Les Petits Suisses

Les Petits Suisses

[Little Swiss Cheeses]

Un petit suisse, literally “a little Swiss”, is a fresh cow’s milk cheese that’s shaped like a small cylinder.

The story, I gather, is that it was originally invented in Normandy in the 1850’s, at a dairy farm owned by a Madame Hérould. One of her garçon-vachers (an employee who tends to the cows, literally a cowboy), who was from Switzerland, suggested she enrich her cheese with cream, like they did in his home country. She followed his advice to excellent results, and named the cheese in his honor. One Monsieur Gervais got interested; he helped develop the production process, and had the cheese shipped to Paris on the newly created train line, to be sold extra-fresh every morning.

Originally, a white strip of paper was wrapped around each cylinder to hold its shape, and the petits suisses were packed six by six in little wooden boxes. The contemporary version of the packaging has each petit suisse sit in its own ribbed plastic tub, like a yogurt. However, modern-day producers have cleverly kept the paper wrapping, which clearly marks the identity of the product.

It used to be a 60% milk fat cheese, but it is nowadays more commonly sold in its 40% version, or even 20% or 0%. Since it is unsalted and very fresh, it is a versatile ingredient that can be used for savory recipes (seasoned and mixed with fresh herbs, or added to a spread to make it creamy), but is also consumed as a dessert, like yogurt. It is especially popular with kids and widely served at school cafeterias, because the small tubs fit right into a child’s hand, and because unwrapping them is so much fun.

Here’s how you do it. After removing the lid, flip the tub upside down onto a plate or bowl. Gently push onto the bottom and sides of the tub, coaxing the petit suisse to fall out. Notice I said gently: if you’re not careful enough, the petit suisse will be squished, it will stick to the sides, and eternal shame will befall you and your offspring for seven generations.

Once the petit suisse plops out — a personal achievement that justifies a small yelp — you have to identify where the little strip of paper begins, in order to pinch it between your fingers and unroll it from around the petit suisse. Again, utmost caution is in order, because the wrapping paper is moist and likely to tear. Real satisfaction comes from successfully freeing the petit suisse in one sweeping gesture, keeping the strip of paper whole. Repeat with a second petit suisse if you feel up for it and/or if you’ve botched the first.

You can then sprinkle the petit suisse with sugar or strawberry jam. Some people mix the sugar or jam into the petit suisse with their spoon, but I like to keep the topping separate, the better to enjoy the different textures.

I’ve mentioned that the modern usage is to pack the cylinders of cheese in individual plastic tubs, and you may have noticed that it is not the case on the picture above, you eagle-eye you. The petits suisses on the picture are from a traditional dairy farm in Saint-Malo that makes excellent yogurts and petits suisses, packing them up the old-fashioned way. Granted, those petits suisses come at a higher price than their Yoplait counterpart, but they are also much tastier, with a thicker and more satisfying mouth feel.

  • Fascinating! Until today, I was only aware of the Yoplait version that’s sold in all UK supermarkets. I bet yours tastes nicer though!

  • Josie

    Nice! I’m actually going to St. Malo at the end of May. I’m going to sample these cheeses.

  • xk

    Excellent! I knew that the yogurt with the strawberry jam had to be far from ordinary, now I see it certainly is.

  • I forgot how I love petits-suisses. I just want to go out and buy some now. Did you buy them in Paris or in St Malo ?

  • Maryanne

    Sigh….How lovely that some things are still honored with particular packaging from its history/inception. Sigh.

  • hey! i live in switzerland and i have never seen these….altho i would love to. perhaps i shall have to search thru my local cheese counters more thoroughly…

  • altho of course i have seen the very sweet children’s yoghurt versions which come in a pack of six brightly coloured plastic tubs. i have never seen fresh cheese ones, tho.

  • hilary

    We get these at our local (albeit upscale) grocery store, Bristol Farms. I actually bought some a month ago (I’d been wanting them for a while, but didn’t have a source); I confess, though, I didn’t really know what to do with them. I took an idea out of “I Want Chocolate,” which was to make a chocolate sauce to pour over. It was ok — it tasted a little like cream cheese (though not as thick) with chocolate on top! Maybe I’ll try the next one with jam.

