It’s not hard to have great food experiences in Paris, and one of the fun things I did on my trip were some “Meeting the French” food tours: one for cheese, one for a boulangerie, and one for chocolate (more about the other two in another post). The visits by this company are designed to give you a “behind-the-scenes” look into how French food artisans do their craft, and for any foodie, the tours let you learn in depth and delight your taste buds.
When our group climbed out of the métro and walked up rue de Bellevaire to Fromagerie Beillevaire, we couldn’t find the shop, even though we thought we were at the correct address. But a few minutes later, when the heavy metal outside door rolled up, we could smell that we were in the right place. Heaven!
Stepping into the shop, we found ourselves surrounded by open shelves of cheese—lots of glorious cheese. The shop’s proprietor and affineur, Jérome, explained that it’s important for people to smell the cheeses and be close to them. Just one or two tastings of a cheese here will have you swooning. The cheeses are unlike any we can get in the United States. Made by small producers who start with raw milk, the cheeses deliver sublime tastes brought about by field-grazing cows and other good graces of nature.
Fromagerie Beillevaire doesn’t just buy cheeses, it collaborates with the producers to develop unique products, establish quality standards (they’ve developed a quality charter), and other collaborations—and the result is around 100 products made from raw milk (cheese, butter, yogurt, and more). It may be hard to believe since cheese is such a part of the French heritage, but getting such cheeses isn’t that easy. Many French see the work as a hard life and hard in which to make a good living. Fromagerie Beillevaire is trying to change that image by letting its producers decide the price of their products and partnering with them in supportive ways.
So what did we taste? For starters, we tried a cheese called La Pigouille, a sheep’s milk cheese. (It’s shown in the photo at the top of this post.) We were lucky to try it because it is very seasonal, and the shop rarely has it. Creamy deliciousness with hints of grass. We next tried a cheese made by orthodox monks from Montpellier called Saint Nicolas de la Delmerie, followed by the best Mimolette I’ve ever had, shown above. At two years old, the microbes (or whatever they are technically called) give this cheese a scary look on the exterior, but this beast had a beautiful, flavorful interior.
Another not-so-good-looking cheese was this Peio Etcheleku, a tomme “brûlée”—burned by firewood. It was originally preserved that way for the practical reason of keeping flies away and to make the cheese last longer. Rest assured, this cheese tasted better than it looked.
By the time the other cheese samples were cut up, they weren’t that photogenic, but every last one interesting to try. A Machecoulais was a cow’s cheese from Nantes, and a Salers Vieux from Auvergne was made by a French couple in their 60s who still produce the cheese in wood containers using old methods. And these fresh chèvres below I just wanted to pack up in my suitcase to take home.
Jérome comes from the city of Nantes in western France, and in the last 10 years, the company that he runs with his father has opened 12 fromagerie boutiques throughout Paris, the one on Rue de Bellevaire being the second, opened in 2002. The store openings had to grow slowly, he said, because the cheeses, many of which come from the area around Nantes, are extremely fragile and change every week.
You don’t have to sign up for a tour to taste magnificent cheeses like these, you can always explore and sample in any specialized fromagerie in Paris or the rest of France. And with so many hotel rooms having mini friges in rooms, it’s easy to buy some to have in your room or in the main lobby on a night you just want to eat simply. (And if you’re a yogurt lover, try the Yaourt Ancienne and a Petit Pot Caramel.) Any which way you visit a fromagerie in France, it almost always is a wonderful experience.
140, rue de Belleville
Tél. 01 46 36 90 81
And other locations: