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FOOD & DRINK

French menus may soon have to state where their meat comes from

Every bistrot, restaurant and café in France may soon have to include the origin of their meat products on their menus.

French menus may soon have to state where their meat comes from
Is your meat local? Photo: AFP

France is set to introduce a decree forcing all food establishments that fall under the catering and restaurant industry to tell customers where all their meat products come from. 

Previous legislation from 2016 only obliged supermarkets and butcheries to include the origin of their beef products.

This latest draft decree, presented by France’s Minister of Agriculture Didier Guillaume and Secretary of State for Economy Agnès Pannier-Runacher, will see the regulations extend to all types of food establishments and include mandatory labelling for pork, lamb and poultry as well.

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Last February, French authorities announced that 795 kilograms (1,750 pounds) of suspect beef had been imported into the country from a scandal-hit Polish slaughterhouse where sick cows were filmed being illegally butchered.

Although the French government is referring to the decree as a way of satisfying French consumers’ “strong interest in the origin of the products they consume” and their “need for transparency and traceability”, there is reason to believe it’s also a move to appease French farmers.

Donald Trump’s current tariff war with European goods has sent shockwaves though the French farming and food industry, meaning any legislation aimed at bolstering the status and origin of French products is likely to be met with support by farmers. 

French agronomists are also concerned about the import of foreign food stuffs, with current union leaders citing worries about the Ceta (EU-Canada) and Mercosur (with several South American countries) trade agreements, which France has signed but not yet ratified.

If given the green light by French food unions, the meat labelling decree will be presented to the European Commission and forwarded to France’s Council of State. 

The measure will come into effect on April 1, 2020 if all parties agree.

A 2013 report by the European Consumer Organization (BEUC) found that 70 percent of Europeans support food-origin labels, up to 90 percent when it comes to meat products.

READ ALSO: French public warned over 10 supermarket 'food scams'


 

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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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