The French Have Started Melting Their Cheese. It’s Why We Live Here
These are the French cheeses that rule the wintry nights.
It’s cold outside. The leaves are yellow and rust colored underfoot. A girl’s thoughts naturally turn to crackling fires and thick cabled sweaters that look like cashmere until you wash them. However, one cannot accept imitations in the case of the other annual cold-weather impulse — real French melted cheese.
Only the real can relate
– Cardi B
As soon as winter arrives in France, we downshift from our pique-nique state of mind of smashing fresh goat cheeses with chilly craft beers and rosé wines avec les amis at that spot on the tip of Ile de la Cité. Instead we gather indoors with melty hot cheeses that dare not show their crusts during the steamy summer months. Pick up a few crusty baguettes à la tradition on the way home and there you have it — an Alpine mood rules the chilly nights…
Here’s the Winter Cheese Playlist to bring après-skià la française to your table (or read to the end to have the experts do it for you at one of our restaurants specializing in melted cheese. Yes, that’s a thing):
MONT D’OR — Makes the Winter Magical. Smelly, But Magical.
Mont D’Or is sold in a wheel in a special rounded spruce box that will not start on fire in the oven at a low temperature unless you forget about it (don’t ask how I know this). You can dial it up a few notches by puncturing the skin with sliced cloves of garlic and burying them inside the cheese before popping it into the oven.
It’s easy — place the spruce box directly in the oven and, after about 10 minutes or so, Voilà ! Out comes a gooey, pungent, fondue-like bowl. All you need are those crispy baguettes tradition(the better kind of baguette) to break into hunks and dip. As with all things melted cheese in France in the winter, assume you will eat all of it and not just a prim, ladylike ‘taste’. Plan accordingly.
Pairs well with an adventurous Vin Jaune (a distinctive, yellow wine aged under a little raft of yeast) or a Pinot Blanc from the Alsace region.
THE RECIPE: 180° celsius/350° fahrenheit until it’s melty, about 10 minutes.
CAMEMBERT RÔTI — The Boy Next Door Heats Things Up
Your mission, should you choose to accept it:
Find a real French camembert (aka raw, not pasteurised) and some crusty sourdough (and fresh thyme sprigs if you like).
Place them all in the oven for just five minutes at 180°C/350°F. For the camembert, remove the paper, stab it with those fresh thyme sprigs, and place it back in the box, or just stab it generally to let your feelings flow. It’s been a weird few years and cheese isn’t sentient.
Skip the wine here as the melty, aromatic, and savory Camembert pairs well with a cidre brut. The Normands know a thing or two about what to do with apples and if you are hitting it hard, try le trou normand — a wintry dilemma of feeling full after headfirst cheese dives is solved in the most Normandy way possible — taking a shot of *bracing* Calvados, an apple brandy that gives you a mysterious feeling of not being too full…so you feel emboldened to go back in for another round of whichever bewitching melted cheese has your attention that day (trust me, do them one day at a time).
THE RECIPE: 180° celsius/350° fahrenheit until it’s melty, a mere 5 minutes, on average.
RACLETTE — A Friend with Benefits
Originally an après-ski affair in the Alps, the eat-your-bodyweight-in-melted cheese habit has made its way into the big city thanks to portable electric raclette grills.
It’s simple, and best of all, you foist most of the food prep and cooking on your guests (suckers). Simply plug and play your French Alps-themed dinner with a pound (half-kilo or so) of boiled small potatoes per person, and plenty of charcuterie to sear on the crisper section of the grill.
While speck, coppa, prosciutto, and jambon de Paris are my favorites, you can also use salami. Keep in mind that the cheese can be strong on it’s own, as in, do you remember the term ‘smoking section?’ strong (consider your dry cleaning bill a souvenir of a gastronomic adventure).
As a side, heap plenty of tiny cornichon pickles on your plate because vegetables or something.
How it started: the wheels of Raclette (or Morbier, with it’s little blue-grey veins of mold for those feeling like a little walk on the wild side) were placed next to the fireplace at the ski chalets to satisfy the skiers after a day of, I dunno, doing skiing stuff (can you tell I have never been skiing?). As the cheese dripped off, it would be deftly scraped away and portioned out to eager ski bunnies. In the city, the electric grill does the melting, unless you have a fireplace. If so, by all means get the wheel holder and go all-out (I’ll pray for your carpets. In the name of the father, the son, and Holy grease-stain).
How it’s going:I legit impressed my family and their various boyfriends one Christmas when I visited Chicago with a carry-on’s worth of real French cheeses (I suppose the Customs agents found me charming/boring enough to let me pass with a definitely sus amount of fragrant Frenchy stuff).
Indecorous Culturevore and Polychrome Chow Virtuosa Kat Walker likes nice things.
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.
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