milk and cow’s milk cheeses in Pays de la Loire, as well as some of the best soft cheeses. An incredibly popular cheese found in this region is the Babybel cheese, which has a red wax wrapping that is recognizable anywhere in the world. Typically found in small individual portions, the Babybel cheese has a sweet and mild taste that can be enjoyed at any time of the day.



Made up of fertile farmlands, Picardy is a region that cherishes its rich history of agriculture, especially cheese production. A cheese with as long of a history as Picardy itself, the Maroilles cheese is known to have been enjoyed by a long list of French royalty. An orange cheese, with a washed rind, the Maroilles cheese has a sweet and citrusy flavor, as well as an extremely strong and pungent aroma. Related to the Maroilles cheese, the Vieux Lille also has an aroma that will fill a room. Along with this, the Vieux Lille cheese typically has a strong salty taste.



On the western side of France, the cheese found in the Poitou-Charentes region includes Chabichou du Poitou and Sainte-Maure. With a wrinkly rind and creamy texture, the Chabichou du Poitou is the most famous goat cheese originating in France. The Chabichou du Poitou cheese derives most of its flavor directly from the goat’s milk, giving it a nutty flavor that can not be forgotten. Much like the Chabichou du Poitou, the Sainte-Maure is also an extremely popular goat cheese, as the most widely-consumed goat’s milk cheese across France. With a fresh flavor, the Sainte-Maure has a distinct flavor that grows more prevalent as it ages.


Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

Like all cheeses across France, the cheese found in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur gains all of its character from the regional qualities in which it is produced. While all of the cheeses produced in this region are delicious and full of flavor, one of the most unique cheeses found in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region is the Banon cheese. Using the sweet curd technique, the Banon cheese typically is a sweet flavored cheese with an earthy aroma. One of the reasons this cheese is so unique is because it is typically wrapped in chestnut leaves while it ages, which helps give the cheese its distinct nutty aroma and flavor.



A beautiful mountainous region, the Rhône-Alpes has one the longest histories of cheesemaking across France. A cow’s milk cheese with a dry, orange rind, the Fourme de Montbrison cheese has a creamy paste internally that delivers a salty wood flavor. Another cheese of this region, which is known to be a perfect cheese for melting into dishes, is the Raclette cheese.


Kings of Pastry Movie Review

Every four years in France, a unique competition known as Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (MOF) is held for craftsmen in a long list of different specialty trades and skills. Filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus worked together to produce an entertaining and informative documentary style film that highlights the importance and extremely high-stakes of this competition for French pastry chefs. The “Kings of Pastry” delivers the drama and emotions that exists among these highly-skilled pastry chefs directly to the viewer, leaving you on the edge of your seat as they create extravagant pastry masterpieces and sometimes watch them crumble before their eyes.

Centered around the co-founder of the French Pastry School in Chicago, Jacquy Pfeiffer, as he prepares for the 2007 MOF competition, “Kings of Pastry” follows Pfeiffer back to his childhood home in Alsace, France where he begins training and refining his pastry skills prior to the competition. Gaining valuable knowledge from a previous MOF winner and Pfeiffer’s fellow co-founder of the Chicago school, Sébastien Canonne, Pfeiffer heads back to France in order to train using French ingredients since some French ingredients are slightly different than their American counterparts, and these subtle differences can cause huge changes when it comes to the chemistry of baking and pastry-making.

Perfectly transitioning from a spotlight on Pfeiffer’s preparation, the film moves into the competition period, which spans three days and is centered around a theme. Since the theme of the specific year they chose to film was marriage, the pastry chefs were tasked with making a whole wedding buffet, which includes a wedding cake, chocolate sculpture, sugar sculpture, cream puffs, chocolate candies, breakfast pastries with jam, tea pastries, dessert plate, and a small creative sculpture. While each of these tasks involves an incredibly high degree of skill and knowledge, competitors must not only pay close attention to perfecting the visual aspects of their creations, but they are also judged on taste as well. Along with this, the judges, who are world-renowned pastry chefs Jacques Torres, Pascal Niau, and Pierre Herme, closely watch the whole process from the beginning, critiquing and meticulously watching all of the sixteen finalists, taking into account cleanliness and efficiency as they decide who will earn the title of Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (One of the Best Craftsmen of France). Even though it is a competition, it’s easier to think of it like a test, since more than one pastry chef can earn the title, and it is based on a score from the judges that includes every aspect of the baking and assembly process. While you will truly empathize with some of the pastry chefs who fail, as some of the sculptures crumble before their eyes, the film delivers on the extreme joy that is felt when some succeed.

If you are a fan of cooking shows, you will find immense excitement and joy from watching the “Kings of Pastry.” Much of this is due to Pennebaker and Hegedus’ incredible ability to truly capture the intensity and importance of the competition, as well as the deep emotions of the pastry chefs. Some pastry chefs work their entire lives for the honor to be known as Un des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France, and the film brings viewers into their lives, experiencing the stress and anxiety of such an intense competition, as well as the ultimate joy and pride of the ones who successfully achieve such an honor. It is truly a remarkable and gripping film, one that is perfect for anyone who enjoys the world of French cuisine and cooking competitions, while at the same time standing apart from other cooking shows and competitions, since the “Kings of Pastry” is a much more unique, informative, and interesting film to enjoy.