  • daniel

    whoa this is very appetizing. as a expatriate from france (still), you have me some major craving for a petit suisse. there’s probably no hope for this st-malo treasure but is the gervais one on sale out here in the u.s. (california)

  • What a great weblog !! Thank you so much. From now on I am a fan. Here you have our wallpapers from the Dutch Kookgrrls (Cookinggrrls).

  • These were bought at the Monoprix on Place Villiers, in the yogurt aisle!

    Josie – hope you have a grand time in St-Malo. I hear it’s lovely, especially this time of year, the light is particularly flattering on the city walls…

    Hilary – I see what recipe you mean, I have that book too!

    xk – Yes, with your comment, I thought hey, I have to talk about these now!

  • Alisa

    This is in response to Daniel in California. You can buy real Petits Suisses at Bristol Farms, which has a few stores in the Los Angeles area. If that is where you live, there are a few other wonderful small stores that you should know about, that sell real French products, a well. Let me know if you want that info.

  • BB

    My dear wife has been reading this site religiously for the past few months and is trying to get me into it too. It’s addictive.
    As for the comment, I first had petit suisses at Café Gitane in NYC. After the first taste, I was hooked and ordered it every visit until they took it off the stinkin’ menu. They served up 2 or 3 pieces with fresh berries, halved grapes, banana disks, spearmint leaves, sometimes apples or pears, and sprinkled in with turbinado sugar.
    It’s still a great & tasty spot in spite of the latter example of poor judgement. They’ve got a small menu, hand-pulled coffee [yes, with a square of dark chocolate], and fresh mint tea – everything is just right. Your posting reminded me of what we’ve been missing – we will begin our search tomorrow!

  • Sandi

    If you live in Northern California in the Bay area, you can get Petits Suisses at Made in France/Village Imports in Brisbane when they have their warehouse sales. There is one coming up this weekend – August 28 from 8:30 until 2:30.

    It’s a big warehouse full of mainly imported French food but they also have stuff from Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece, Belgium and Switzerland. Lots of cheeses, pates, oils, chocolate, baking supplies, etc. at wholesale prices – same stuff you find at upscale groceries like Draegers but much cheaper.

    Address is 211 S. Hill Dr. Brisbane, CA
    Website: http://www.levillage.com/

  • Alisa and Sandi – Thanks for the tips on where to get them in California. You’d have my eternal gratitude if I still lived there!

    BB – Eating petits suisses in NY must indeed be a once-in-a-lifetime experience… Thanks for the kind words and the restaurant recommendation!

  • Sami Koroglu

    I want to produce “petit suisse” in Konya. How can I do?

  • Caro

    Does anyone know where one can find it in NYC these days? Dean and Delucca used to have it, but not anymore! :(

  • Courtney

    I just thought I would tell everyone on here you can get them on Amazon under the Gourmet Food section search for Petit Suisse..Under a company on Amazon called LeVillage.Com you can get a 6 pack for only $3 and the fruit flavored ones for just over $5

  • I LOVE petit suisses–I just bought a bunch yesterday and am totally engaged with how I will be eating them.

    Just this morning, I had one with a dollop of Frog Hollow Farm’s organic meyer lemon marmalade. What bitefuls of heaven. I’ll be blogging about that shortly!

    Thanks for the great description of this food item.

  • Louise O’Neill

    To Alisa
    I live in San Diego and I occasionally visit my sister who recently moved Los Angeles. She and I would both be very interested in knowing your recommended French product stores.
    Thank you very much
    Louise O’Neill

  • Alisa

    Clotilde has kindly sent your comment to my attention. I am happy to share what I know, however limited that is. I go back to L.A. every year, but I haven’t lived there for 5 years, so I may not have all the current info. You might want to start a thread on the C&Z forums.

    I know and love Nicole’s in South Pasadena, and she seems to keep her finger on the pulse of what the French community is doing around L.A. Ask her for recommendations:

    Bristol Farms stores carry (or used to) the Petites Suisse yogurts, and a few other French yogurts, butters and they get a shipment of bread from Poilane every week.

    There are two places, whose names I can’t remember, in Venice, The first is on Venice Blvd. close to Lincoln, on the north side of the street, it is a large French Boulangerie/Market. The second is on Centinella, just off of Venice Blvd, it is a small market/café, they have Marsupialami stuff as decorations. If you find one of these places, ask them to point you toward the other.

    I will be in L.A. In July, and if I remember/discover any others I will put it on the forums.
    Have a good time!

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