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Ask Eric: Where can I find that wonderful cheese?

Q In France I was served a yogurt-like substance called fromage blanc. This stuff is like yogurt on steroids. It is so delicious it's difficult to control yourself around it.
Fromage blanc, also called fromage frais, is a soft, unripened cheese that can work with herbs and spices or with sweet, fruity flavours.

Q In France I was served a yogurt-like substance called fromage blanc. This stuff is like yogurt on steroids. It is so delicious it's difficult to control yourself around it. My question is, what is this stuff? Is there anything like it here on the Island?

Gayle Brown

AThe Oxford Companion to Food informs us that fromage blanc and fromage frais are two names for what is essentially a single range of products: fresh white cheese. It can vary in fat content and, unlike firm cheese such as cheddar, it is not aged, which is why it's called "fresh" cheese.

This type of cheese, depending on how much liquid is drained off when it is made, can vary in texture, from being smooth, thick, creamy and spreadable, to being something more like yogurt or sour cream in texture.

According to the book French Cheeses, some producers in France shape firmer forms of fromage blanc in moulds.

The world's best-known type of fresh cheese is Boursin. According to that company's website,, it was created in Normandy in 1957 by Françis Boursin. In that part of France there's a long tradition of serving fromage frais with a bowl of fine herbs, which guests can use to mix and make their own seasoned cheese. This mixture tastes delicious slathered on slices of baguette.

To take the mix-it-yourself element out of the process, Boursin created a fresh cheese that was already flavoured with those herbs and named it after himself. People in France and around the world must have enjoyed it -Boursin is now sold in 35 countries.

If Gayle would like to try a fresh cheese made closer to home, Vancouver Island cheesemaker Little Qualicum Cheeseworks makes fromage frais that it sells in tubs. The tangy, soft, cream-cheese-like product comes in three styles, natural, herb-and-garlicflavoured, and raspberryflavoured. It is sold at some local supermarkets and delis. For a list of places selling it, go to the website That website displays the company's favourite way to serve the raspberry-flavoured fromage frais -spread inside a croissant.

A product with similarities to fromage blanc and fromage frais is called quark. According to The New Food Lovers' Companion, it is a soft, unripened cheese with the texture and flavour of sour cream.

The book says quark can be used as a sour-cream substitute to top baked potatoes, and as an ingredient in a variety of dishes including cheesecakes, dips, salads and sauces.

Vancouver Island cheesemaker Hilary's Artisan Cheese makes quark a few times a year and sells it from its retail shop in Cowichan Bay. For information on when it will be available, contact the company through its website

Quebec dairy company Liberté ( also makes quark, labelled fromage frais on the French side of the label, but I was unable to find it in Victoria.

Eric Akis is the author of the recently published Everyone Can Cook Slow Cooker Meals. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

To read previous columns by Eric, as well as restaurant reviews by Pam Grant, drink reviews by Garth Eichel, Pleasures of the Table by Pam Freir and more tasty recipes, visit our new Island Food and Drink page at

If there is a cooking issue that has you scratching your head, send your question to Eric by email at, by fax to Ask Eric at 250-380-5353 or by regular mail to Ask Eric, Times Colonist, 2621 Douglas St., V8T 4M2.

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