If cheese-tasting in Paris sounds like your speed, this unassuming little shop, tasting bar, and “cheese school” may be just the ticket. Paroles de Fromagers is a relative newcomer to the capital, but it’s already earned accolades for its excellent cheeses, friendly, informative staff, and large choice of cheese-tasting sessions and workshops, all conducted at long tables downstairs in 17th-century stone cellars.
The brainchild of Burgundy native and cheesemaker Pierre Brisson and a team of partners, the shop, cheese “bar” and school offers some 150 cheeses in total– all artisanal and hand-crafted. These are then mostly aged in cellars onsite or at the group’s other cheese shop, La Ferme du Hameau.
Brisson, who hails from a family of winemakers who produce Morgon reds (a variety of Beaujolais), says he “dreamt of being a cheesemaker since the age of six”. Then over the years, he took a growing interest in cheese-making and aging, eventually moving to open Paroles de Fromagers in 2014.
“Our objective has remained the same over the years: to help [customers] discover and learn to love the incredible universe of the traditional cheese shop, and the rich diversity of [French] terroirs and regions. We’ve had millions of people come see us for discovery tasting workshops and wine-cheese pairings, and from a few years ago, for cheesemaking workshops. “
Brisson notes with a touch of humor that French cheeses “have a reputation for being ‘stinky'”. And there are so many to choose from that it can be hard to navigate the different varieties, “including for French people!” This is where the shop and cheese school steps in: to educate and inform customers and participants on a product “that’s incredibly diverse, despite all coming from a single ingredient– milk!”
Brisson says another exciting project currently in the works is a Paris-based museum dedicated to cheesemaking and history. Tentatively slated to open in 2023 or 2024, it’s set to comprise exhibition areas, cheesemaking rooms and aging cellars, a museum boutique, restaurant and tasting area. Stay tuned.
I discovered the shop and concept during an Eating Europe food tour a couple of years ago (highly recommended, by the way). It was one of the last stops of the day, and luckily I still had enough of an appetite to fully enjoy a tasting session led by the amiable Caroline (pictured below as she demonstrates how to use a cheese slicer.)
Entering the shop, its warmth and unfussy charm is apparent. While many cheese shops in Paris can feel a little daunting– just how is one supposed to navigate between dozens of varieties of cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s cheese, some which look scrumptious, others so oozing, aged and “odorific” that they seem half alive? (Not that I’m suggesting the latter is a bad thing. I happen to love “stinky” cheeses).
Should you take a risk and just go for the époisses— a cow’s-milk cheese from Burgundy with a washed reddish rind that’s reputed to be much milder than it smells? Unless you’re an expert in all things fromage, well, it may feel easier to just go for the Brie, Compté or Camembert, and stick with known territory.
Parisian shop owners are, famously, not always entirely patient with foreigners unfamiliar with cheese-related terms and concepts in French, especially when lines are long and the shop is busy. During my early days in Paris, I myself have succumbed to mild panic when confronted with the abundance picking out whatever happened to be right before my eyes rather than asking good questions of the fromager (cheesemonger or maker).
But at Paroles de Fromagers (which means “Cheesemakers’ Words” or less literally, “Cheesemakers’ Voices”), there’s no sense of being rushed, or intimidated. Instead, the passionate, friendly staff (all of whom spoke excellent English when I was there), freely offer their expertise, answer any questions you may have, and help you select cheeses in accordance with your tastes and occasion.
As you walk past the main counter at the front, with its attractive displays and glass cases lined with aged cheeses, wines and other products, you reach the dining area, where customers can sit at small tables to taste hand-crafted cheese and charcuterie plates, paired with wines or other drinks if desired.
You can also order salads, raw vegetable platters, homemade cakes and desserts. And in the winter, the fondue here is reputed to be excellent.
Heading down narrow steps to the 17th century stone cellars, cheeses are lovingly aged in one section on sprucewood boards. On the right side, a long table under the cool vaulted ceilings of the cave is set for workshops and tastings.
A map of France at the back of the room shows the country’s most popular cheeses and where they come from. The tasting I took part in, which included five cheeses paired with wine, crusty baguette and artisanal fruit jelly, lasted about an hour.
Caroline, our guide, took plenty of time to explain the fabrication and aging process for each of the cheeses, and encouraged us to notice how the French wines– one small glass of red and another of white– altered their qualities and aromas (and vice-versa).
On the plate were five varieties of cheese: a softer goat’s cheese, Brie de Meaux so good and creamy it made me want to swear off industrial supermarket counterparts for good, Beaufort, a pressed cow’s-milk cheese from Savoie (in the Alps), Tomme de Savoie, a hard-rind, cow’s-milk cheese from the same region, and made for centuries; and (my personal favorite), a triple-cream Brillat Savarin, deliciously creamy and with a subtle, grassy aroma redolent of summer fields.
All delicious (and relatively accessible– none were “too” strong or “avant-garde” for your average tourist), this was an excellent and non-intimidating initiation to tasting and appreciating some typical fromages.
Other Workshops & Tastings
You can book a variety of workshops and tastings at Paroles de Fromagers, some led by co-owner and passionate cheesemaker Pierre Brisson (pictured above), or by other expert fromagers on the team.
Choose from between a shorter and a longer, more in-depth cheese and wine pairing workshop. And if you’re not content to only taste and would prefer to roll up your sleeves, take the cheesemaking course for beginners, which is currently quite accessibly priced.
Getting There, Contact Details & Reservations
The main cheese shop and “bar”, tasting cellar and “cheese school” is located in Paris’ 10th arrondissement, between the Canal Saint-Martin area and the cosmopolitan Belleville district. This makes it a great stop when setting out to explore northeastern Paris for the day, since it’s situated between several important Parisian arrondissements.
- Address: 41 Rue du Faubourg du Temple, 75010 Paris
- Metro: République, Goncourt or Belleville
- Tel: +33 (0)148039818
- Visit the official website to reserve a table, tasting session or workshop
You can also visit La Ferme de Hameau in southwest Paris, where Paroles de Fromagers cheesemakers own and operate another shop with a superb selection of cheeses (223 Rue de la Croix Nivert, 75015 Paris; Metro Convention or Lourmel).