Midweek Distractions 2/21/24: All Things Cheese

Sliced emmental cheese

France is known to most foodies as the land of cheese, cream, and butter. It’s a country with around 1,200 distinct types of cheese, 45 of which have AOP status, a geographical indication which protects where a cheese comes from and how it is made. But there was one cheese I couldn’t seem to escape when living in France: Emmental (also spelled Emmenthal, Emmentaler, or Emmenthaler).

When you order something in France that simply comes with unspecified “fromage,” like a late night crêpe or a Jambon-Fromage sandwich, it’s likely Emmental, which is a variety of what we would call Swiss cheese in the U.S. If you buy shredded cheese in a grocery store, it’s most likely Emmental. Or it could be Gruyère, which is also enormously popular in France, and used for favorite dishes like the Croque-Monsieur or French onion soup. Ironically, neither of these cheeses are French—they’re both Swiss!

Both Emmental and Gruyère are far milder than some of the funky cheeses that France is known for, like Bleu d’Auvergne, ripe Camembert, or gooey Époisses. They blend in easily with other flavors without overpowering them, which is why they are used for dishes which, in the U.S., might get a mild, creamy sprinkle of shredded mozzarella. Both Emmental and Gruyère are also popular additions to one of the most beloved Alpine dishes: fondue. This cheesy party-pleaser calls to mind snowy evenings in the mountains spent cozying up to the fire after a long day of skiing.

But whether or not you plan on going skiing this year, you can recreate that chic après-ski atmosphere with a little fondue or raclette at home. Raclette (another Swiss cheese the French love) has really been having a moment this winter, so we put together a guide to making raclette at home. We’ve also got recs for where to get fondue and raclette in NYC this winter, and some background on the fascinating history of fondue.

If you’re part of the third of Americans (and French people, for that matter) who can’t consume dairy without unwanted side effects, then we’ve got you covered as well. Philip Ruskin has put together a fabulous guide to the best vegan pastries in Paris. We’ve also got tips for eating vegan in France, plant-based restaurants in Paris, and vegan pastry cookbooks.

New Yorkers…

Tis the season for charming upstate getaways, and as the list of must-visit restaurants in New York State expands ever north of the city, we’ve got a new restaurant opening to put on your radar. In North Salem, NY, the husband-and-wife duo of Andrea Castlier and Elena Oliver just opened La Bastide, an intimate fine dining establishment dedicated to their native Marseille. A tasting menu of seasonal French fare and an extensive French wine list make La Bastide a promising stop on your next trip out of the city.

Catherine Rickman
Managing Editor, frenchly.us

Stay in touch! I’d love to hear from you: [email protected].

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