Frogs’ legs: French police bust poaching ring

A large-scale poaching operation of one of France’s most prized delicacies, frogs' legs, has left a trio of Frenchmen facing jail. The French hunger for frog parts has left certain species in danger.

Frogs' legs: French police bust poaching ring
French police have cracked down on a frog poaching ring, that were selling the amphibians to local restaurants. Photo: Romeo Gacad/AFP

Three Frenchmen are looking at the possibility of jail time after police and wildlife authorities caught them with nearly 1,100 illegally captured frogs that were bound for local soup pots in central France.

Authorities in the department of Cantal in the Auvergne region caught the crew red-handed as they used fish traps to catch frogs in wetland areas. The men had been suspected for years of large scale poaching but authorities finally caught up with them, French daily Le Parisien reported.

“It’s a first on this scale in Cantal, with this type of equipment and people who are clearly regulars at this,” local police Major Patrick Soubrier told Le Parisien.

“We found protected species and non-protected ones. They were harvesting whatever they could.”

The French hunger for frogs' legs, (cuisses de grenouille) is so great, with 80 million frogs consumed each year, that some species are now in danger. As a result, France was forced to place a ban on commercial frog hunting and farming that has been in effect since 1980. 

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In response to the ferocious demand for frogs in France, Belgium, Luxembourg and China, Indonesia has now become the world's biggest exporter of the amphibians. In recent years Indonesia has provided more than 80 percent of Europe's imports, almost all caught in the wild by small-scale hunters who make about €38 a day.

On the French frog black market a dozen pairs of locally caught legs fetch about €5, which means the haul authorities captured on Saturday was worth just over €458. However, police confiscated the catch of just one hunt; if multiplied over the course of years the illicit gains swell dramatically.

In pursuit of these ill-gotten profits French poachers have come to know well the habits of their prey, according to wildlife officials. The poachers are especially active during mating season when frogs are more visible and easier to catch.

Despite France’s significant penalties for frog poaching –  a €15,000 fine and up to a year behind bars, the illicit harvest is likely to continue. There are simply too many locations to watch and not enough wildlife protection officers, conservation authorities told Le Parisien.

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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!