These French Cheeses are SO Worth It

MALVAULT AUX ÉPICES

Raw Goat Cheese from the Poitou-Char­entes region

This cheese is one of the tests that show if a fro­magerie (cheese shop) is tru­ly hard­core and on top of their game. The Mal­vault aux épices is one of the hard­est-to-find cheeses in France. This round lit­tle wheel (some­times it’s shaped like a heart and called Coeur d’Épices, but it’s the same cheese) will make you think it’s spicy, but it’s total­ly fak­ing as the taste is more mul­ti­di­men­sion­al­ly savory than hot n’ spicy. Those red pep­per flecks are Piment d’Espelette — a gen­tle red pep­per that doesn’t bite back. Round­ed out with fresh shal­lots, mus­tard seeds, papri­ka, a touch of gar­lic, and white pep­per­corn, you’ll find it shame­ful­ly easy to eat a whole wheel. 

Pro­duced in spring and autumn in one of our culi­nary-mec­cas, the region known as Poitou-Char­entes, which hap­pens to also be famous for its’ oth­er­world­ly but­ter, this is the cheese that will change your mind about goat cheese (IF you even need con­vinc­ing). It’s usu­al­ly priced about 7–9€ per piece of about 180 grams (these are Paris prices, every­thing’s cheap­er in the coun­try­side *sigh*).

Update Decem­ber 2022: the cou­ple who makes this cheese have retired and I have only been able to locate a sim­i­lar (but deli­cious) replace­ment at Fro­magerie Joun­nault at the Marché Des Enfants Rouges in le Marais neighborhood. 

Mal­vault

BRIE NOIR

Raw cow’s milk cheese from Meaux 

I’m all for Trend­slut­ting. Paris final­ly has good cof­fee thanks to our dear beloved Bobos (that’s French for hip­ster. It means bohemi­an bour­geoisie). Peas­ant foods are trendy right now. Paris is at its coolest when it rejects cool, and so comes le Brie Noir or ‘Black’ Brie. While the nor­mal Brie (or Brie de Meaux) is the life of the par­ty, a pop­u­lar Chad of the French Cheese canon, hold­ing court at the cheese board — every­body loves this guy and he goes with any wine. The Black Brie is like the goth hiss­ing at the back of the class from time to time with­out any appar­ent reason. 

Orig­i­nal­ly, Brie Noir was not a dis­tinct type of cheese in and of itself, but the rejects from the pro­duc­tion of nor­mal Brie de Meaux. If some­thing appeared slight­ly off, whether in shape or in the crust on a wheel of Brie, or there was just a sur­plus, the unfor­tu­nate wheel was impris­oned in the back of the aging cave to atone for its defects (or bad luck) for a sen­tence of 8–10 months (2 years if the fro­magers are feel­ing extra vin­dic­tive) vs. the 4 weeks or so for a nor­mal, upstand­ing, Brie. 

Week 12 of atone­ment brings what the cheese­mak­ers refer to as the ‘releas­ing of the fire’; sort of the Brie’s revenge for it’s rejec­tion. A strong ammo­nia cloud is released which makes it near­ly impos­si­ble for labor­ers in the cheese mines to enter the cave for a while (the cheese is sort of spit­ting at the guards). The col­or changes from yel­low (when it lives it’s life as a nor­mal Brie) to beige and then to an even­tu­al ashy chest­nut. Then it emerges, not as the del­i­cate and pun­gent Brie de Meaux, but instead as a flat­ter, grey­er, dri­er and more dar­ing cheese, like Brie’s naughty alter-ego, taunt­ing you dia­bol­i­cal­ly atop your shoul­der dur­ing a wine tast­ing. Will you sur­vive the black sheep of the French Cheese family? 

