French Cheese: A Love Story

French cheese

When I was a student living in Paris with my older sister, many of our dinners were simply baguettes and cheese. This was our version of frozen pizza, the easy and filling go-to meal so loved by American students.

The most popular question I hear in the US about the French is always about cheese:

“How can French people eat so much cheese and still be healthy/not get fat?”

There is a good reason why: The French eat mostly French cheeses, that are made in France! The way that the French cultivate and prepare cheese is very different than in the US.

American cheese from mainstream supermarkets are not high quality, and they do not meet my standards to qualify as a health food. I do not eat it.

Dairy is a very controversial topic in the nutrition world these days.

Dairy products were once a very nutritious food group. Unfortunately, conventional modern dairy products do not contain the same nutrition than their earlier counterparts. Much of this problem begins at the dairy farm with cows.

In the US, cows are forced-fed foods they have difficulty digesting and absorbing (such as corn), and are treated with hormones and antibiotics in order to keep them producing milk in large quantities. Many are kept indoors never to see the light of day, rather than grazing on grass in an outdoor pasture. This has a great impact on the nutritional value of the dairy these cows produce.

If you can read French (or use Google Translate), this article is a great resource about how dairy cows are treated in France. The difference when compared to American standards is no short of mind-blowing.

If dairy cows aren’t healthy, how can the dairy they produce be nutritious?

A French statistics report shows that 92% of French cows have access to pasture. Also, 95% of dairy farmers in France support the “Charte des bonnes pratique d’élevage” (the charter of good husbandry practices) which consists of 6 commitments:

  • Identification of each cow
  • Cow health closely monitored
  • Careful selection of cow’s feed
  • Milk quality supervision
  • Monitoring of animals well-being
  • Environmental responsibility and protection

It seems as though French cows just enjoy a better life overall!

Most conventional cheese in America is made using pasteurized milk. Pasteurization is the process of heating a liquid to a determined temperature in order to kill pathogenic bacteria, and is a food safety standard in the US. However, this process also destroys important nutrients in milk.

Americans have been led to believe that raw milk is dangerous to consume.

This article provides a good explanation with research the reasons why raw milk is beneficial, providing that you’re not allergic or intolerant to lactose.

Raw milk is a complete food that has not undergone any treatment such as skimming, homogenization, pasteurization or ultrafiltration. Raw milk retains all of its original nutritional properties: nutrients, vitamins, provitamins, enzymes, and probiotic bacteria.

I consider French cheese a beneficial health food.

In France, raw milk is used to make many different cheeses, and some famous cheeses with a registered designation of origin are still produced the same way today as they were in the past. Roquefort, Comté, and Emmental are great examples, and raw milk cheeses are the only types of cheese that I will confidently buy and eat.

Some French dinner recipes call for cheese. Whenever possible, only choose the healthiest version you can find.  Imported cheeses or cheeses made from raw milk are the very best. If you can’t find raw milk cheese or are unsure of quality, when in doubt: choose organic!