According to new reports, full fat cheese is good for you. It is now believed that eating cheese raises your "good" cholesterol levels thus protecting you against cardiovascular and metabolic diseases without raising your bad cholesterol levels which can lead to these health problems. Now that is good news for the French, and the Normans especially, who love their cheeses.
There are 8 groups of cheese types in France with 350 to 450 distinct types which themselves can be made into many varieties giving, it is believed, over 1000 French cheeses on sale! Of all these cheeses, 56 are labelled AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée) which protects how and where they are made under French law.
Cheeses of Normandy
Normandy has 4 AOC cheeses:
- Camembert de Normandie
Image from La Cuisine D'Annie
They are all made with cow's milk as cows thrive on the lush grass of Normandy making them produce very creamy milk and thus these lovely creamy cheeses. Camembert and Livarot are both round with Camembert sold in a wooden box and Livarot identifiable by the 3-5 bands of reed mace wrapped around its rim. Pont-l'Évêque is square and Neufchâtel is generally heart shaped. Of these Camembert is probably the most well known and certainly in our local shops has the most makes on sale. However it is the newest of all Normandy cheeses and Livarot that is the oldest, having been made since the Middle Ages.
To learn more about Camembert you can head to the village of the same name in Southern Normandy and visit the manoir where the cheese was apparently first developed and made. There are also exhibitions in a Camembert shaped house (summer only) and tours of the farm where the last traditionally made AOC Camembert was produced by hand using unpasteurised milk (all AOC Camembert now is made with pasteurised milk). More details can be found here - Camembert Village, Normandy.
When to eat cheese
In the UK cheese is always eaten at the end if the meal after dessert to, as my father would say, "take the taste away!" However in France it is eaten before dessert, often with some baguette and maybe a simple green salad. However you would not see cheese crackers at the French dinner table nor would you eat any butter with your cheese.
Normandy Cheese Recipes
There are plenty of recipes using our wonderful Normandy cheeses and our current favourite is one stolen from the Alps. Tartiflette is a potato, bacon, onion and cheese dish that traditionally uses the Alpine cheese reblochon from Savoy. However a Tartiflette Normande uses any of the 4 local cheeses, especially Camembert to create the perfect winter comfort food.
Which leads me to one final point - Camembert or Cheddar? I love both but for different things. You cannot beat a good macaroni cheese made with some really mature Cheddar but then a mouthful of ripe, creamy Camembert between your main course and a delightful dessert is hard to beat to. What I will say though is that if you want Cheddar when you are in France you will have to search hard for it and you'll pay a fortune for it The French are not keep to see foreign cheeses on their shelves as I wrote about here - Should France be selling more Cheddar?.
So do you prefer Cheddar or Camembert? And do you have any favourite recipes using our Normandy cheeses?