As fur­ther evi­dence of it’s dra­mat­ic glow-up, Black Brie was tra­di­tion­al­ly used as sand­wich fill­ings for the labor­ers in the wine har­vest. Only the Black Brie could with­stand the after­noon in the hot har­vest-time sun, earn­ing it the nick­name Brie de vendages or Brie de Moissons, essen­tial­ly ‘Har­vest Brie’; kind of, « Here ya go, Pierre. Good luck with smelling your sand­wich all day ». Now, it’s an expen­sive and hard-to-find lux­u­ry cheese that will cost about 26€ per kilo. 

While the grand­ma gen­er­a­tion has been tarred with the rumor that they used to dip Brie Noir in cof­fee in the morn­ing (per­haps to gen­rate breath that could be wield­ed as a weapon?), the younger gen­er­a­tion places it on a cheese ‘planche’ (board) just like it’s a reg­u­lar, respectable Brie or some­thing. Act like you belong. 

In the ulti­mate flex, Brie Noir now costs more than reg­u­lar Brie de Meaux.

Brie Noir

TRAPPE ECHOURGNAC (made by nuns) TIMANOIX (same cheese but made by monks)

Pas­teur­ized cow’s milk cheese from the Perig­ord region

Now, this cheese is easy to love. Strong but not crazy-strong, it’s rel­a­tive­ly smooth if it’s on the younger side. 

Trappe Echour­gnac is hard to find, so if you spot this at a cheese shop, you know they ‘have a guy’ (or an in with the sis­ters) that helps them stock it. In fact, there are fre­quent short­ages in Paris as most of it is con­sumed in the sur­round­ing region and doesn’t even make it too far from the con­vent or abbey. 

Made since 1898 from the same recipe, in the 1990s the nuns decid­ed to exper­i­ment with age­ing the lit­tle wheels in wal­nut liquor. This may have been an excuse to keep the Con­vent stocked with bar­rels of said liquor (what would Jesus do? Regard­less, they nev­er looked back). The broth­ers took note and joined in on the fun to attempt to meet demand for one of France’s most nuanced cheeses (if you eat the crust that is).

If you are lucky enough to be pre­sent­ed with Trappe Echour­gnac (or a Timanoix) make sure to flex that you are a real insid­er and eat the crust! 

It’s priced from 9€ ‑18€ per mini wheel depend­ing on the neigh­bor­hood and hookup sit­u­a­tion. (Lau­rent Dubois seems to be charg­ing an eye-water­ing 18€ per wheel, which, ok infla­tion? That’s going a bit far, non? Fro­magerie Joun­nault also has it, as well as Char­li­cot in the 11th (my fave spot) and La Fer­mette on Rue Mon­torgueil.)

TOMME BLEU DE CHÈVRE

Raw goat’s milk cheese from Le Bas Dauphiné or Val-de-Loire regions

This is the bleu cheese for peo­ple who don’t like blue cheese. It’s embar­rass­ing­ly easy to devel­op a habit of toss­ing it back like pop­corn. Once I start, I can­not stop, which can almost nev­er be said about blue cheeses (I’m look­ing at you, Bleu de Gex. One tiny cube of that and I’ve had enough of the Bleu thing for a month). 

This cheese stands alone. Most Bleus are usu­al­ly some­thing ‘tast­ed’ in the purest sense: one taste is enough. This is not so for Tomme Bleu de Chevre. Take a big piece (or two) when no one’s guard­ing the cheese board.

Tomme Bleu de Chèvre comes rolling your way after hid­ing in a cave for either 2–3 weeks or up to 6 months for the dri­er, stur­dier types. Dur­ing that time it is inject­ed with a strain of peni­cillin called P. Roque­fort which caus­es lit­tle blue lines to form in the places where it was jabbed. 

This type of dairy ecsta­sy, like reg­u­lar ecsta­sy, does­n’t come cheap; about 26€ per kilo. (Update: tem­po­rary unavail­able as they switch to organ­ic farm­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. A good sub­sti­tute — Bleu d’Au­vergne or Blue de Bre­bis from the Basque region. Stay tuned.)

