European Vacations - Part 3: cheese / Fromage

France is definitely the country of cheeses (fromages)! Imagine that there are approximately 400 different types depending on how you count them. On top of this, cheeses can be aged, giving a different texture, color and taste. I remember that few years ago, I brought my wife Jodi to the cheese section of a supermarket in France and showed her not only the large selection, but also the prices that were 2 to 3 times less than in the United States!

It is very common in a French family lunch or dinner to end with a cheese plate (do not forget the bread)! There are also lots of recipes featuring cheese: a cheese souffle is a good example.

In New York, there are few places were you can find good French cheeses: Fairway (the cheapest), Zabar and Whole Foods are the most common. Freshdirect has also a good selection. Whenever I buy cheeses for a cheese dinner (understand only eating cheese and bread - yum!), I often select:
  • A bucheron: sort of log of goat cheese with a strong, but not overpowering taste. It is delicious in a salad, toasted on a piece of bread.
  • A Saint Nectaire: a rustic, earthy, washed-rind cow's-milk cheese aged for weeks on wooden planks and beds of straw that give Saint-Nectaire a pronounced grassy aroma and flavor.
  • A comte or cave aged gruyere that has a lingering nutty flavor. I use it also for my Mac & Cheese.
  • A Saint Andre: a triple-cream that is mild, milky, sweet and buttery.
Of course, the list is non exhaustive and I like to vary based on the selection in front of me. Some people do not like the strong taste of cheese. A good way to counteract this is to either eat the cheese with butter, honey or jam. Pear jam is especially good with cheese! 

So, in Grenoble, we went to Les Alpages, one of the best fromagerie (cheese store) in town. It is owned by Bernard Mure-Ravaud who after being named the best cheese merchant in the World, was awarded the title of Maitre Ouvrier de France (MOF) in 2007. This award is unique in France and sees professionals  from different categories compete to win the title.

The store is quite big (approximately 2500 sqf) and you cannot miss the smell of all the cheeses (there are so many!). Again here: small prices compared to what we are used to! Lots of people are there to buy but also receive advices from the employees or the Master itself with his funny moustache. 

We ended up there to buy some cheeses for a fondue (dish of melted cheese served in a communal pot -caquelon- over heat, and eaten by dipping long-stemmed forks with bread into the cheese). I have to confess that I forgot what cheeses they proposed. Most of the time, it will be Comte, Beaufort and Emmental.

To make a fondue for four people (I tried to adapt with regular cheese easy to find):
  • 1/2 pound of Comte cheese or aged gruyere.
  • 1/2 pound of Emmental or Swiss cheese.
  • 1/2 pound of Beaufort or sharp cheddar.
  • 1.5 cup of dry white wine.
  • A garlic clove.

Rub the inside of a 4-quart pot with the garlic, then discard. Add the wine and bring to a low simmer on medium heat. Little by little, slowly stir the cheese into the wine, constantly to prevent the cheese from seizing and balling up. Cook just until the cheese is melted and creamy.

It will be eaten by dipping cut up bread (usually old bread) in the cheese. But be careful: if your bread falls into the pot, you have dare!

Enjoy (I did)!

And remember: I just want to eat!

Fromagerie Les Alpages
4, rue de Strasbourg
38000 Grenoble - France