All things cheese in France

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Les Grèves, Foodies in Paris and the Search for Terroir

I have lived in Paris for a long time, so transportation strikes are nothing new, as a matter of fact, the 'big one' of November 1995 greeted me as I arrived. When these 'down-trodden' public servants decide they want to work less than a 25 hour work week or retire before 55 with 80% of their salary, they have the unpleasant habit of taking their employers, us - the public, hostage by disrupting services. Strikes are just something one has to put up with if you live here otherwise you will drive yourself crazy; think of them as part of 'the charm'. 

But tonight, I am not so easily charmed as I sit here stranded waiting for a metro, ANY metro, to take me to a dinner with two of Paris' illustrious American foodies who host The Paris Supper Club, Wendy Lyn (The Paris Kitchen) and Alex Lobrano (Hungry for Paris). I fret that my trip to discover the regional terroir of the Pays Basque, famous for Ossay-Iraty & Ardi Gasna, pimente d'Espelette and pork belly at Bruno Doucet's relatively new restaurant, La Régalade - St. Honoré is not getting off to a good start. 

Suffice it to say, I left plenty early just in case and somehow, as I slipped through the sun soaked Cour du Louvre past IM Pei's Pyramide, managed to arrive at the appointed time for apéros at the tiny boutique of the soon to be open Spring restaurant. Here, as I met Wendy and Alex and the rest of the guests, the earlier annoyance melts away along with the setting sun and the effects of a lovely chilled glass of white wine.  

We had the good fortune to meet the remarkable owner of Spring, Daniel Rose, who graciously offers to give us a tour of his almost completed and long awaited new venue over the road at rue Bailleul. For me the retired but ever and always interior architectural designer, I can say the spaces are sublimely Parisien and beautifully designed, which added an extra bonus to the evening. 

So on to La Régalade - St. Honoré around the corner and the Basque country. Here all the wonderful secrets from the southwest of France are given full stage and that's what I am searching for - the terroir of notable dishes and specialties from the Pays Basque. Sadly no cheeses from the region, but a mighty fine Rocamadour fermier from the wonderful little fromagerie, Martine Dubois in the 17th arrondissement though. Not to disappoint however, terroir was to be had in the terrine maison with cornichons and sweet pickled green peppers and a slab of carmelized poitrine de porc (pork belly) from the famous producer Louis Ospital served on bed of lentils.

So strike all you like folks, I'd walk to find this fabulous representative of the mysterious Basque country, I'd just add a slab of ardi gasna or ossay iraty with some confiture noire de cerises Xixtaberri to complete the picture.  

La Régalade - St. Honoré
123, rue St.-Honoré
1st Arrondissement
+33 (0)1 42 21 92 40
Lunch and dinner, Mon–Fri

Monday, 21 June 2010


And just so we complete the family tree, if Pélardon and Rocamadour are cousins, Pérail is a not too distant 2nd cousin !  They all come from the same region in France, les Causses, but the difference being Pérail is made with ewe's (brebis) milk instead of goat's (chèvre) milkWhich of these came first is hard to say. The term Pérail appears in the XIXth century when it is cited in the Occitan dictionary by Fréderic Mistral and then by the etymologist Alibert who identified the term “péral” meaning “a drainer or colander made of stone”, as appearing in the Occitan language IXth century.

It's at the beginning of the XIVth century that the most likely ancestor of the Pérail can be found described in a document for the table service of the convent of the Notre Dame de l'Espinasse in Millau. It is surely this cheese, which  for centuries has been produced from sheep's milk left to rest in goatskin bottles called “toupines” where it curdled spontaneously, that we  now see produced today by small, artisanal producers and a few small manufacturers. Threatened with extinction, this cheese has its defenders.  The Association for the Defence and promotion of Pérail was formed in 1994 by farm producers, artisan cheese makers and milk producer to guarantee the cheese of the terroir would not pass into obscurity. Since 1996, the organization has applied to the INAO for AOC status and a first study is in process to establish the parameters required for the cheese to obtain AOC status. 

The Pérail is produced as a way of eliminating wastage in the fabrication of Roquefort. It is made from the milk from the Lacaune sheep that graze on the chalky plateaus of the Larzac in the Grand Causses at the end of the lactation period. The milk is less abundant but much richer making the Pérail very creamy. As the cheeses age on rush or rye straw, they develop a strong taste yet which is a much more subtle flavour for sheep’s cheese. This cheese is neither cooked nor pressed. It is pale yellow with a soft rind and a thick creamy texture and is best when it is runny. The aging is a minimum of eight days but the cheese can be eaten fresh within three or four days after fabrication. The runny characteristic appears after about 14 days of aging and it melts in your mouth.

