Webs, Weeds and Wisdom | Strict rules for how you cut cheese

“A meal without cheese is like a day without sunshine”. (Old French proverb)
“A meal without cheese is like a day without sunshine”. (Old French proverb)

“A meal without cheese is like a day without sunshine”. (Old French proverb)

Last month I wrote about how I had enjoyed incredible cheeses in France earlier this year. This set me thinking that I have also enjoyed great cheeses bought here in Yass. The main difference, I guess, is in the number of cheeses to choose from.

In France, there are more than 1000 different kinds of cheese (counting in all the boutiques cheeses made on very small farms). The French love their cheeses. It has been estimated that up to 1.8 million tonnes of cheese are produced in France each year, about 57 kilos a second!

France exports about 683,643 tonnes per year. Australia makes about one fifth as much and exports about 175 tonnes. And, the typical Frenchman (or woman) will eat a whopping 25.9 kilos of cheese each year whereas Australians eat only about 13.9 kilos per capita per year.

French cheeses range through cow, goat, sheep and even horse cheese and from soft, semi-soft semi-hard, hard, blue and from ‘mild’ to ‘stinky’ (but don’t call it this – ‘strong’ is the polite word).

The French also take their cheeses very, very seriously and have a whole system of designation (the “appellation d'origine contrôlée”, the AOC) to protect the authenticity of their best cheeses; much the same as they do for their wines.

For example, for a cheese to be awarded the AOC-protected name “Cantal”, it must come from the Cantal Mountain region, it must be from the winter milk of Salers cows and it must be made according to a specific methodology and aged for a minimum of one month.

Other cheeses have their own criteria. I’m not sure what happens if someone fails to follow this protocol, but it probably includes severe fines.

The French also have very strict rules for how you cut cheese. There is a right way and a wrong way, and it all depends on the shape. For round cheeses, make pie slices. For log-shaped cheese, go for parallel slices. For square cheeses, triangles are the way to go. For wedges of Brie or Roquefort, cut along the side (and don’t chop the “nose” off). And, for heaven’s sake, don’t pre-slice your cheese before your guests arrive. 

There is quite a good cheese variety in Yass supermarkets, but for the best choice of local and ‘boutique’ cheeses go and see Andrew at ‘Thyme to Taste’ – not quite 1000 varieties, but yum.

- Ann Holmes