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US slaps extra tariffs on French goods – but Roquefort cheese is spared

The US government has released a list of french goods that will be subject to extra tariffs in its ongoing battle with the EU over aircraft subsidies.

US slaps extra tariffs on French goods - but Roquefort cheese is spared
The delicious blue cheese is made in the Roquefort caves in south west France. Photo: AFP

Washington on announced it would put a 10 percent tariff on large civil aircraft imported from the four European partners of Airbus – Germany, France, Spain and the UK – after Wednesday's World Trade Organization (WTO) decision that ruled the company received undue subsidies.

The US trade representative's list includes more than 150 products, principally from those four nations but also across Europe, that will face a 25 percent tariff from October 18th.

President Donald Trump, tweeting early Thursday morning, called the WTO decision “a nice victory” and claimed the European Union has “for many years treated the USA very badly on Trade”.

The Trump administration intends to hit French, Spanish and German wines – exempting Hungarian Tokay – as well as the UK's Irish and Scottish single-malt whiskies with the tariffs.

Cheeses from across Europe, including pecorino, stilton, cheddar, reggiano and all except France's strong blue cheese Roquefort  will be taxed under the new rules.

The document gives no explanation for Roquefort's exemption, but specifically lists “Blue-veined cheese (except roquefort)” as being subject to tariffs.

Olives, olive oil and mussels from Spain will also face the 25 percent tariff, as will Germany's coffee – both caffeinated and decaffeinated.

“Made in England” cashmere, woolen anoraks and bed linen from the UK will have the 25 percent surcharge added, while Germany's exports of industrial tools will be similarly affected.

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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!

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