Nothing says joie de vivre français like an oozing triple crème. The French enjoy a lot of cheese. And more importantly, they are deeply connected to and proud of their cheese. As well they should be! They have a rich and storied cheese history, a deep-rooted culture of cheese, and more than a thousand cheeses in their lexicon.
France takes its cheese so seriously, they have a whole system of Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC). This means "controlled designation of origin," and serves to protect the authenticity of cheese. For example, for a cheese to be awarded the AOC-protected name "Cantal," it must come from the Cantal mountains in Auvergne from the winter milk of Salers cows, made according to specific methodology, and aged a minimum of one month.
Only a small percentage of those cheeses get imported to the U.S., and most of them are made specifically for the American market. You guessed right: those cheeses tend to be less complex, factory-made, and tragically disappointing.
But don't despair—the French cheese lover in The States still has many glorious options. These are my favorite nine, although I have real love for other greats that didn't make this list: Epoisses! Alsatian munster! Abondance! Morbier! Bleu d'Auvergne! But hey, gotta leave something for next time.
Full disclosure: I work at Fairway market in NYC, where these gorgeous cheeses were shot.