Anyone for cheese? Half a kilo per week if you are French

Did you know that you can study for a degree in cheesemaking in France? In fact, not only a degree but you can then follow it with a Masters as well. Cheese making is taken very seriously in France and considered a highly respected profession. I suppose it makes sense; France has one of the highest consumptions of cheese in the world at around 26kg per person per year. The figure is the equivalent to half a kilo a week whereas the British, for example, consume only 11.6kg per person per year.

And consumption of cheese increased even more during 2020, up by over 20%, presumably as the French sought comfort food during the pandemic. According to data from the French agency AgriMer, sales of cheeses produced from cows’ milk rose by 9.4%, organic goats’ cheese jumped by 32.2% and organic sheep’s cheese rose by 5.5%.

Former president, de Gaulle, is famous for asking: “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” but today it is thought that, if you count varieties and sub-varieties, there are closer to a 1000 types of cheese in France. There are also 40 cheeses that have been awarded the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée status (better known for wine), which means those cheeses, such as Roquefort, can only be produced in a certain region.

The most popular cheese in France is Camembert, closely followed by Comté. When pollsters ask the French for their view on having a meal without cheese, the most common response is “unimaginable” despite the fact that cheese in France is not cheap; the average cost is €20 per kilo. Remember too that, because the French take cheese so seriously, there are rules as to how it is eaten. Firstly, the French unlike many countries have cheese as a third course before the pudding course. Secondly and very importantly, you should slice it correctly depending on its shape: This means that, for round cheeses, you should cut pie-type wedges whereas for log-shaped cheeses, it should be parallel slices and, for square cheeses, you should aim for triangles. When it comes to wedge shaped cheeses such as Roquefort or Brie, you should cut along the side and certainly not cut off the ‘nose’ because the cheese develops differently from the centre outwards.

In this region, we predominantly have sheep and goats cheese usually made with unpasteurized milk by small producers from start to finish which are then sold at the local markets. Some of it is more expensive gram for gram than gold but that doesn’t stop the lengthy queues at the favourite stalls for those in the know as to the very best producers.

Cheese is not only a staple food in France but it is part of French heritage and identity; a way of life with cheese being eaten by 96% of French people (according to So while there has definitely been a rise in vegetarianism in the last decade in France and a steady reduction in meat consumption, prising the French away from their cheese looks unlikely to happen anytime soon and if you are looking for job security and a good income, going into the cheese business might well be the way ahead, in France at least.

Courses up to Masters level are offered at Les ENIL, Ecoles Nationales d’Industrie Laitière:

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