France would not be France without its cheeses
To illustrate the diversity of French gastronomy, President Charles de Gaulle referred to France as “the country of 300 cheeses”. There are in fact over 1000 different kinds of cheese in France. Plenty enough to discover a new taste every day of the year…
It can be blue-veined or have a delicious nutty flavour, eaten melted or cold, as a main dish, on the traditional pre-dessert platter, or on bread... In France, cheese is eaten in every form. And for good reason : the country is one of the biggest producers of this product. In 2010, Unesco even listed the French gastronomic meal as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity, which highlights, among other things, French cheese.
France is particularly noted for the diversity of its cheese products, from comté through beaufort or fourme d’Ambert, not forgetting emmental and gruyère, to mention but the most well known. The last of these was even in the news at the beginning of this year. The production of French gruyère is henceforth protected within the entire European Union, thanks to the granting of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in the Official Journal of the EU on 11 February this year. Unlike the Swiss cheese of the same name, French gruyère must have holes in it in order to be recognised as such.
Protected Geographical Indication concerns the cheese produced in the départements of the Doubs, Jura, Haute-Saône, Savoie, Haute-Savoie, and the Territoire de Belfort. Over 42,000 wheels of French gruyère were produced in 2012.
In total, 45 cheeses benefit from an AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) and 38 from an AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée). Roquefort was the first to receive a designation of origin in 1925, and it now has European recognition. A guarantee for preserving a cultural and gastronomic heritage.
Other countries like it too
The French consume an average of 24 kg of cheese per inhabitant per year, and are therefore among the world’s biggest consumers. But French cheese is also enjoying great success as an export. According to Eurostat figures, 669,155 tonnes of cheese were exported in 2011, compared to 600,544 tonnes in 2007. Outside Europe, the United States, South Korea and Japan are particularly fond of fresh and soft white cheeses (238,665 tonnes), compared to soft cheeses (174,159 tonnes, of which 20,379 tonnes are camembert and 67,749 tonnes are brie) or cheese spreads (64,424 tonnes).
Surfing this wave, the French National Interprofessional Centre for the Dairy Economy (CNIEL) has conducted many publicity campaigns in countries such as Russia, China and Brazil. “Our target remains largely French expatriates in these countries, who particularly miss French cheese, but also people with a comfortable living standard who are conscious of French culture,” explains the CNIEL.
Comté, in particular, is finding a market beyond France’s borders. The Interprofessional Committee on comté devotes a million euros out of its seven million euro budget to supporting sales abroad of France’s top cheese in terms of production. Between 3,500 and 4,000 tonnes are exported to Germany, Belgium and Great Britain.
Campaigns take the form of tastings in cheese cafés in Japan for example ; a form of publicity that produces excellent sales in that country. Also in Japan, small cheese shops have been set up in department stores, often run by cheese specialists trained in France and using a broad network of suppliers.
From large groups to small-scale cheese makers
The cheese-making sector in France is enormous. The industry consists of 30,000 milk producers, 1400 cheese producers, 227 private processors and 154 exclusive agers, according to data from the CNIEL.
The industry is present in at least 80% of France’s territory, through around 70,000 dairy farms. It employs around 150,000 people full time, in large internationally known groups such as the world number two, Lactalis, or the second largest French cheese maker, Brongrain, famous for its Elle et Vire and Caprice des Dieux brands, as well as in the 1300 small units across the country.
Brie de Melun, bleu de Causses and Rocamadour will, among others, be in pride of place on World Cheese Day on 27 March. An opportunity for France to highlight the enormous wealth of its products, which is the envy of the world.