To understand the culinary revelation that are the cheeses of France to Britons of a certain vintage it is essential to understand life in the 1970s. Younger readers may not be able to appreciate the sheer awfulness of food culture in the UK at that time, an era when a visit to the Berni Inn or the Golden Egg represented the height of sophisticated dining. It was also a time when the dairy counters of Fine Fare would display items resembling a cross-ply tyre from a Hillman Super Minx that had been dyed yellow and re-branded “Cheddar” or “Double Gloucester”.
It is indeed challenging to evoke the impact of virtually any French cheese upon such a jaded palate. It would have been the culinary equivalent of a 1965 Citroën DS Pallas, a comic routine of Jacques Tati or an early disc from Serge Gainsbourg – i.e. moderately sublime. There are seven basic types made in France – Chevre, Blue-Veined, Hard, Semi-Hard, Fresh, Soft-Ripened and Processed. Charles de Gaulle famously complained ‘How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?’, although the actual number is believed to be near the “thousand” mark
A select group of cheeses bear the prized AOC (“Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) logo. This status is an official approval that guarantees the style, ingredients, and origin of a product and six hail from the Loire Valley – Valençay, Chabichou du Poutou, Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Selles-sur-Cher, Pouligny St. Pierre and the goat’s cheese Crottin de Chevignol. It almost goes without saying that any one of these fromages would be entirely at home in the kitchen of Chateau Bois de Giraud. Besides, you are on holiday, and with time to indulge in culinary experimentation without the pressures of work or study.
And a final insight as to why the food of France will always beguile many Britons who recall the 1970s – many aspects of Fawlty Towers really did reflect the average culinary standard…