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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips for buying French cheese

Charles de Gaulle famously said of France 'how can anyone govern a country with 246 varieties of cheese?'. But the General had underestimated - France actually has closer to 1,000 different types of cheese, which can feel a bit overwhelming.

A French cheese shop
The variety in a French cheese shop can be overwhelming. Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP

Here are our tips for cheese-buying in France.

Ask for help

France has thousands of fromageries and even small towns will usually have at least one. As well as obviously having lots of cheese, they also have staff who are generally knowledgeable and helpful.

While you can of course just pick whatever you like the look of, if you feel spoiled for choice don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Most staff are delighted to help and will steer you towards a good selection and highlight cheeses that are local, in season or just particularly good – and almost all fromageries offer free samples to taste.

They can be pretty passionate about their product – as The Local’s Europe editor Ben McPartland found out when he tried to buy the ‘wrong’ type of cheese to make a fondue.

READ ALSO The 8 ‘cheese families’ of France

Supermarkets

Although fromageries are great, that doesn’t mean that French supermarkets don’t have a good cheese selection too.

Most of the bigger supermarkets have a deli counter with a wide selection of cheeses, often with an emphasis on local products.

Although the deli counter assistants are not specialists, some are also happy to offer advice. Free samples, however, are not standard practice. 

Eat cheese every day

While almost all French people eat at least some cheese (veganism is still relatively rare in the country, especially outside Paris), 46 percent of them eat cheese every day.

This is especially important to you as a newcomer – if there are 1,000 French cheeses it will only take you two-and-a-half years to try them all if you eat a different one every day.

OK, that might be a slightly ambitious goal. But you might make more new discoveries if you eat a small amount of cheese regularly and differentiate the varieties that you buy.

If you’re having lunch or dinner in a café or restaurant, remember that most places offer an assiette de fromage (or a chariot de fromage if you’re somewhere fancy) to round off your meal.

READ ALSO Your guide to French cheese etiquette

Keep your cheeseboards simple

It might be tempting to buy all the cheeses at once, but if you’re putting together an after-dinner cheeseboard, you wouldn’t normally have more than 5 varieties – some say 3 – otherwise all the flavours get lost.

You would normally try to mix the types of cheese, and have one hard, one soft, one goat’s cheese and one blue cheese – and then eat them in the order mildest to strongest, so that the Roquefort doesn’t drown out the more delicate flavour of the brie.

It’s really down to what you like though, so there’s no law about having a goat’s cheese on the board if you don’t like it.

Serve warm (with wine)

You don’t have to drink wine with cheese, of course, but a good wine pairing can really enhance the flavour of your cheese.

You generally serve red wine with cheese, although sometimes dessert wines can pair with strong cheeses.

But the best thing you can do for your cheese is to take it out of the fridge well in advance of serving it – room-temperature cheese has bags more flavour than one cold from the fridge, and it will also allow the soft cheeses to ooze and flow correctly.

READ ALSO 8 tips for buying wine in a French supermarket

Not just after-dinner

Cheese has many more applications than simply a cheeseboard and it’s good to ring the changes with how you serve.

Unlike German and Scandinavian countries, cheese for breakfast is rare in France (although you sometimes see fromage blanc, which is more like yoghurt, with fruit), but every other meal can and does involve cheese. Some meals (like fondue) are basically entirely cheese.

Some cheeses are specific to a dish, such as Raclette (which is usually melted and poured over potatoes, cured meats and pickled vegetables) or Reblochon (the traditional cheese for making Tartiflette).

For a more casual cheese option ordering a planche with a couple of drinks in a French bar is a great option – it’s a platter of cheese or charcuterie (or both in the case of a planche mixte) with bread.

READ ALSO The 6 best French cheese dishes

Babybel is for kids

You can buy the individual soft Babybel cheeses, in their distinctive red wax wrappers, in French supermarkets, but they’re generally understood to be for children. The same goes for La Vache qui Rit

In fact, French supermarkets tend to segregate all non-French cheese into a separate section – or even a separate aisle – so if you’re hunting for Parmesan to go on your pasta or feta to go in a salad, it might not be next to the French cheeses.

Member comments

  1. I always ask for help in choosing. I mention what I already like, and we take it from there. But never feel guilty about eating the same cheese all the time. I love 18 month Comte. I can eat it everyday easily. As a yearly tourist I always try some blue cheeses. You have so many different ones. And some are spectacular for me! Another thing I have learned is to only buy what you personally like. For me that means no goat cheese. Do not feel embarassed by this, I always say that the french have so many different cheeses I can eat what I love. And I eat a lot of cheese. :))

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FOOD & DRINK

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With rising inflation and cost of living, many people in France are desperate to keep their grocery bill low. Here are a few tips for how to avoid paying too much for food, drink and other everyday items.

