Normandy is one of France’s Northern regions that has an ever-changing landscape that varies from the jagged and smooth cliffs bordering the English Channel to the rolling pastures and farms that sweep the centre of the region, produces some of the cheeses that are most famous and loved across the globe.
Whether you enjoy a cheese that is creamy and smooth or a firmer cheese with a rich aftertaste, Normandy has you covered.
First off, and perhaps the most obvious choice on the list, is the renowned Camembert cheese. For some, Camembert is an acquired taste and despite its appealing soft interior, it does take some getting used to. Camembert has a very strong taste and contrasts rather well to the more wholesome, smoother tastes of other cheeses.
In addition to being famous (who doesn’t think of France when camembert is mentioned?), this cheese is also historically rich – first appearing around 1791 when Marie Harel established a regular mould flora that adds a uniqueness to the camembert (but don’t be fooled, other variants of camembert existed well before the 18th century).
Prepare your taste buds for strong tones of mushroom and earth if you’re trying this cheese for the first time. A fun fact and a rather amusing way of serving this cheese that is becoming commonplace in France is to take the whole Camembert and place it in the oven – enough time for it to melt. When warm and gooey, serve the cheese with breadsticks of perhaps raw carrots and cucumber to dunk in the middle (and finish off the rest with bread).
You can also try other variants to this method, such as buying a “boule” (a French-style loaf from a boulangerie which, given its name, resembles a flattened ball), emptying out the middle or cutting off the top and gently placing a whole Camembert inside. Then, place in the oven until the cheese melts, and voilà! Why bother with plates when you can use bread?
If you’re looking for a cheese with character, Normandy has other cheeses which would be perfect for you. The first is Pont l’Eveque, a tangy yet buttery creation.
This cheese was originally manufactured in the area around the commune of Pont-l’Évêque, between Deauville and Lisieux in the Calvados département of Basse-Normandie.
Pont-l’Évêque is an uncooked, unpressed cow’s-milk cheese and that is moulded in square shape. The central pâte is soft, creamy pale yellow in colour with a smooth, fine texture and with a powerful aroma. This is surrounded by a washed rind that is white with a gentle orange-brown coloration.
Livarot is a French cheese of the Normandy region, originating in the commune of Livarot, and protected by an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) since 1975.
It is a soft, pungent, washed rind cheese made from cow’s milk with a slightly nutty taste which, be warned, does smell quite a bit. It is sold in cylindrical form with the orangish rind wrapped in 3 to 5 rings of dried reedmace (Typha latifolia). For this reason, it has been referred to as ‘colonel’, as the rings of dried bullrush resemble the stripes on a colonel’s uniform.
Strong cheeses aren’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that milder variants have to be dull. If you’re a fan of garlic and herbs, you’ll fall in love with creamy Boursin. Another famous cheese straight out of Normandy, Boursin’s texture is ideal for spreading on bread – or perhaps baguette, if you truly wish to experience French culture. Boursin may seem strong at first, but the aftertaste is smooth enough to not overwhelm the palate should you choose to sample other cheeses afterwards.
Last on our list is incredibly tasty Neufchâtel. This cheese that is commonly produced in a heart-shape originates from a specific area of Normandy, the town of Neufchâtel-en-Bray (which lies in Upper/“Haute” Normandy). Just like with the previous cheeses mentioned, Normandy is known for its “Norman” cows, which produce very rich and high-quality milk – and Neufchâtel cheese is testament to the quality of said milk. The rind of the cheese can naturally develop a light layer of mould, and it’s up to you if you wish to consume the rind or remove it. The inside of the cheese, however, is satisfyingly smooth and even if the taste may vary depending on if the cheese is more aged, the overall strength is less powerful that Livarot or Camembert.
A lesser-known cheese perhaps that has been dubbed as being the adult’s “Dairylea” is Brillat-Savarin. As with other cheeses mentioned above, Brillat comes in a wheel shape with a slightly thick rind that gives way to a smooth, creamy interior. Brillat is a triple cream Brie cheese, and is produced all year round. It’s also available as a fresh cheese, and given it’s resemblance to cream cheese, some have noted that this may have inspired other cream cheeses across the world. The taste is rather sharp at first, but like Boursin, it isn’t overwhelming and accompanies other cheeses well during a tasting session or after-meal course.
It’s also worth mentioning that a variant of Brillat-Savarin, called Pierre Robert is also produced – a smaller, yet more earthy-flavoured cheese with a saltier aftertaste.
If you want to properly experience the taste of French cheese and happen to be in Normandy, don’t head to your local French supermarket in case of a cheese-fix – head directly to the local fromager! If you’re considering a nice dinner with a few bottles of French wine, the fromager will help you decide which cheeses will complement the wine beautifully. If you’re planning a day out or say, a picnic, be sure to keep the cheeses in a cool area (but not chilled).
Finally, a handy tip to remember is that some cheeses are best kept out of the refrigerator, especially if you’re planning on consuming them within the next few days (refrigeration can cause some cheeses to not mature properly).