Behind the French Menu gives a tasty background to French cuisine, French dishes, how they are made and how they should be served. Where there is a story behind a dish's creation and that story may aid the diner's enjoyment then that will also be included. Bon appétit!
Petit-suisse is a fresh white cheese. Many people, including many children, and I, even now, dearly love this soft white French cheese, especially when mixed with sugar and or berries or strawberries.
Petit-suisse is one of the few fresh cows’ milk cheeses that have made a national name for themselves. This cheese was created on a small farm and dairy in the region of Picardie, France, now part of the region of Hautes de France. The farm’s owner, Madame Picarde Hérould, in the 1850’s, interested a young Parisian called Charles Gervais in the production of her locally popular cheese. Charles Gervais had one taste and was hooked and together with Madame Hérould opened a larger factory over the regional border in Normandy. Now they would sell Petit-suisse to Paris and follow that up with the rest of France, and they did.
A Petit- suisse six pack.
Petit-suisse is a fromage frais, a fresh cheese; it is a smooth and creamy, soft, white cheese made from pasteurized cow’s milk enriched with cream. The standard Petit-suisse has a fat content of 40%, high for a soft cheese and that notwithstanding that originally it was even higher. There is a version made with skimmed milk with 20% fat and another with less than 10% fat. These are small fresh cheeses made in individual packages; the standard weight is 30 grams (1 ounce) with a larger size weighing 60 grams (2 ounces).
Charles Gervais eventually bought Madame Hérould’s holding in the factory along with all the rights to make her cheese. Other cheeses and milk products followed, and the Gervais cheese and milk company was on its way. Charles Gervais passed away in 1892, and in 1973 the Gervais Company merged with the largest International French food company Danone. Danone is Dannon in the USA.
As a child, I thought Petit-suisse, which means a little Swiss in French, came from Switzerland as it name might seem to imply. Despite the name Petit Suisse is of 100% French origin with history giving one of the cheese’s unknown creators Swiss nationality, hence the name. Today, this individual is remembered only as the man, or woman, from Switzerland, and he or she is assigned a wide variety of responsibilities in the company. Other histories give a Madame Etienne Pommel from Normandy the original recipe for the cheese and indicate that she sold that recipe to Madame Hérould. It would appear that the true origins of the name “Petit-suisse” and the name of the recipe’s creator was lost along the whey!
Petit-Yoplait 0% fat.
Competing with Gervais-Danone now is Yoplait and Nestle among others. Yoplait offersfruit flavored Petit Yoplait, and Nestlé offers a Hello Kitty Petit Suisse. Petit-Yoplait is also seen in versions from 0% fat and up. Gervais-Danone has, so far, kept to the original format and while they also sell the cheese in plastic six-packs within that container every cheese is still wrapped individually. I remember the fun of unwrapping these individual little cheeses, and that was before there were six-packs; that wrapper made the little cheese unique.
Bryan G. Newman
Copyright 2010, 2016.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman