by Marla Norman-Freytag, Publisher

Cheese is so important in France that it is typically an entire course for a main meal.

Shhhh! We’re about to reveal a state secret!

Ever wondered why, when sitting down for dinner with a French family, they'll gladly let you have the freshest, cleanest, most wholesome looking piece of cheese?

The answer is simple: They’re not doing you a favor! They just know better. Cheese is best at its ripest.

French cheese shoppers know just when milk quality and aging blend for the utmost taste experience. And a trip to the dairy section of a grocery store (usually the largest of all departments) is a serious matter, worthy of many inspections. So go ahead, eat that bland piece of prepackaged Brie unless, of course, you'd like to venture into the aromas of pastures and mountain herbs or taste the creaminess of silky milk with crushed berries and walnut flavor enhanced by thick, crusty bread!

Cheese is so important in France that it is typically an entire course for a main meal, usually after entrees and before dessert. The balance of your wine glass accompanies four or five selections ranging from runny, chalky (usually goat) and harder cheeses. As the renowned gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said: “A dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.”

Over 800 cheese varieties are produced in France -- the choices are endless. But here are a few classic French cheeses with perfectly paired wines.

Brillat-Savarin (named after the famous French gourmand) & Champagne (Recommendation: Champagne Delamotte Brut NV - $35-40.00)

Champagne is a perfect match for triple cream Brillat-Saravin -- named for the French gourmand, Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.

An extraordinary cheese developed especially to honor the legendary Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. A triple cream that is super buttery with a Brie-like in texture. Champagne is a perfect match because the carbonation nicely mutes the somewhat fatty taste of the rich, velvety cheese.

Camembert Fermier and Beaujolais Villages pair beautifully. Alina Joukova-Seamon, of Wine World in North Florida prepares a plate.

Camembert Fermier & Beaujolais Villages (Recommendation: Beaujolais Seigneurie D' Arcelot De Aureo Spirito 2011 - $10-13.00) Read more about this particular wine in a previous issue of TCO.

Camembert Fermier is a creamy, reddish wine cheese from Normandy with great full flavor (the runny type mentioned earlier). An ideal wine pairing is a slightly chilled Beaujolais to match the earthiness of the Camembert. Both the wine and cheese are simple and somewhat rustic, so they match up beautifully.

Comté & Mâcon Charnay (Recommendation: 2011 Macon Charnay Manciat - $16-19.00)

Comté, one of the world's most popular cheeses pairs especially well with Mâcon Charnay.

A cheese favorite worldwide, Comté is a French Gruyere -- a slightly fruiter, lighter version of the Swiss Gruyere. The fruit acidity of the Macon Charnay provides a harmonious counterpoint to the fruitiness of the Comté.

Chèvre du Poitou & Chenin Blanc (Recommendation: Monmousseau Le Petit Chenin - $13-16.00)

Monmousseau Le Petit Chenin Blanc nicely subdues the somewhat chalky flavor of Chèvre du Poitou, a young goat cheese.

A young cheese made from goat milk, Chèvre has a creamy center with a chalky exterior. Chèvre also has tremendous acidity. The bright, fresh flavors of a Chenin Blanc nicely subdue the dense chalkiness of the cheese.

Muenster & Gewürztraminer (Recommendation: Vignoble des 2 lunes 2009 - $19-25.00)

Muenster and the sweetness of Gewürtzraminer create an ideal balance.

One of the true delights of French cheeses, from the family of washed rind cheeses. Cheese with a washed rind is submerged or wiped down with liquid to keep the rind moist and soft and to help the inside of the cheese retain moisture and a supple texture. The liquid used is typically either salt water or alcohol. The rind of washed rind cheeses often has a pinkish, orange hue.

But don’t be afraid of the appearance of this cheese! You’ll find that the Muenster has the texture of a cheese soufflé and is richly aromatic. The best match is a Gewürztraminer (which means “soft and spicy” in German) And indeed, the wine has some spice, but it is definitely on the sweeter side. The pungency of the cheese and the sweetness of the wine create an ideal balance.Top the Muenster cheese with toasted almonds and Acacia honey for the ultimate treat.

Ossau Iraty & Pessac Leognan (Recommendation: Château Thieuley Bordeaux Blanc 2011 - $17-20.00)

Château Thieuley Blanc -- fragrant, dry and crisp -- beautifully moderates the creamy Ossau Iraty cheese.

One of the most popular French cheeses in the U.S., this creamy, soft-textured sheep’s milk cheese is made in the Pyrenees. Ossau Iraty is often accompanied with a fig or quince jelly. A good wine partner is the Château Thieuley Blanc -- fragrant, dry and crisp, this white Bordeaux beautifully moderates the slightly fatty, creamy cheese.

The saltiness of the bleu cheese is beautifully complimented with the sweet Sauterne.

St. Agur Bleu Cheese & Sauternes (Recommendation: Château Gravas Sauternes - $19-25.00 for a half bottle)

No French cheese table would be complete without a Blue Cheese in the selection and St. Agur is one of the most fabled cheeses -- a rich, smooth cheese you can easily spread. The sharpness of the blue veins is somewhat muted with the buttery creaminess. And the saltiness of the cheese is beautifully complimented with the sweetness of a Sauterne. The Gravas, recommended here, offers a great value for the price as well.

So, bring a little taste of Paris to your next dinner party with a few good cheeses and wine. And remember -- the next time you’re invited to dinner with a French family -- be sure to pick the ugliest, least appealing, RIPEST piece of cheese on the plate. Then watch the faces around the table fall. It may not look like it, but you got the prize!

Special thanks to Alina Joukova-Seamon, Cheese Manager & Director for Wine World of North Florida.

All the wines mentioned in this article can be purchased through

Brillat Savarin

Camembert Fermier

Chèvre du Poitou


Macôn Charnay