How Boursin Taught Me What Cheese Could Be (2024)

Like many Americans, I grew up eating Cracker Barrel Cheddar, an aspirational purchase for my family. Cracker Barrel was real cheese, made from milk, cultures, and salt. This was a significant distinction back then, in the dark days before the artisan cheese revolution of the past twenty or so years, when “American cheese” was synonymous with processed cheese, not clothbound cheddar from Vermont or goat cheese from California.

I’d never heard of Boursin—everyone’s favorite “fancy cheese” (After all, it’s French!)—until college. Those “little herb-spiked, foil-wrapped, popular dollops that cost over $1 in most stores [but] go for 98 cents at Zabar's,” as New York Magazine noted in 1973, weren’t in my refrigerator. My working class town on Long Island didn’t have a Zabar’s. My grandfather did the food shopping at Food Town, where he regularly scored our Cracker Barrel (and Wheat Thins crackers, to eat it with).

In college, as the master of my own grocery list, Boursin became my “splurge” item, a self-designated entry into the creamy, salty, herbaceous world of adulthood, a way to celebrate the success of bringing home my first paychecks. I defined my burgeoning independence and striving worldliness through the sophistication of my grocery store purchases. My choice of Boursin, smeared on pita bread and topped with arugula (another exotic item that left me feeling au courant) was a symbol of how far I’d travelled beyond Cracker Barrel to fulfill my own aspirations.

Boursin is the brain cheese of Frenchman Francois Boursin, a cheese maker and marketing genius who decided to sell a commercial version of a simple French dish, fresh cheese with herbs. Boursin is essentially a fast-casual version of a popular party snack, sixty-plus years before “fast casual” entered the lexicon. (To grasp the forward-thinking marketing savvy of Francois, it’s worth noting that Boursin was the first ever cheese advertised on French television, in 1968).

If there are a set of fixed characteristics that make a cheese universally appealing, the original Boursin Garlic & Herbs flavor has almost all of them. First, the texture: creamy and light, it’s like a bar of cream cheese got high on nitrous oxide. The soft-serve ice cream of cheese, its lightness delivered in a cloud of whipped butterfat. How can something be so airy and so dense at the same time? The mystery is part of the allure.

And then, the flavor: Boursin is the ancestral predecessor of ranch dressing, with its garlicky foundation taken to the edge of too salty. The herbs—astonishingly only chives and parsley—act as the level-headed friend who tells everyone to chill out when the party gets too wild. Boursin also comes in Shallot & Chives and Pepper flavors, but they just seem silly to me. Why pass over an icon for an update? It’s ill-advised.

I’ve wondered if Boursin is bona fide delicious, or if it’s nostalgia that keeps me reaching for those little foil-wrapped dollops, even after years as a cheese professional, eating some of the finest cheeses in the world. But does it matter, really? Our tastes and preferences are informed by our personal history, and when I look back at that little kid who loved Cracker Barrel, or that anxious college student seeking savoir faire in a puck of cheese, I realize there’s nothing wrong with trying to be something more, even if only on a sandwich.

It still amazes me that I make a living from cheese as an author and chef. Our own particular passions are sparked in their own particular ways, and mine is certainly a unique little niche. I’ve been lucky that my love of and knowledge of cheese grew as American interest did. Boursin was my gateway to knowing that cheese could be something more than just a meal for me, and thanks to good old-fashioned American aspiration, and a little French inspiration, it is.

Tia Keenan is the author of The Art of the Cheese Plate: Pairings, Recipes, Style, Attitude (Rizzoli)

Louise Neumann is an illustrator in Tennessee. Check out more of her work here.

Boursin belongs in Ludo Lefebvre's omelet:

How Boursin Taught Me What Cheese Could Be (1)

You’re not going to get this right the first time. After five, maybe six attempts, you’ll start to feel like a pro.

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How Boursin Taught Me What Cheese Could Be (2024)


What makes Boursin Cheese so good? ›

Boursin is really defined by its add-ins, but the base cheese is milky, sweet, and very light. This makes it a perfect vehicle for all sorts of ingredients, anything from savory herbs to sweet fruits to spicy peppers. And they have really tried a lot of different combinations.

What sort of cheese is Boursin? ›

So, what actually is Boursin cheese? Boursin is the brand name of a soft, creamy-style French cheese (called Gournay) that is flavored with various things. The variety many of us are familiar with is garlic & fine herbs, which costs around $7 for two ounces in my area. And it is delicious — truly.

What cheese is similar to Boursin? ›

Delicious Boursin Cheese Alternative: Same Flavor & Easy Substitution. Cream cheese, Beecher's handmade cheese and Laughing Cow are the top 3 Boursin cheese substitute. Gorgonzola is also good.

What is a fun fact about Boursin Cheese? ›

The first Boursin flavour, Garlic and Fine Herbs, was created in 1957 by François Boursin, a cheese maker from Normandy. Boursin's product was derived from a traditional party dish, fromage frais (French for "fresh cheese"); guests would take their cheese and add herbs for flavour.

Is Boursin a healthy cheese? ›

Boursin Cheese

This spreadable cheese is higher on the fat content (thus the spreadability) but remains low in calories. Spread some on fresh veggies for a filling snack. The original Boursin has 40 calories per ounce, but comes in a variety of flavors so be sure to read the labels.

Is Boursin high quality? ›

Boursin® Dairy-Free is made with the highest-quality ingredients using small-batch/ artisanal blending methods.

Is Boursin basically cream cheese? ›

Boursin is a type of Gournay cheese that is soft, creamy, and slightly crumbly. François Boursin, a cheesemaker from Normandy, France, started adding garlic and herbs and it quickly became world renowned. This homemade Boursin recipe uses cream cheese as the base, rather than the classic Gournay cheese.

Is Boursin similar to brie? ›

Boursin cheese

This cheese is so creamy and spreadable. It is also extremely rich and decadent. Boursin is much more "spreadable" than brie, making it a perfect topping for crackers and slices of bread.

What does Boursin cheese pair with? ›

The Accompaniment. A fresh baked baguette, artisan crackers, or crunchy crudités make the perfect companion for Boursin Cheese.

Why is it called Boursin? ›

Boursin is a creamy, spreadable brand of Gournay cheese invented by Francois Boursin in 1957. When it was first developed in Normandy, Boursin named it after his small hometown of Gournay and limited the production to Croisy-sur-Eure in France.

Can Boursin Cheese go bad? ›

Boursin Cheese will stay good for approximately 5 days after opening, if kept refrigerated and within best before date.

Who owns Boursin? ›

Boursin® is one of the most popular brands manufactured by Bel Brands USA Inc., a subsidiary of Bel Groupe. A family-owned cheese maker headquartered near Paris, France, Bel Groupe produces more than 30 local and international cheese brands that are sold in more than 130 countries around the globe.

Can you eat Boursin Cheese by itself? ›

You can also enjoy our creamy herb cheese on its own on a cracker, artisan bread, or bagel. Our delicate cheese spread pairs wonderfully with most wines and complements any dinner party or event.

Is Boursin goat or cow cheese? ›

Boursin is the brand name a soft, spreadable cow's milk cheese originally from Normandy France. Boursin was originally made by a man named François Boursin from the town of Gournay in Normandy, in 1957. It was inspired the local practice of mixing soft cheeses with herbs.

What is the best way to eat Boursin Cheese? ›

Creamy, yet crumbly Boursin Cheese is a delicate Gourmet Cheese infused with flavor and perfect for any and all occasions. Simply serve it with crackers, spread it on an appetizer, or add it to your next meal. No matter how you eat Boursin Cheese—it's always delicious.


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