US supermarket sparks outcry over French cheese map that stinks

Everyone knows you shouldn't mess with the French and their food. But unfortunately for one US supermarket, it seems they didn't get the memo.

US supermarket sparks outcry over French cheese map that stinks
Jol Ito/Flickr
It was upmarket US supermarket chain Whole Foods that sparked the ire of the French recently, with a map that attempted to show the origin of French cheeses.
The problem, however, was that it was full of mistakes.  
And unfortunately for Whole Foods, the errors didn't escape the eagle eye of one proud Frenchman known as Mikaël on Twitter. 
The French expat, who has been living in the US for a year, exposed the supermarket chain by posting a photo of the map online (see below). 
Among the maps (many) mistakes, Camembert which actually hails from Normandy in north-west France is shown as coming from the southern city of Montpellier.
Even P'tit basque cheese, named after the area it comes from – France's Basque region in the Pyrenees – is incorrectly plotted in the western Pays de la Loire region. 
While the blue cheese from the rural, mountainous area south-west of Clermont Ferrand, Bleu d'Auvergne, according to the map comes from the southern port city of Marseille. 
Contacted by the Huffington Post, the US chain said that the map will be removed from stores and corrected. 
In the meantime, some web users took the time to suggest their own (more detailed) maps of French cheeses. 

While others simply expressed their disappointment with the chain (as well as their love of cheese). 

Some, however, chose to see the positive in the situation. 


For members


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!