Give us this day our daily cheese…
The typical Frenchman (or woman) will eat a whopping 25.9 kilos of cheese each year. That's enough to make the French the hungriest for cheese in the world, according to a 2013 report by International Dairy Federation.
The figure is the equivalent of half a kilo a week or 70 grammes a day.
For comparison's sake, Americans consume a measly 15.4 kg per year and the British a mere 11.6 kg.
And of the 96 percent of French people who eat cheese, 47 percent of them do it on a daily basis.
Photo: Chris Buecheler/Flickr
Plenty of choice
You've probably heard of Comté, Brie, and Camembert… but there are a whole lot more than just the famous fromages.
Indeed, there are so many varieties that Charles de Gaulle once said “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”
Well, Monsieur de Gaulle, you'd be in for a surprise if you were alive today. Estimates put the number of French cheese varieties as high as 400, though with the sub varieties on offer, some say it's closer to 1,000.
And of course, different cheeses come from different regions, prompting several “Cheese maps of France” to surface on the internet.
The French protect their best cheeses
There are around 40 cheeses that have been awarded the Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée status, which means they can only be produced in a certain region.
The cheeses with this status range from the famed Beaufort of the Savoie département to the Camembert of Normandy.
Others include Comté from Franche-Comté, Roquefort from Midi-Pyrénées, and Brie from Meaux and Melun.
The most recent addition to the list was the Rigotte de Condrieu from Lyon, which got AOC status in 2008.
The French make the best cheese in the world (they say)
The French take their cheese so seriously that they've started an international bi-annual cheese competition.
And the reigning champ for World's Best Cheesemonger is (you guessed it) a Frenchman, with Fabien Degoulet, the son of dairy merchants, taking home the top prize at the last meet in 2015.
The next round will be in 2017 in the Loire Valley of central France.
It should be noted that there is another international bi-annual cheese tournament that has been around a lot longer, since 1957 in fact, but which has never been won by the French.
(“I think we've got enough for this week Jacques.” Photo: AFP)
Mountains of Cheese
It's hard to find stats for exactly how much cheese is produced in France each year, but some estimates put the figure as high as 1.8 million tonnes a year.
That's around 57 kilos per second.
If you can't get your head around that fact, this website has a live ticker that shows how many kilos of cheese had been produced in France since January 1st (and also how much has been made since you clicked on the link).
If you're really serious about your cheese, you can get a cheese degree in France.
Teaching how to make cheese has been the specialty of this school for over 120 years.
The dairy school – Ecoles Nationales d'Industrie Laitière – offers everything from day courses in making cheese to diplomas that take up to two years to earn.
The Henri Poincaré University in eastern France's Nancy even offers a Master's course in dairy processing if you're keen to be among the crème de la crème.
The French cheese industry is strong
Figures from 2015 show that France's exported dairy products brought in over €3.7 billion, with cheese responsible for around 44 percent of these profits.
Around 78 percent of the cheese sales abroad go somewhere in the EU, the dairy industry stats show.
France exported 683,643 tonnes of cheese in 2015, according to Eurostat for €3.0 billion. This is slightly less than in previous years, but a far cry more than the €1.9 billion in 2000.
They've got rules for how you cut it
There is a right way and a wrong way, and it all depends on the shape.
There's a full guide to this in our “Briehaviour guide to French cheese etiquette“, but in short:
For round cheeses, make pie slices. For log-shaped cheese, go for parallel slices. For square cheeses, triangles are the way to go.
For wedges of Brie or Roquefort, cut along the side (and don't chop the “nose” off).
And for heaven's sake, don't pre-slice your cheese before your guests arrive.
(Photo: Campus France/Flickr)
Cheese is a hot commodity
In November last year, thieves pinched four tonnes of Comté cheese from an eastern France warehouse.
In all they made off with around 100 wheels of the cheese, which can sell up to €40 a kilo for a particularly matured Comté.
Estimates said the loot was worth anything from €40,000 upwards.
A cheesemaker with some Beaufort cheese. Photo: AFP
They even make it with horse milk
While cheese typically comes from the milk of a cow, goat, or even a sheep, one family in northern France has launched their own line of horse cheese.
Yes, Julie and Etienne Decayeux from Alencon spent six months running tests before coming up with the finished product, which is made from just the right mixture of horse and sheep milk.
They admit that the item is a novelty, but still makes up about 2 percent of their burgeoning horse milk business, which is something of a novelty in itself.
It's not just for eating – it's for heating
And lastly, reports from earlier this year showed that French farmers were recycling the residues left over from cheese production to produce energy.
Around 650 dairy farmers from the Savoie département worked together on innovative ways to re-use their waste, and using it as an alternative energy source certainly seemed to be a winner. The set-up now provides electricity for 1,500 people for in eastern France each year.
But it's hardly a surprise. The French have long known that cheese is the answer to many of life's problems – so why shouldn't heating be one of them?