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Top French chefs win big at world restaurant awards

French chefs pulled in some of the major prizes at the prestigious World's 50 Best Restaurants at an awards ceremony in New York on Monday night.

Top French chefs win big at world restaurant awards
French chef Alain Passard smells a seasonal tomato. Photo: AFP
Three French chefs won individual honors, with Alain Passard of Arpege given a lifetime achievement award, French-born Dominique Crenn named best female chef and Pierre Herme best pastry chef.
 
Italy's “Osteria Francescana” was crowned world's best restaurant of 2016
 
The rest of the top 50 saw France featured at sixth place with Mirazur in Menton, at 19th with the Arpege in Paris, and managed to sneak in at 50th with the Septime in Paris.
The accolades came after critics complained last year that the system was open to abuse since the jury do not have to offer physical evidence of having actually visited any particular restaurant.
   
The bulk of those complaints came from France, which in 2016 made it into the top ten for the first time in three years but has never managed to win first prize.
   
The 2016 list included restaurants in 23 countries on six continents — but half were in Europe. Asia and the United States each had six in the top 50, while South America and Scandinavia each had five.
   
Spain had seven restaurants on the list, including three in the top 10.
   
The awards, run by trade magazine Restaurant, began in 2002 and have become a reference for the world's foodies, but were hit last year by allegations of cosy deals between restaurants and jury members.
   
The contest is run by British media company William Reed, and criticism has focused on the methodology used to select the best restaurants.
   
Its jury is made up of 972 experts, including food writers, chefs, restaurant owners and gourmets. Members list their choices in order of preference, based on where they have eaten in the past 18 months.
   
There is no pre-determined checklist of criteria, but there are strict voting rules.
   
In the face of complaints, the organizers say consultancy firm Deloitte oversees voting, to ensure the “integrity and authenticity” of the process.
   
For members

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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