When in a delicatessen or specialty market, do you get intimidated with all the varieties of cheese? What difference does it make whether you choose artisanal, sharp, or goat cheese? Before you despair and give in to the tried and true American, Provolone, or Cheddar, try learning the language of cheese by taking a closer look at some key French words. France’s cheese making heritage originated in the 7th century. Ancient cheese making techniques were preserved by monks and passed down through the generations. Here are some important terms to get you started:
Artisanal: Cheese that is made by hand rather than machine
Terroir: Literally translated, it means “land” but the word really represents both the environment and culture. Terroir is the influence of climate, vegetation, water and soil on the milk used to produce cheese. Combine these factors with specific production techniques and ancient traditions. Together, they influence the taste and character of cheeses defining a particular region.
Affinage: The process of aging or ripening cheese in carefully controlled environments. This allows flavors to blend and intensify before the cheese is brought to market. An affineur is a “cheese-ager” responsible for the care and handling of cheese during this process. After cheeses are produced they are then aged in caves cut into hillsides or built underground. The affineur washes, rotates and helps the cheese reach perfection, carefully controlling the environment and conditions for ideal maturity and taste.
Now here’s a fun way to learn some more French: Order some Brie, Camembert, or Roquefort next time you buy cheese and give your palate an adventure!