This is a guest post.
France is as well-known for its cheese as it is for wine and culture, and it’s no wonder. The country has been engaged in high-end cheese production for hundreds of years, and many of the same methods used to achieve perfection during the 17th and 18th centuries are still in use today. Furthermore, the Appellation d’Origine Contrölée (AOC) — France’s quality control certificate — guarantees that cheeses granted its distinction are exactly as they should be: made in the very specific region from which that cheese has historically hailed. It also means that very specific and agreed-upon production methods were used to craft these one-of-a-kind cheeses.
Made by craftspeople instead of mass produced in factories, the finest French cheese comes from animals raised on farms, and while there are hundreds of AOC artisanal cheeses, a small handful of them are only released around the winter holiday season when they have reached peak flavor and maturity. If you ever needed a reason to spend the winter in France, let cheese be the reason. Here are four, exceptional French cheeses that can only be enjoyed in the dead of winter.
1. Vacherin du Haut-Doubs
One of the most celebrated cheeses France produces, Vacherin de Haut-Doubs, also known as Mont d’Or depending on the farm or dairy, is only available during the winter months — just in time to accompany your family’s Christmas turkey. Presented in a small, spruce box, this unpasteurized, premium, hand-washed cheese got its start in the 18th century. It makes use of the cows’ autumn and winter milk. Some of the details of production include:
- Only unpasteurized milk from Montbéliard cows can be used.
- The cows can only be fed grass and hay.
- The cows cannot be fed at an altitude of less than 2100 feet above sea level.
So, what’s it like? Creamy and decadent in texture, Vacherin du Haut-Doubs and Mont d’Or have a slightly brown crust that smells lightly of pine and leather. The taste resonates with the milk of the mountains and the pine trees there. Enjoy at room temperature, spooned onto country bread or with baked garlic, and because the cheese is unpasteurized, you cannot find it anywhere else during the winter season. Instead, you’ll need to travel to France to enjoy its one-of-a-kind cold weather flavor, texture, and scent.
2. Beaufort d’Alpage
Hailing from the French Alps, this cooked, hard, pressed cheese it noted for its mellow flavor and fruity fragrance. The milk comes from Tarentaise and Abondance cows that have fed strictly on alpine meadows. The proper production of this cheese requires a delay in getting milk to the dairy for it to turn out correctly, and that rule is just one of many. Specific yeasts, rennets, and linen cloths must be utilized, and the cheese must ripen for at least five months. While Beaufort can be found throughout the year, the Beaufort d‘alpage can usually only be found during the dark, winter months.
3. Comté de Noël
Comté is one of the most popular cheeses in France. Its origins go back as far as the Middle Ages, and it has enjoyed its AOC distinction since 1952. Produced in the Jura region from cooperative milk dairies, only two local cattle breeds’ milk is used: the Montbeliard and the Eastern Red Pied. These cattle feed on wild plants in the Jura region’s mountains and produce a flavorful, distinct, and aromatic milk as a result. Because the cattle feed on wild plants exclusively until winter, when they are also given hay, there are different periods in Comté cheese production that results in a nice variety of taste and color.
Throughout ripening, all Comté cheeses are turned and massaged regularly. Known as the “King of Comtés,” the Comté de Noël is allowed to mature for several years. During that time, it takes on a marked straw-yellow color, somewhat gritty texture and a rich flavor that evokes thoughts of nuts and wild flowers. An ideal accompaniment to winter and holiday meals, this exceptional cheese is one of France’s finest.
4. Brie de Meaux
A soft cheese with a bloomy rind that is made from raw cow’s milk, Brie de Meaux boasts a delicious 45 percent fat content. It has a subtle yellow color, creamy and soft without being runny, and it has a distinguished nutty taste and fragrance. Produced along the southern Parisian basin, this cheese is still made according to very traditional methods. The ripening lasts at least four weeks, and each cylinder of cheese is turned several times a day by hand. From Charlemagne to Henry IV, French royalty has long had a love affair with Brie. While you can enjoy this cheese throughout the year, it tastes most like its nickname, “The King of Cheeses,” during the holiday season, when its flavors and textures are at their best.
So, take a holiday trip to France and hit up a fromagerie, as the exquisite experience of enjoying each of winter’s ripest and most revered cheeses is one that can only be had for a short time.
Author bio: Jeska is a North American traveler dedicated to exploring her very own continent to find all the hidden treasures it has to offer.