Saturday, 19 June 2010


A truly wonderful cheese! Soft, creamy and not to strong in my opinion, this little goat cheese is a true representative of its region. Like its cousin, Rocamadour, it is available all year around but now is a great season for this round wonder. Originally from Languedoc-Roussillon, paraldon, pélardou or also péraudou, le pélardon is the envoy of the Cévennes, the Pélardon have been known since Pliny the Elder wrote about the « Péraldou » cheese with the strong taste. 

In 1756, the naturalist, Abbé Boissier de Sauvage documented in his Dictionnaire languedocien-françois, “this small, round and flat cheese from the Cévennes which has a sharp and peppery taste which is rubbed with the leaves of the viburnum tree”. The famous Occitan poet, Frédéric Mistral honoured the cheese with a place in his comprehensive dictionary of the Occitan language, Lou Tresor dóu Félibrige (1878–1886). It is now produced in the departments of the Aude, Gard, Hérault, Lozère and Tam from milk of the Alpine,Saanen and Rove breeds of goats. The cheese includes the Pélardon des Cévennes, Pélardon d’Anduze and Pélardon d’Altier. 

All the small goat's chesses in this region were and still are called pelardon. It is a soft pate raw goat’s milk cheese made in spring, summer and fall. The pate is uncooked and unpressed. The cheese rind is barely formed, soft and wrinkled and as it matures it develops a natural mould. The taste of the Pélardon des Cévennes is fruity with a fine balance between acidity and saltiness; this gives the cheese a full, rich milky flavour that lingers on the palate. The maturing period of the pelardon is two to three weeks in a well-aerated cellar.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A country of cheese eaters

Only the Greeks surpass the French in the consumption of cheese according to an article at l’ The French eat on average 24.6 kilos of cheese while the Greeks eat around 27.4 kg a year and mostly feta! The diversity of production in France is enough to seduce both the knowledgeable connoisseur and the amateur. In a survey conducted at the beginning of the year, 96% of the French questioned said they eat cheese regularly. 

With over a thousand types of cheese available to eat in France, it’s Emmental at the head of the list, with Comté not far behind and cheese made from cow’s milk largely dominates the list. With 80% of French cheeses having an AOC or AOP label,according to the article sales of these cheeses represented about 2.9 billion euros in sales last year, even with a drop of about 1.7% in export! That’s a lot of cheese...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Cancer-fighting fat and French cheese

Following blogs can sometimes lead to some interesting places. Recently, I glided into the website Eatwild (, which professes to be ‘your source for safe, healthy, natural and nutritious grass-fed beef, lamb, goats, bison, poultry, pork, dairy and other wild edibles’ and came across a discussion about why French cheeses are healthier for you than others, in particular, American. Now I consume a LOT of cheese! I admit that it comes from Great Britain Ireland, Spain, Italy and Greece, yet it mostly comes France, so this was interesting.  

Apparently, unlike most American dairies that raise their cows in confinement and on grain based diets (I even read on milk chocolate and stale gummy bears!), French diaries and those of GB and Ireland)generally raise their cows in pastures (one good side effect of all that rain!), which results in naturally high levels of CLA. Here in France, they have even banned growth hormones as well.  

Okay, so CLA? What is that? Apparently, CLA or "conjugated linoleic acid" is a newly discovered good fat that has shown signs in animal studies to be a potent cancer fighter. Seemingly very small amounts of the stuff has blocked ‘all three stages of cancer: 1) initiation, 2) promotion, and 3) metastasis’, where most anti-cancer agents block only one. While human CLA research is still pretty new, a few studies suggest that there are similar benefits in people and ‘a recent survey determined that women with the most CLA in their diets had a 60 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer’. How interesting is this?  

Since natural CLA is far better than that stuff that comes in pill form as it has no known negative side effects, that which comes from grass pastures and the higher the altitude the better apparently, is good stuff. The most abundant source of natural CLA is the meat and dairy products of grassfed animals. Apparently in some new studies, the kind of CLA found in butter and animal fat is the most potent cancer-fighter and milk products from 100 percent grass-fed cows are as much as seven times higher in cancer-fighting CLA than ordinary milk and far lower in cancer-promoting linoleic acid. (Cancer Letters 1997;116:121-130) And according to other surveys, CLA levels in French cheese ranged from 5.3 to 15.8 mg/g of fat versus American cheese from conventional dairies, which had only half this amount ranging from 2.9 to 7.1. Yahoo! So let’s go eat some more French cheese!