Paris Cheese Shop How-To: 6 Tips to Buy Cheese Like The French

Paris cheese shop

Taka & Vermo, a Paris cheese shop in the 10th arrondissement.

Walking into a Paris cheese shop can be a daunting affair if you don’t know what you’re looking for, or how to ask. The great thing, though, is that most fromagers (cheesemongers) in the city are more than happy to help you select the perfect cheeses for your cheese plate.

Laure and Mathieu, creators of the artisanal cheese shop Taka & Vermo in the trendy 10th arrondissement of Paris, gave us* a tour of their shop and the aging cellar downstairs, where many of the cheeses are left to get nice and creamy in ninety-nine percent humidity.

Tips for a smooth Paris cheese shop experience

They allowed us to take the beautiful pictures that illustrate this post, and shared their passion for their craft. Visit them to taste their goods!**

Scenes from a Paris cheese shop

Raclette is traditionally eaten in the winter, melted and poured over boiled potatoes. It is also quite popular to host raclette parties with friends, similar to those for fondue.

1. Know your cheese families

In your French cheese adventures, you’ll come across three major types of milk: cow, goat, and sheep. But within each milk type, the choices are endless: among goat’s milk cheeses alone you will find many different shapes and aging stages, from chèvre très frais (very fresh), to frais (fresh), crémeux (creamy), or secs (aged).

Tommes, those large, quintessential rounds of mountain cheese, can be found made of cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk, but most cheeses with a flowery (or bloomy) rind, like Brie or Camembert, are made with cow’s milk (fromages de vache). Same for cheeses with a sticky orange rind (croûte lavée), which are often the most pungent, stinkiest cheeses of all — think Munster (the real French kind from Lorraine and Alsace) or Epoisses from Burgundy.

For a classic sheep’s milk cheese, or fromage de brebis, seek out Roquefort, a blue cheese from the south of France that is protected by a denomination of origin (AOC), and is a unique addition to any cheese plate. Our Paris cheese shop owner, Laure, lists it as one of her favorites.

French Food Cheat Sheet

2. Compose your cheese plate like a symphony

Most French cheese plates feature three, five, or seven cheeses (odd numbers are preferable for aesthetics), and you should strive to include cheeses from different regions and different families. Unless of course you are planning on featuring a themed cheese plate around a single region or even a single cheese.

Remember not to crowd your platter with too many of the strong, stinky cheeses, and conversely, don’t stick to just the milder, demure varieties. The ideal selection features a wide range of cheeses that complement each other.

An example of a well-balanced cheese platter might be: a whole Banon (a goat cheese from Provence wrapped in chestnut leaves), a piece of Morbier (a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a layer of ash in the middle), half of a Pont l’Évêque (a creamy square cheese from Calvados), a wedge of Abondance (a mountain cheese from Haute-Savoie), and a slice of Roquefort (see above). Hungry yet?

(L) Laure cuts a large piece of Emmental with a wire, (R) Bloomy rinds from a cow's milk cheese, Chaource.

(L) Laure cuts a large piece of Emmental with a wire, (R) Bloomy rinds from a cow’s milk cheese, Chaource.

3. Be aware of seasonality

A good way to initiate the conversation with your fromager is to ask which cheeses are currently in season. Artisanal cheese-making, like produce, is governed by the season, and the best cheese shops will have close enough a relationship with their producers to make specific recommendations according to the time of year.

In the spring, seek out fresh, gleaming white goat cheeses: that’s when the kids are weaned, and artisanal goat cheese production can start again. Between October and March, Laure recommends the Mont d’Or, an oozy cow’s milk cheese from Franche-Comté, in the East of France, where Comté is also produced. It’s so oozy in fact, that it has to be contained by a box and a ring of spruce wood.

Mont d’Or is a popular cheese during the holidays, and it can be eaten warmed over potatoes or — pourquoi pas ? — simply with a spoon. Another classic way to prepare it is to carve a circular outline in the cheese with a spoon, pour in some white wine, and pop it in the oven for a fondue-like treat.

4. Learn the difference between good and bad

A good fromager will take the time to answer your questions, and allow you to taste a sliver of some cheeses if you ask. They likely won’t have you taste cheeses that would be ruined if they cut off a piece, though, except on a busy day when they may take one out for tasting. The fromager should also heed your instructions when you indicate how large a slice you want, without trying to force more on you.

Beware of fromageries that sell you cheese that’s under-ripe (it will be bland) or over-ripe (the flavors will be too harsh); you probably won’t be able to tell until you get home, but fool me once, etc. I am also not a fan of those Paris cheese shops that sell pre-cut, individually wrapped pieces, unless it’s an outlet that has a high turnover (I don’t want those cut pieces to sit around for days) and it is done to save time and keep the lines moving briskly.