7 tips to keep your grocery shopping in France affordable

With inflation ticking upward, we’ve seen prices rise, especially for things like fresh vegetables, meat, pasta and cooking oil. Even though inflation is affecting food prices less than energy prices, buying groceries is still a huge part of every household’s budget, and unfortunately things are set to keep getting more pricey. 

We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can save a few euro at the supermarket:

Figure out if you qualify for any government benefits

First things first, it is worth seeing whether you can qualify for any existing government assistance, like CAF. On top of this, the French government has promised to set up a food voucher of €50 per month for low-income households after the parliamentary elections in June. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: How to receive CAF payments in France

Compare store prices

Unfortunately, going to the closest supermarket is not always the most economical solution. If you prioritise grocery stores on the lower end of the price spectrum (and you’re willing to walk a bit further) you can save a lot of money. A helpful tool to find the cheapest store near you is the “Que Choisir” online interactive map (click here) that has listed 4,000 affordable stores in mainland France. 

Discount grocery stores, like Lidl and Aldi, are great options for saving a little extra at checkout. But if you must go to a pricier chain, like Monoprix for instance, try to buy Monoprix brand items – they’re typically a little less expensive than name brand foods.

Plan ahead to make the most out of discounts

If you go online ahead of heading to the grocery store, you can see which items will be discounted (“promotion”). If you cannot find this information online, you can always go to the store and ask for a catalogue of that week’s sales items.

Normally, this is something the cashier should have access to. With these discounts in mind, you can construct more affordable recipes. 

Franprix’s website, the ‘discounts’ page

Also, if you’re looking for cheaper recipes in general, you can always go to blogs and online recipe sites specialised in frugal shopping. If you want to try some French specific sites, you can test out “https://www.marmiton.org/” or “https://1repas1euro.com/recettes/

When it comes to discounts though, be careful about conditions involved (particularly when it comes to loyalty cards).

Sometimes these promotions promise a lot, but actually getting your money back might not be as simple as slashing a few cents at the checkout – you might need to send the coupon somewhere to get the discount, or wait for points to accumulate on your card.

That being said, you can optimise your discounts using several online sites that allow you to combine your loyalty cards (Fidme, Fidall, and Stocard). Other online coupon sites include Groupon, which allows you to make grouped purchases (therefore cheaper), and Coupon Network and Shopmium, which help you benefit from existing discounts. For cashback plans, you can look to websites such as Shopmium, iGraal, FidMarques and Quoty, which allow you to be reimbursed for a part of your expenses.

Make a list, set a budget… and stick to it

It might seem obvious, but when you go into the store, try to resist temptation. The best way to do this is to keep track (in real time) how much you are spending.

Some stores make this easier by allowing you to carry around a ‘self-scanner,’ this will help you to watch your bill go up as you shop. Another tip for this is to withdraw the exact amount of cash you expect to need for the essentials of your trip – obviously in order to do this, you’ll need to know the base prices of your essential items, so it will require a bit of planning ahead.

Buy (then freeze) soon-to-expire products

A consumer’s best friend and sure-fire way to decrease waste! Items coming up on their use-by-date tend to be discounted, so if you plan to purchase these foods and then immediately freeze them, you can significantly extend their shelf life.

Lots of supermarkets make this easier for you by dedicating entire shelves to “short shelf life” items that, according to Elodie Toustou, the head of the “Money” section of the magazine 60 Millions de consommateurs, opting for these foods will allow you to “pay three to four times less.”

Another great way to do this is to use applications like “Phénix” and “Too Good to Go.” These applications will allow you to set your geographic parameter and then click on food stores, restaurants, and bakeries in your area that are getting rid of “panniers” (sacks) of soon-to-be-expired foods. Lots of times these panniers cost only a couple euros.

The trick here is to plan ahead by arriving at the start of the allotted time (if the boulangerie on your corner is offering “Too Good To Go” bags from 11am to 2pm, try to get there as close to 11am as possible for the best items).

Re-consider markets and farmer’s stores

Contrary to popular belief, buying from farmers’ markets and grocers that sell predominantly local products actually can save you money, particularly if you are buying the seasonally relevant fruits and vegetables. Buying directly from a producer can also allow you to eliminate the margin taken by intermediaries. But be careful, this rule is not true all the time.

One way to benefit from cheaper prices at markets is to arrive as late as possible, when the merchants have started to pack up their products. This might allow you to benefit from lower prices or even free items, as they’ll be hoping to get rid of their remaining items.

Know what items are most impacted by inflation

Finally, as inflation continues to increase, try your best to monitor which foods are most impacted. If possible, it might be worth removing or limiting them from your diet – or looking for more affordable alternatives.

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