Many of the world's finest cheeses are also the stinkiest, but you often won't smell a thing when you enter the average stateside fromagerie, since the product is packed away in cooled display cases. But stroll into the small and friendly Fromagerie Trotté – located on one of the busiest streets in Paris's 17th-century Marais neighborhood – and it's like entering a walk-in closet curated from shelf to shelf with the most dazzling display of cheeses, everything from French classics like the tangy Pouligny Saint Pierre and mild buttery Saint-Marcellin to lesser-known varieties like delicately sweet Lingot Téosky and herbaceous Tomme de Lapereau. It's not only a site for the eyes, but also a treat for the nose of any cheese lover worth his salt. Take a whiff, and you'll smell the wonderful and intense mix of barnyard-meets-earthy-meets-fruity aroma that has turned many a Paris foodie into a loyal customer over the past three decades since owner Pascal Trotté first took over the shop in 1983.
The reason the product is so in your face is because Trotté's cheeses – row after row of aged chèvres, as well as sheep's and cow's milk cheeses – are displayed on open multi-layered refrigerated shelves, all in the same space as the customers, and not wrapped and partitioned away in a display case. According to Trotté, this setup allows him to better monitor and take care of the products while still catering to the needs of his customers. "It's about displaying the cheeses themselves, not their wrappers," says Trotté. "This allows the cheeses, which are living things, to breathe." If he notices that a particular cheese needs more humidity or a warmer temperature, he can easily remove it from that shelf, placing it in a different area altogether. Compared to refrigerated cases of typical cheese shops, these exposed counters make the products more visible and attractive, and provide for optimal cheese care.
The complete immersion makes the selection process an intimate personalized experience. Pascal and his brother, Jean-Philippe, carefully take their time selecting cheeses based on each customer's particular tastes, whether they want a strong-tasting Epoisses or a creamy, less stinky, Saint Félicien. A Trotté cheese purchase is hardly ever rushed and involves a conversation about the customer's preferences, the current highlights of the shop, and possibly a few tastings. They guide customers through their selection, even squeezing some of the smaller ones to make sure that they're just right, appropriate for that specific client.
And, when it comes to Trotté's smaller cheeses, namely, the goat's milk cheeses, the true gems of the shop, like the dense nutty Bonde de Gâtine and luscious Couronne Lochoise, the flavor profiles depend a lot on affinage, the process of maturing fresh cheese in an on-site, temperature-controlled cave (located below the shop down a dim damp tunnel, where Trotté has a humidity-controlled room, and, within that space a walk-in refrigerator).
The unique microflora – naturally occurring bacteria on the walls of the cave – not only develops the taste and texture, but also creates the striking fuzzy-looking appearance of the cheeses, all in a multitude of shapes: logs (Sainte-Maure de Touraine), pyramids (Valençay), and discs (Pélardon). That said, beneath their carefully cultivated bluish-green molds (they are edible and should not be discarded), or, as Trotté refers to them, "fleurs" (flowers), lies a dense creamy white texture. He attributes the tasty results to the interaction of molds on the cheeses and the closed humidity and temperature-controlled environment of the cave. "Visually, the affineur learns how to recognize certain molds and determine the level of maturation," says Trotté. "Similar to the aging of wine, affinage is a skill that involves determining the cheese's peak in development." And since affinage can only be done in one place and not bottled, like wine, it means that the cheeses you buy here (or at any cheese shop with an affineur) are truly unique. They're best appreciated the day you buy them, back at your hotel room, or with a baguette on a bench in the nearby Place des Vosges, but the shop will vacuum-seal the cheeses if you want to bring them home. This not only keeps them fresh, but also prevents them from stinking up your luggage (just make sure to have them sealed the night before or the day of your departure, and check everything into your bags, then stick them in the refrigerator as soon as you get home).
More information: To appreciate Trotté's craftsmanship, we recommend starting with his demi-sec Pouligny Saint Pierre. Aged for just a couple of weeks, it already develops a well-balanced distinctly floral nutty taste and irresistibly oozy texture without any bitterness. These many aged cheeses retail for anywhere between 1.95 € to 7.95 € (about $2.75 to $11). [Fromagerie Trotté, 87 rue St. Paul, is open Tuesday to Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 7:45 p.m., and Sunday 8:30-1:30 p.m.]