After 14 years of producing and presenting Taste Le Tour for SBS Television, I have been able to experience many of the highlights of French gastronomy and that, of course, includes cheese. Every year my journey takes me to all the the regions crossed by the Tour de France race and every year the route is different and it always finishes in Paris.
Some of the most magical moments have been in provincial markets. Most towns and villages have at least one market day a week, which often takes place in stunning locations, such as the main square of a beautiful town rich in history.
Nearly always you'll find a good boulangerie (bakery) and pâtisserie around the village market square, and cafés with an outdoor terrace perfect for soaking up the atmosphere. This is usually my first stop in any town I visit.
Early on market day, local farmers set up their stalls in the village to sell the freshest seasonal vegetables, herbs and fruits ripened to perfection and ready to consume. Other artisans, like butchers and fishmongers, sell their goods from a specially equipped refrigerated truck, travelling to a different town every day of the week.
French markets offer amazing takeaway foods ideal for a picnic. The charcutier is where to buy freshly prepared salads, delicious small goods, like pâtés, hams, terrines, salami, excellent spit roast meats and poultry of all kinds.
I am always thrilled by the thought of a French cheese selection.
Of all the French food displays, I find the cheese stall, the fromager, the most tempting of all. I am always thrilled by the thought of a French cheese selection, especially when enjoyed with a crusty sourdough baguette or walnut bread at an impromptu picnic.
As a bonus in France, the best cheeses often cost less than half the price of good Australian cheeses in Australia.
After filming in quite a number of fromageries (cheese makers), making either cow, goat or ewes’ milk cheeses, especially in the Alps and the Pyrenees mountains, I am touched by the dedication to producing outstanding cheese. They often work in freezing conditions at altitudes of more than 1500 metres in the mountains, where the rich grass during the spring and summer months makes for excellent milk.
These farmers milk their animals seven days a week in the early morning and late evening, and most make their cheese either after the morning milking or at night.
Although all cheeses are made from milk, ferments and salt, they all taste different, due to the pastures where the animals graze, the techniques and mould used in the making, the size of the cheese and how and where it is matured. It's a fascinating world.
Many cheese makers work as a family and ripen their cheeses in their own cellar under the farmhouse. They sell their small production either at the farm door or at the nearest market. Some take their freshly made, unripe cheeses to a specialist artisan, called a fromager affîneur, whose work is to refine the cheese to perfection in their maturing rooms.
There is usually a shop attached to these maturing rooms, but the cheeses are also sold from trucks in village markets or in covered city markets, called les halles.
The advantage with good cheesemongers in the city is that they have a selection of many of the French classics, like Brie, Roquefort, Camembert, Comté, chèvre, and much, much more. There are thought to be more than a thousand varieties of French cheese. Fromage, I salute you!
Feeling inspired? Check out Taste le Tour cheesy recipe collection here.
Tune in to Taste le Tour with Gabriel Gaté every night from Saturday 7 July 2018 on SBS until 29 July 2018. Visit the Taste le Tour website to catch-up on episodes online, scroll through recipes or find out more about the show.
Ok… So macarons can be tricky to make… up until now that is! Here we will tell you the hidden secret to making the best macarons, previously reserved only for elite pastry chefs with many years of training. So… the secret to preventing your own macarons from cracking is as easy as sitting on the sofa and having a nap or perhaps watching a movie for an hour or so while the macarons rest before baking. We have colour-themed our macarons blue and red and joined each with a dollop of meringue buttercream, making very cute little French flag macarons.