Mont d'Or Cheeses

5. Master cheese speak

You’re going to learn the vocab if you’re going to pass off as a Parisian. First off, remember the term affinage, the art of aging cheese: the mere fact that there’s a single word devoted to that concept is quite telling.

Next up, focus on how to order: the smaller cheeses, like goat cheese crottins (rounds), are sold entiers (whole), but you can ask for un demi (half) of a Camembert or Chaource, which are a bit bigger, and even un quart (a quarter) from larger round cheeses such as Reblochon.

With hard cheeses like Comté or Emmental, or big rounds like Saint-Nectaire, the fromager will cut it for you, and you can order une tranche (a slice) and gesture how big or small you want it. Learn how to ask for these below in the list of handy phrases!

6. Step out of your comfort zone

The most popular French cheeses? Laure says a majority of customers go for a crowd-pleasing Comté, a creamy Saint-Nectaire or a Camembert à point when entering a Paris cheese shop. These are all classics well known to any French cheese fiend, but don’t hesitate to branch out every now and then.

Some of the best French cheeses are unpasteurized, moldy, or even covered in bugs. Don’t let these cheeses scare you away! Think of cheese as the French do: a living thing that should be treated with care and devotion. In any case, remember that cheese doesn’t have an expiration date; just a point of peak ripeness when it tastes best.

Most cheeses can be eaten in their entirety, rind and all. This is true of fromages cendrés, those cheeses with a rind that’s coated with edible ash, and of course of cheeses whose rind has been rubbed with spices and liqueurs. Not so pleasant to eat are the rinds of hard cheeses, like Mimolette or Comté, though they make an excellent flavor boost for soup (be sure to remove any piece of paper label that may remain!).

Don’t hesitate to ask for recommendations from your fromager — this is how you foster a friendly relationship — and try new specialties to broaden your cheese horizons. Perhaps you’ll discover a new favorite, perfect to pair with a fresh, crisp baguette and some quince jelly after a lively meal with friends.

Embracing your love of cheese and unleashing your inner adventurer is the most French way of all to navigate a cheese shop.

Mimolette Cheese

Is this the dark side of the Moon? No, it’s Mimolette, a classic hard French cheese covered in tiny mites that contribute to its earthy flavor.

Ten Handy Phrases for Cheese Shopping

  • Un peu plus” or “Un peu moins
    “A little more” or “A little less”
  • “Je voudrais un demi Reblochon.”
    “I would like half a round of Reblochon.”
  • “C’est possible de goûter le Morbier ?”
    “Is it possible to taste the Morbier?”
  • “Qu’est-ce qui est particulièrement bien en ce moment ?”
    “What’s particularly good right now?”
  • “Il est comment, le camembert ?” “Il est à point !”
    “How is the Camembert?” “It’s just right!”
  • “C’est fort, le Maroilles ?”
    “Is Maroilles a strong cheese?” (The answer is yes, though people in Northern France are known for spreading it on their breakfast toast.)
  • “Qu’est-ce que vous me conseillez ?”
    “What do you recommend?”
  • “C’est quel type de lait, le Roquefort ?”
    What type of milk is Roquefort made with?
  • “Ça vient d’où, le Banon ?”
    Where does Banon come from?

Planning a trip to Paris?

I am available to take you on a private walking tour to show you some of my favorite food spots. Please get in touch and I will be happy to provide more details!

Join the conversation!

Tell us about your very best cheese-shopping experience! Where was it and what did you get? Any pressing question about French cheese, and cheese-related etiquette? I’ll do my best to answer!

* Please meet Anne Elder, my wonderful intern! She has come on board to be my editorial assistant for a few months, and she’s the one who shot the photos in this post. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for behind-the-scenes C&Z stuff, and check out her blog, Hardly Snarky.

** Taka & Vermo, 61 bis rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 Paris, +33 (0)1 48 24 89 29, M° Château d’Eau.

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  • This is fantastic. I’d give anything to be in a Parisian cheese shop right now. Even if only to gawk. I will study up and make it my goal to round up some great cheeses for the family next time I’m in Paris.

  • Rebecca Lebeau

    So timely I have been designated to create and bring the cheese plate for the family Thanksgiving celebration! Thank you!

    • I’m happy to hear that, Rebecca. Please report back and tell us what you picked out!

      • Rebecca Lebeau

        My cheese plate was a hit! I went with 5 cheeses;a manchego, a Danish blue, a small hand made mild French, a cranberry goat, and a local cheese from Narragansett, RI flavored with olives. I added mini toast, candied walnuts, and grapes. My family very much enjoyed it :)

        • That cheese assortment sounds like one I would have been thrilled to partake in! I’m glad your family appreciated your composition skills. ^^

  • Meghan Mathieson

    What a delightful idea – perhaps you could provide introductions to other specialty shops in the future!

    • That’s the plan! We have half a dozen more in preparation. ^^

      • Meghan Mathieson

        Of course you do! I look forward to following along.

