Sampling the delicious cheeses produced in the various regions of France can be a fascinating and revealing aspect of any French wine tour.
The terroir, the climate, the weather conditions, the age and levels of fermentation are all vital aspects contributing to a great wine, but they are also equally important in creating that other great French love: cheese.
Every region of France has its own speciality cheese, just as it has its speciality wines. Many of them are given the honour of representing their regions with the important Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) certification.
Think of the Alps Savoie with its famous Beaufort, Île-de-France with its Brie, Normandy with its Camembert and Languedoc-Roussillon with its Pélardon; all these cheeses say something about the regions in which they are made, every bit as much as their wines do. It is this which makes cheese tasting a fascinating element of any wine tour.
Perhaps it is the similarities wine and cheese share, in terms of their production, which make them complement each other so well on the palate.
Both wine and cheese are created using flora as their starting point, which depends on its natural environment for richness and flavour. In wine it is the grapes, while cheese depends on the grasses eaten by the animal from which it comes for its flavour. Both are then subject to fermentation and then are aged to various degrees to create an intensity and depth of flavour.
The subtle changes which can affect the flavour of a cheese, such as increased sunshine, wet weather and so on, are the same elements which can affect a good wine. This is one of the reasons why, in France, cheese tasting is considered almost as much of an art from as wine tasting, granting it a deserved place on any wine tour.
Wine and Cheese Pairing
A good wine tour around the wine-growing regions of France should therefore naturally include the pairing of wine from a select region with its cheese.
On our European Waterways wine tours, we make sure that our guests have the chance to sample some of the famous cheeses from the regions we visit, such as the Roquefort Papillon, Cathare au Chèvre and Tomme au Piment d’Espelette of the Canal du Midi.
There is nothing like gliding leisurely down a waterway, past vineyards and meadows, watching cows or sheep lazily grazing, only to try the wine grown in those very vineyards and with the cheese created by the animals we saw when we come to rest at night.
There is a certain harmony to eating cheese from one region accompanied by wine from the same region, both having been developed as a result of the same landscape and the same natural conditions.
It’s always great at the end of a wine tour to feel that you have really got to know the region you’ve visited, and getting to know both its wine and its cheeses is a really good place to start.