SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?
France has a lot of cheese. Photo by ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

FOOD & DRINK

Moules-frites in danger: Spider crabs wreak havoc on French mussel population

Warming sea temperatures are bringing more spider crabs to France's coastline, which could spell disaster for the French mussel industry.

Moules-frites in danger: Spider crabs wreak havoc on French mussel population

You may not be able to see it from land, but underwater, an invasive species of spider crabs are ravaging the mussel population on the Western coast of France.

In Normandy and Brittany, mussel farmers are struggling to control the expanding spider crab population – which normally migrates onward, but has stayed put on France’s coasts.

Experts believe the crabs, who feast on mussels and all manner of shellfish, have not continued in their migration due to warming water temperatures, as a result of the climate crisis.

This has left French mussel farmers worried that if the crab population is not controlled, then mussel production could end in the region within a decade. 

Some mussel farmers, like David Dubosco, have lost a significant amount of mussels in just the last year. Dubosco told TF1 that in 2022 he lost at least 150 tonnes.

(You can listen to The Local France team discuss the future of moules-frites in our new podcast episode below. Just press play or download it here for later.)

Dubosco is not alone in his experience. According to reporting by TF1, production across the board will be lower this year 2022, which means that the number of mussels imported from other countries will likely increase, a decision that will not be popular with French consumers who prefer homegrown mussels to make the classic moules-frites.

The proliferation of the spider crabs has been an ongoing problem for the last six years, but due to warming waters, more and more have stayed in French waters.

The crabs do not have many predators besides humans – as they are edible, but the supply has begun to outweigh demand. Additionally, the crabs have grown so big that traditional cages used to trap them are no longer effective, according to Actu France.

On September 21st, over 80 mussel producers staged a demonstration in front of the Manche préfecture in Saint-Lô to demand further measures against this invasive species.

“We have seen the proliferation of spider crabs and our alerts have gone unheeded by the administrative authorities. The species comes to feed on our stocks,” said Vincent Godefroy, head of the “Group of mussel farmers on bouchot” (Groupement des mytiliculteurs sur bouchot) to Actu France. 

In response, the Manche prefecture met with six representatives from the group, eventually publishing a a statement saying it would allow “for the experimentation of new measures” to combat the crabs, which would include dragging them out to sea.

Additionally, government actors and mussel farmers will work together this autumn to conduct a study on the economic value of spider crabs with goals of building up a new industry. The assessment will be made in November.

SHOW COMMENTS