  • Linda Zuo

    Hi, I just bought a piece of Chabichou du Poitu affiné and it had mold on the surface…..I know this i normal, but I was wondering if the mold is edible…
    Thanks!

    • The rind on a Chabichou is edible, mold and all. ^^

      • Linda Zuo

        Thanks for your quick response :D
        (And I know it’s way too late to say so…but I’m really glad you’re okay after 11.13!!)

  • rachelsloan79

    How timely – you posted this the same day I had a very pleasant visit to an excellent cheese shop in London (of which there are increasingly many)! I came away with a Rocamadour, a slice each of Cantal and Fourme d’Ambert and something I’d never tried before which turned out to be my favourite – a Chabichou de Poitou that had been rolled in cracked black pepper. But my other favourite cheese-shopping experience has to be visiting the cheese stall at the Saturday market when I lived in Tours, which seemed to have just about every variety made in the Loire Valley… happy memories!

    • Sounds like wonderful shopping experiences indeed! What I like about cheese is that you can find excellent cheese shops in the most modest of settings. Always a happy discovery! Which shop was it you visited in London?

      • rachelsloan79

        It was La Cave à Fromage in South Kensington. My other faves in London are Neal’s Yard Dairy and my local cheese shop, Good Taste – although I realise Crystal Palace is a bit of a trek for the casual visitor to London! ;)

        • Neal’s Yard is a must-visit whenever I’m in London! I’m making a note of the other two.

  • ncm

    The best cheese shop I have found is Fromagerie Laurent Dubois. I discovered them 20 years ago when I lived on Bd Saint-Germain. They are right in Place Maubert. Since then I was ecstatic to see them open a shop even closer to where I live now (near Bastille). Their shop is on rue Saint-Antoine, near the Saint-Paul metro station. Besides one of my usual favourites, an artisanal Roquefort, around the holidays I also buy a slice of one of their cheeses with truffles in the center, either a Brie or one of several slightly less runny cheeses – heaven! They also have a very good chèvre (goat cheese) which is shaped like an ash-covered donut. Forgot the name but there is only one in that shape. But their shop is an embarrassment of riches. Hard to choose.

    • Indeed, Laurent Dubois is an outstanding artisan! I had a chance to visit his aging cellars at his Javel store (for the Andrew Zimmern show!) and it was fascinating. Thanks for recommending your favorites from his shop!

  • Jen at sweetgreenkitchen

    I love cheese and although, sadly I am nowhere near Paris, I feel lucky to have so many wonderful artisnal cheeses available to me at my local farmers market and health food/gourmet markets here in NY. I just put together a well received cheese plate for Thanksgiving, including an amazing local chaorce, gruyere, an aged gouda from Holland and a beautiful creamy basil garlic spreadable cheese all complemented by some crisp and nutty gluten free crackers. Thanks for sharing tips on one of my favorite food categories, and as much as I love a nice bloomy rind or ash coating, I don’t think I can get on board with the bug covered cheeses, yikes!
    Jen at sweetgreenkitchen.com

    • Wow, Jen, your cheese plate sounds incredible! And I understand your reluctance about the bugs, though in a way the yeasts and bacteria at work in and on any cheese are not so different from bugs. ;)

      • Jen at sweetgreenkitchen

        That’s true, but I try not to think about it quite that way and just enjoy all/most of the delicious cheeses! Thanks.

  • Doctor Cornbread

    I was just in Paris two weeks ago and stumbled onto a wonderful fromagerie beside the Odeon Theater. It is called COOP, and it apparently is run by the cooperative of milk and cheese producers of the Savoie region. Of course they had only Savoie cheeses, but there is no shortage of variety there – Beaufort, Roblechon, Tomme, Raclette – I forget the others, but still many, many more. I was getting some as a contribution to a collective dinner and the delight of it all more or less caused me to overdo it…I think my hosts will have cheese dishes for weeks. The store is on the street on the left side of the theater, beside the resto Bastide d’Odeon. It’s steps from the Jardin Luxemboug.

    • Doctor Cornbread

      Found the address. It’s 9 Rue Corneille, 75006

      • Ellen Hortop

        Thank you for the address. We will be there next week and this is really close to us as our apartment is right across St. Michel by the Sorbonne. I am excited to try the cheese shop.

    • Thanks so much, it sounds like a wonderful place! I’ll check it out next time I’m in the neighborhood.

  • Madonna Ganier-Yancey

    I love Banon, but it’s almost impossible to find where I live. Fortunately, there is a version produced by a cheesemaker that’s about 100 miles from where I live. Instead of eau de vie, the cheese is soaked in Woodford Reserve bourbon. It’s delicious and one of my favorite cheeses.

    http://capriolegoatcheese.com/Cheeses/Fresh/OBanon/tabid/202/Default.aspx

  • Alecta

    3 weeks pour moi!

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