Live well

A cheese expert on all you ever wanted to know about cheese

Award-winning French cheesemonger François Robin talks to The Chatter about all things cheese

François Robin certainly knows a thing or two about cheese. Awarded as one of the best cheesemongers in France, Robin was in India recently for a cheese tasting showcasing some of France and Europe’s best cheeses. So, whether you consider yourself a cheese novice or a connoisseur, here’s some of Robin’s advice on how to best enjoy your cheese.

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Tell us a little about your background.
I’m a cheesemonger and a teacher. My cheese education started when I was literally 2 months old—my mother quit breastfeeding me and instead started feeding me milk from the goats on our farm. So, in a way, it’s a family story. I became a cheesemonger in 2007.

What should a novice look for while buying cheese?
Look for different textures and tastes. You can touch it and see whether it’s creamy, hard or not. You’ll get an idea of different tastes and sensations. You can tell the difference by the look of it as well. For cheese coming from France and other parts of Europe, there are labels which are helpful. The most important thing is that when you look at a cheese for the first time, you should take time to look at it, smell it and taste it. You really don’t need to have a strong education of cheese—just open your mouth and feel it!

Are there any recommendations for someone inexperienced with cheese?
It’s always better to start with milder cheese. Hard cheeses are not that strong. The Camembert is quite popular in India. In France, we have a version that is stronger. You can then move on to blue and goat cheeses. It’s no problem if you don’t love one cheese—you’ll definitely love another. It’s just about finding your own!

Tell us about some basic cheese and food pairings.
A blue cheese is salty at the end of the mouth and so you want to cut that a little bit. So, honey, jam and fruits pair well. Dried pineapple works well with comte.

What about pairing cheese with spirits?
If there’s a strong cheese, I like spraying it with gin—Bombay Sapphire to be precise! It gives a nice punch! You can also try beer with emmenthal or brie—because beer is easy to find and drink!

What are the basics of putting together a cheese platter?
Try 5-7 different cheeses. Keep the cheeses in their original packaging in your fridge. Take them out half an hour before you eat them. You can add roasted nuts like cashewnuts, walnuts, almonds and also fresh figs and grapes. Add crackers and French baguettes to complement the cheeses.

Which is your favourite cheese?
I never really answer that question because it depends on the season and my mood. Back in France, there are a lot of cheeses. Somedays I like creamy cheeses because they’re comfortable while other days I want something strong with a punch like a dry goat cheese. It depends, really!

Which is the most expensive, sought-after cheese in the world?
It may not be the most expensive, but in France we have a traditional blue cheese that has almost disappeared. It’s called Blue de Termignon; Termignon is a small village in the mountains with a population of about 200 people. Only 4 producers of this cheese are left. The one I love is made by a woman who owns 12 cows. She’s makes this cheese during the summer months.

What is the best way of storing cheese?
In France a lot of people have caves in basements where cheese is stored. However, in India, the best way to store it is in the fridge in the cheese’s original packaging. Once you open it, wrap it back in food paper and then back in the fridge.

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