France is home to so many types of cheese, it can be a little overwhelming to keep track of them all. Luckily, the French have developed a classification system of eight groups to help sort things out. Even if you tried a new kind of French cheese every day, it would still take you more than a year to try them all. Les huit familles des fromage (the 8 families of cheese) can steer you in the right direction when choosing French cheeses.
Fresh Cheeses - These white cheeses contain a lot of water and are not aged. They are eaten in a manner similar to yogurt or are used for baking or cooking. They can be made from cow, goat or sheep milk. (Petit Suiss, Brousse)
Soft Cheeses with Natural Rind - Made from cow's milk, these cheeses are aged for about one month. In France, they are traditionally served after the main course. (Brie, Camembert)
Soft Cheeses with Washed Rind - Similar to soft cheeses with a natural rind, these cheeses are made from cow's milk but the rind is washed during the aging process. This keeps mold from forming there and makes the rind soft and colorful. These cheeses are popular choices for French cheese platters. (Munster, Reblochon)
Pressed Cheeses - These cheeses are pressed during processing to remove all of the water. They are then turned, washed and aged for several months to form a uniform rind. (Cantal, Ossau-Iraty)
Pressed and Cooked Cheeses - Commonly produced in the mountain regions of France, these cheeses are a favorite topping for hot dishes. During processing, they are heated for about an hour before they are left in large canisters to age for a long time. (Emmental and Gruyère)
Goat Cheese - More than one hundred varieties of goat cheese come from France. They are artfully presented in many different shapes and sizes, and even in specialized little boxes. (Crottin de Chavignol, Selles-sur-Cher)
Blue Cheeses - These cheeses are so named because of the blue or green veins that run through them. They are ripened for a very long time and have a very strong smell to match. Blue cheeses are a great addition to any cheese platter. (Bleu de Bresse, Roquefort)
Processed Cheeses - These cheeses are used as a spread and are blended together from other types of French cheeses. They are often seasoned with pepper, garlic or other herbs. (Boursin)
This quick guide is just an introduction to the many, many delicious cheeses that come from France. Find a category that best suites your preferences and dig in!