By the way, our FAVORITE cheese shop in Paris is Char­li­cot at 6 Rue de la Folie Méri­court in the ‘bo-bo’ Folie ‑Meri­court neigh­bor­hood in the 11th arrondisse­ment. Char­lie is the cheese expert-chick and will seri­ous­ly hook you up there. Usu­al­ly the freaky and lov­able cheeses we write about can be found there. 

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Indeco­rous Cul­turevore and Poly­chrome Chow Vir­tu­osa Kat Walk­er likes nice things.

She once went to a job inter­view for that was sup­posed to be for sales but was actu­al­ly for pros­ti­tu­tion (the high-class ver­sion, she hopes lol) at a fan­cy hotel in the shad­ow of the Eif­fel Tow­er (arti­cle com­ing soon) and, anoth­er time inter­viewed for a posi­tion as a phone psychic.

She passed both with fly­ing col­ors. How­ev­er she declined the human traf­fick­ing posi­tion but stuck around longer than she should have to be able to write about it. (Are you not entertained?)

As for the tele­phone psy­chic gig, she only last­ed one day, even though the pay was excel­lent. Wooooooo…..She sees you sub­scrib­ing to our week­ly PARIS RIGHT NOW dis­patch . There is also a man in your future.

Now she is set­tled in as your Edi­tor-in-Mis­chief here, lead­ing the charge to not take Paris so damn seriously…let’s frol­ic a bit, non?

She writes fast and with­out pru­dence so if you enjoy this type of thing, edi­tors aren’t free so here is le Patre­on

When she’s not writ­ing about crois­sants, love, cul­ture, and lov­able, sexy crois­sants, she is a gonzo per­for­mance artist whip­ping up a (usu­al­ly) polit­i­cal ruckus. Her rab­ble rous­ing has pro­voked the atten­tion of var­i­ous pub­lic forums, like the time she appeared in the movie The Yes Men Fix the World as Russ­ian jour­nal­ist Lai­ka Gaga­ri­na or was fea­tured in Roll­Cal­l’s Heard on the Hill for her mock­ery of the U.S. sen­ate. Oth­er efforts have land­ed her in the Le Nou­v­el Obser­va­teur, Chica­go Sun-Times, Chica­go Tri­bune, and the Reader.

In oth­er places and oth­er lives, the actu­al live guy who played Ross on Friends came to see her show at a NYC gallery.

She has nev­er had a weird­er lunch than that one when an FBI infor­mant offered to kill her busi­ness part­ner for her.

She declined (phew) and that’s why she’s here, freely- and un-jailed-ly writ­ing about crois­sants and per­verts and the Eif­fel Tow­er (in that order, usu­al­ly) for PARIS > DEFINED MAGAZINE.

Her per­fect­ly impos­si­ble din­ner in Paris would be at Pierre Sang on Gam­bey (the wait­er choos­es the wine) with Gen­e­sis P. Orridge, Napoleon Bona­parte (he picks up the tab and the wait­er knows this in advance when pick­ing wines), Christo­pher Hitchens, Anais Nin, and Ket­a­mine in atten­dance. Drinks after at le17 but back in time, like 2017.

Her favorite French word is ‘bruit’ but only when a hot girl says it slowly.

In a bid for your atten­tion and approval she writes things here and man­ages this unruly tribe of Parisians endeav­or­ing to bring you what Paris­ing is real­ly about.

Sub­scribe HERE to the P > D newslet­ter for a week­ly dose of her, and the rest of the ram­bunc­tious and per­fect­ly depraved gals’ tren­chant and thought-pro­vok­ing opin­ions. Or tune in to their high­brow cul­ture com­men­tary and bike rid­ing through Paris on PARIS » D E F I N E D TV.

If you are mash­ing out a mes­sage to warn her of her crimes against gram­mar and punc­tu­a­tion save your time because she knows, she knows.

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