ArchivesDecember, 2014 | Blog

Barge Cruises Help Foodies Taste French Cheeses Like Pros

December 22nd, 2014

Do you love exploring a country through its cuisine? Barge cruises in France offer not only gourmet cuisine and fine wines, but also plentiful opportunities to learn about cheese tasting. There’s a degree of skill and etiquette attached to it, much like tasting olive oils and wines. So we’ve assembled a few cheese tasting basics to help our valued passengers prepare.

Cheese plate on deluxe Burgundy barge Apres Tout

Deluxe 6-passenger Burgundy barge Apres Tout cheese plate


French cheese flights

French cheese flights are normally served on a platter or board. They may be accompanied by a series of cheese knives, tongs and dainty forks. The knives are traditionally used to taste all of the cheeses with the exception of those that have been marinated. The prongs on special cheese forks and knives are normally used to transfer the samples from the platter to individual tasting plates.

Sometimes the French cheeses are served with regional breads, olives, crackers, fruits and wines to help add depth and breadth to the tasting session. If that’s the case, tasters should consider sampling the cheeses alone first to get a feel for their unique flavors. Otherwise, the accompanying delights may overpower the cheese or alter its flavor. Most often, cheeses are tasted from the mildest to the strongest to savor the more delicate flavors first.

Deluxe barge Saint Louise cheese board

Deluxe 6-passenger barge Saint Louis serves a variety of French cheeses at lunch and dinner

Cheese tasting etiquette

Tasting etiquette dictates that French cheeses should be visually examined and sniffed before being placed in the mouth. Once in the mouth, the taster should make a mental note of the cheese’s texture and nuanced flavors. In serious cheese tastings, it is also vital to note that clean forks and knives should be chosen before every bite to avoid cross contamination between the cheeses.

Proper technique for cutting French cheese

On occasion, barge cruisers will be presented with whole cheeses and allowed to cut their own samples. If that happens, there is additional etiquette involved. For example, it is generally considered good form to cut from the center of the cheese out towards the rind. The center tip of the cheese’s wedge is normally the prized part whereas the area nearest to the rind is often avoided. Therefore, many professional cheese tasters recommend slicing the pointed tip off of the wedge first and sharing it with all of those at the tasting table. If that is not possible, each taster should ideally be given a chance to sample tips from the other cheeses included in the flight. We’ve been taught NOT to cut off the nose of a wedge of cheese, but rather cut at a diagonal so all tasters can sample a morsel of the soft interior.

To learn more about French cheese tasting etiquette and cheeses served with lunch and dinner on barge cruises in France, please contact us today.

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Whenever you’re ready to go barging, we’re ready to help. Happy travels,

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988


When is the best time to go on a barge cruise in France?

December 9th, 2014

Good question! Is there a best time to go barging?

The barge cruising season is April through October, taking in three distinct seasons. Weather can be a big consideration and much of it is personal preference, as some travelers like cooler weather where others love basking in hot sun. As in all of Europe, it can rain at any time. That said, there are months where it is less likely. Here are some features you can expect on spring, summer and fall barge cruises in France.

What can I expect in April and May?

The Burgundy Canal in early April

The Burgundy Canal in early April

Spring has arrived all over France with trees starting to green in early April with wildflowers in full array by May. The tourist season is in full swing starting Easter weekend with museums and sites which were closed for the winter opening their doors to welcome curious visitors. Yes, there is a chance of spring rains and cool weather with the occasional canal closure due to heavy rains. In that case, the barges offer extra excursions until the water recedes allowing the locks to operate again. I was in Burgundy in early April this year and took this photo. It was gorgeous. For those bargees wanting warmer weather in early spring, cruises on the Canal du Midi in the South of France can have a drier Mediterranean climate. A bonus for those cruising in April are the value season prices which can save significantly making this a good option for value conscious travelers.

How about barge cruises in June, July and August?

Sunflowers in full bloom in July

July is the month for sunflowers in full bloom. Photo by Apres Tout guest David Hall.

Summer is emerging in June and comes into full bloom in July and August. Long days and warm nights make living and dining on deck the norm. All barges are air conditioned to provide comfort inside with warm to hot summer days outside. There still is a chance of rain, but it is generally short lived especially in July and August where exciting and torrential thunder storms cool off the temperatures. The canals tend to be busier in July and August with families renting self-drive canal boats for family fun. The atmosphere is laid back and carefree – it’s summer vacation! Here is another budget bonus as many barges offer value season prices from mid-July to mid-August. As August comes to a close, a hint of autumn is in the air making this one of my favorite times to cruise.

The partially covered sundeck of Apres Tout in Burgundy

Partially covered sundecks as on the deluxe 6-passenger Apres Tout make outdoor living scenic and comfortable.                   Photo by Apres Tout guest David Hall.

Glorious September and October on the canals of France

Autumn cruise on Luciole on the Nivernais Canal

An autumn cruise on the Nivernais Canal on the barge Luciole – bliss!

It’s true. September and early October are THE most popular months for barge cruising. Why?
Well traveled Americans are big fans of barge cruising in France. They generally are baby boomers and have spent their summers enjoying family vacations at home. Seeking quieter canals and fairly predictable warm (not hot) weather, they are ready for some adult fun wining, dining and relaxing their way through the countryside. Because of this popularity, it is high season and many barges, especially private charters, book 15-18 months before departure. Warm days with cool evenings are ideal for daytime activities and peaceful sleeping. Sightseeing and activities are still vibrant yet more tranquil without summer crowds. As we approach mid October, the weather can be gorgeous with bright autumn light or cold and rainy as autumn takes hold. On November 1, the tourist industry in the countryside goes to sleep. It’s time for the barge owners to take a well earned rest and take care of their beloved barges for the next season.When is your best time to go barging

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Whenever you’re ready to go barging, we’re ready to help. Happy travels,

Beth Hanson
Barge Cruise Specialist since 1988