Like so many other visitors to France, I have fallen in love with French cheese. Brie de Meaux. Camembert. Epoisses. Reblochon. Bleu d’Auvergne. Chaource. You name it, and I’ve tried it—and loved it. Even what my partner fondly calls “stinky foot cheese.”
What’s so great about it?
First, French cheese is super-fresh, having been produced and aged locally, even sometimes aged at the very boutiques that ultimately sell it. Yes, there are cheeses that are mass produced in French factories, but these tend to be sold mostly at the small supermarkets scattered throughout the city.
And third, there are so many different kinds to choose from—cow’s milk cheese, sheep’s milk cheese, goat’s milk cheese, firm, soft, pungent, mild, Alpine, Mediterranean, etc. In fact, there are more than 350 separate kinds of cheese made in France: You could try something new every single day for an entire year.
While every fromagerie in the City of Light carries the most popular cheeses—and, conversely, no shop offers every French cheese—there are two Parisian fromageries that I go to again and again when I want to sample favorites or try something new: La Fermette on the Right Bank’s Rue Montorgueil and Fromagerie Quatrehomme on the Left Bank’s Rue de Sevres.
LA FERMETTE: La Fermette is my go-to fromagerie in Paris, not only because it has a vast selection and some of the friendliest and most knowledgeable cheesemongers in the city, but also because it’s located in the heart of the Rue Montorgueil shopping district. You can assembly all the ingredients for a perfect home-cooked meal or Parisian picnic from the numerous food boutiques on Rue Montorgueil, and that includes fantastic French cheeses from La Fermette.
All of La Fermette’s staff members speak fluent English and eagerly offer tips on new products to try and recommendations on seasonal cheeses that are available (and which products are out of season and, as such, are available only from mass producers). Be prepared to be asked several questions about your choices, like when you plan to serve it (that day? tomorrow? later in the week?) and for which meal (a picnic lunch? dinner cheese course? simply to snack on?) so that you will be provided with cheese that will be perfectly ripe at the precise moment you slice into it.
And be sure to stop by before your return flight to the States to stock up on fresh cheese to eat at home: La Fermette offers a vacuum-sealing service so that you can package your cheese in such a way that it will clear U.S. customs. (Pre-packaged cheeses also are fine to bring into the States, but the only fresh cheeses that can be legally brought into the country are those that are vacuum-sealed.)
Finally, and this may seem superficial, but it has been noticed and commented on by just about every visitor to La Fermette, including celebrity food blogger David Lebovitz: One of the shop’s cheesemongers is among the best-looking men in Paris and what some call a dead-ringer for a young Tom Cruise (see the accompanying photo). It certainly doesn’t hurt to be helped by a hunky staff member!
La Fermette is located at 86 Rue Montorgueil, between the Sentier and Etienne Marcel Metro stations. Hours are Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m.
FROMAGERIE QUATREHOMME: Quatrehomme is perhaps the most acclaimed fromagerie in Paris, founded in 1953 and made internationally famous by Marie Quatrehomme, who was named a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) in 2000 for her work as a cheesemonger.
The MOF designation is essentially a national title of “expert” or “master artisan,” and is bestowed upon winners of a biannual competition in dozens of trades and fields of expertise, including art, architecture, engineering, hospitality, textile creation, fashion design, photography and many others. The hospitality category, in which Quatrehomme won, includes pastry making, candy making, butchery, chocolatiers, fishmongers and cheesemongers.
Marie’s 2000 title made her the first French woman ever to be named MOF in the cheesemonger category. (Holders of MOF designation in the food industry are easily recognizable in France—they sport a blue, white and red collar on their chef’s jackets.)
Today, the day-to-day operations of Quatrehomme are handled by Marie’s children, Maxime and Nathalie, while Marie still plays a key role in developing relationships with cheese producers throughout France. It is these bonds with the cheese makers that allow Fromagerie Quatrehomme to secure and sell some of the best, freshest and hardest-to-come-by cheeses in Paris.
Dozens of cheeses are on display, with many more stored in the shop’s “aging” rooms (nearly 200 total). If you don’t see a specific type, ask any of the shopkeepers—if they don’t have it handy, which is rare, they may be able to order it for you.
Fortunately for American travelers, most of the shop’s staff speaks fluent English, and will be able to help you select products that fit your particular tastes. Employees also are happy to recommend new cheeses for you to try based on your particular likes and dislikes or to prepare a cheese platter for a picnic or dinner party. In fact, many of Paris’s finer restaurants proudly serve cheese platters crafted each day by Quatrehomme.
But be warned: Quatrehomme is hugely popular with both Parisians and visitors, and the shop is often thronged, particularly after work and on Saturdays. And the line moves really quickly as most customers—especially the locals—know what they want long before reaching the counter. If you’d like to linger and get advice from the staff, show up before noon on Tuesday-Friday (the shop is closed Sundays and Mondays) and you’ll be much more likely to catch the shopkeepers when they have more free time to devote to you.
Fromagerie Quatrehomme is located at 62 Rue de Sevres, between the Vaneau and Duroc Metro stations. Hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-7:45 p.m.