Here’s the sort of story we like on the fabfrog – the French and their cheese-eat habits.

It was General De Gualle who (reportedly) said - « How the hell can you govern a country that has 365 different sorts of cheese ? » (I have used loose translation, and I believe that when the General made his cheesey observation, there were only 246 cheeses – French « feta » had not yet been invented).

The French eat an average of 24 kilos of cheese per year per habitant. The champion chesse- eaters of Europe are the Greeks with 27.3 kilos per person a year.

And what is the number one cheese in France ? It is . . . Emmental, 14% market share - (the cheese with the holes), which in fact is not French, but Swiss, coming from the valley of Emme, near Bern.

Emmental

The all time emblematic and stinky French favourite, Camembert comes in second – 8% of market share. Sales of Camembert fell by 2.6% in 2009.

Camembert

In third place of « most eaten cheeses » we find Brie – which I must say is a bit like Camembert, but isn’t (as I thought) actually made in Normandy, but in a région to the east of Paris nearthe Marne valley. Principal town in the Brie région is Brie-Comte-Robert.

Brie

Brie Region

Brie and Camembert reatail at an average of 3€ a kilo. In 2009, production of Camembert weighed in at 120,000 tonnes with 100,000 tonnes for Brie. Now only real Camembert and real Brie are made in the régions or towns that bear their names, there are however many Camembert and Brie variants made all over France. All such cheeses are made with cows’ milk (as opposed to goats’ milk) and they are what the French call « pate molle » meaning that they are not hard and solid like Swiss Emmental, but they are « squashy » and can go very « runny » after a while.

You can quite happly keep a brie or a camembert for about three weeks to a month, but the longer you keep it, the runnier and smellier it gets. Buying such cheese is an art. In the supermarket, French shoppers will open the box, smell the cheese and prod it in the centre. The softer the centre, the more mature the cheese. When eating the stuff, you consume the outer « skin ». Never ever commit the ultimate « cheese » sin, which is removing the skin from a Camembert in front of your French hosts.

Cheese habits are changing in France. We are eating more « foreign » cheese (which the French don’t think of as real cheese, because in the French mind, only the French produce any cheese worth eating.) – Increased foreign cheese consumption is thanks to the fast food industry. We are eating far more Mozzarella thanks to pizzas and more Feta thanks to those convenient little « ready-to-eat » salads you can now buy in most supermarkets. Half of the Feta we eat in France is about as Greek as the Eiffel tower itself. The vast majority of French Feta is produced in the Tarn région (between Milau and Alés) – the best selling French Feta goes Under the brand name of « Salakis »

There are 3,985,000 cows in France (roughly one for every 16 inhabitants). 35% of their total milk yield is used to make cheese. In 2009 France roduced 2 million tonnes of cheese, 70% was destined for the domestic market and 30% for export.

With all this cheese about, there are a few « cheesey » expression in French. My favourite is « il ne faut pas faire tout une fromage » - meaning that you don’t have to make mountains out of mole hills. As for my favourite French cheeses. Roquefort, Morbier, St paulin and Crottin (the last one being a goat cheese). 2% of French cheeses are made from goats’ milk.

As for other cheese habits. When the French take a photo and want people to smile, some have adpted the anglo saxon practice of saying "Chees" although they actually was "Fromage". Traditionally to make your victims smile in France, you get them to say "ouistiti" which is a small monkey.

Cheese is also sexy. For the past few years, the national association of French cheese producers, has published the « From’ Girls » calender. Like the Pirelli calendar, but with cheese. Twelve scantily clad gorgeous girls, each posing with a pièce of cheese such as the lady below.

From Girls

You can order the calendar from the website below.

www.fromages-de-terroirs.com/

Finally, the reason for this cheesey post – the French National Cheese Council have just published their statistical report for 2009.

And to finish, a cheese recipe culled from the following website. Don’t think you’ll find many French people actually wanting to eat this.

www.suzannecorcoran.com/food/baked_brie?gawcbb

BAKED BRIE

Ingredients:

1 frozen puff pastry sheet
2-3 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves peeled and whole, not
chopped
1 8 ounce slice or wheel of Brie cheese
2-4 tablespoons honey to taste
1 box of crackers

Directions follow below....

Take one of the two frozen puff pastry sheets and thaw it on your kitchen counter for
about 30-40 minutes. (Of course you could always make your own pastry)

Briefly sauté the whole peeled garlic cloves in the butter in a small skillet just long
enough to infuse the butter with the garlic. Throw out the cloves when done and remove the skillet with the butter from the heat and set it on a cool part of the stove.

Spray a baking sheet lightly with some cooking spray, or grease it lightly with butter.
Laythe defrosted puff pastry sheet in the middle of the baking sheet, then place the Brie in the middle of the puff pastry sheet.

Drizzle the still warm garlic butter over the Brie and spread it around on the Brie with the back of a spoon.

Draw up the corners of the puff pastry sheet to cover the Brie, and press the
corners/ends to make a seal. This does not have to look perfect, just close all the gaps. Then flip the covered Brie over so that the corners are tucked out of sight and the top of the pastry sheet has no seams.

Finally, drizzle the honey over the top of the pastry sheet and put it in a preheated oven
at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes until it is browned beautifully. Serve it warm with sturdy crackers like Triscuits. (What are they ? The inconvenience of using an American website – just use Jacob’s Crackers – here’s a thought, the French don’t eally have crackers)

Optional: Spoon on some apricot or raspberry jam or preserves right after the garlic
butter or else skip the butter altogether. You can increase the size of this recipe by using a larger 1 kilo (2+ lbs) wheel of Brie and two pastry sheets instead of one. Double the butter and garlic in that case. Another last step option is to brush the pastry with a mixture of a beaten egg and a dash of water. This will give a sheen to the look of the finished dish.