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.
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.