French foie gras producers and the country’s agricultural minister are incensed that goose liver has been banned from a major food trade fair in Germany. While a diplomatic incident could result, animal rights campaigner Brigitte Bardot, for one, is thrilled.

"/> French foie gras producers and the country’s agricultural minister are incensed that goose liver has been banned from a major food trade fair in Germany. While a diplomatic incident could result, animal rights campaigner Brigitte Bardot, for one, is thrilled.

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FARMING

Fatty liver sets off Franco-German dispute

French foie gras producers and the country’s agricultural minister are incensed that goose liver has been banned from a major food trade fair in Germany. While a diplomatic incident could result, animal rights campaigner Brigitte Bardot, for one, is thrilled.

Fatty liver sets off Franco-German dispute
Josh Rothman

“To our great astonishment, the organizers of the fair just let us know that from now on we cannot present or offer tastings of foie gras during the ANUGA fair,“ Alain Labarthe, president of the organization ‘Vive le foie gras!’, told news agency AFP.

The ANUGA fair, considered one of the world’s most important food trade shows and running from October 8 – 12 in Cologne, bowed to pressure from activists who oppose the force-feeding methods used by French producers to fatten up the livers of geese.

Foie gras production is banned in Germany, although consumption of the product is allowed, which led Martin Malvy, socialist politician and president of the Région Midi-Pyrénées, to call the prohibition “hypocritical.”

He has called on the French government to “put an end to this discrimination.“

To that end, Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire wrote a letter this week to his German counterpart, Ilse Aigner, protesting the ban and threatening to stay away from the fair’s opening if the decision were not reversed.

“It is important that the French foie gras sector be present at the fair, which is visited by numerous buyers in the pre-holiday period,“ he wrote in the letter. “In any event, if this ban stays in place I cannot imagine taking part in the opening.“

He called on Aigner to intervene, reminding her that France “rigorously follows all common regulations regarding the well-being of the animals“ and that products that follow those rules should be allowed at the fair.

But Brigitte Bardot, former actress and model and now animal rights activist, also penned a note to Aigner, welcoming the ban and calling on her not to succomb to “blackmail“ on the part of Le Maire.

She disputed his view that France follows animal-welfare rules, reminding the German minister that force-feeding cages banned by the EU since the beginning of this year are still used throughout France.

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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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