One Nation Under Cheese

  • It’s really French here.  (Excellent observation – 1 point)
  • The French language is challenging to a native English speaker.  (Another wonderful statement of the obvious – 2 points)
  • French cheese rocks…hardcore.  (Duh and more delicious duh – unlimited points that may be redeemed at the nearest cheese shop for lots of free, fantastic French cheese)

What makes France tick and who the heck am I to say?  I have absolutely no right whatsoever to be making any bold statements about France nor what it means to be French:  the language, the people, the culture, the history.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  

But, since I am now living in France and am currently trying my best to not confuse the lady behind the counter at the bakery, I shall, of course, be tossing my beans into the ‘I’m-not-from-here’ campfire.  Let them sizzle and burn if they prove to be too untrue and ridiculous.

So, huddle close and gather round, have those poker-sticks up off the ground.  Wipe them clean of hot dog juice because I’d like to share this wondrous observation during the construction of the smore dessert course. 

Standing tall upon my tree stump with beans in hand, I proudly state, “I think one of the things that makes France so French is the cheese.”  An owl hoots, the grass rustles and I toss my beans into the fire.

Yes, I’ve said it.  Is that a sizzle and a pop I hear?

Oh, french cheese!  How totally awesome and incredible are you?!  With a mouth full of chevre I ask, “Why has it taken me this long in my life’s journey to discover you?!” 

An entire country and its people all united and bound together, I think, by a dairy product that has more than 1,000 varieties.  It’s big.  It’s bold.  And it is something that is not to be missed if and when you ever visit France.  Even if you have only an hour layover at CDG airport, run and seek thee some cheese.

“But, it’s just cheese.  Who cares?” asks the Minnesotan reading this post, “Why is she making such a big to-do over cheese?  We have plenty of cheese right here in the heartland.”

Ah, American mid-west cheese.  Yes, it is true that there is cheese made in the heartland of the United States.  The state of Wisconsin, which finds itself to the immediate right of the state of Minnesota, is well-known for making cheese. 

In fact, the people from Wisconsin love their cheese so much that they wear large, triangular pieces of yellow, cheese-shaped foam on their heads during the sporting season of American football.

I know I have some French and Mauritian readers and I swear to you that this is true.  Please search out the terminology, “Green Bay Packer Fans,” on the internet.  You will be rewarded with several images of the cheese hat, as well as, other cheese clothing items.

However, I think the French may love their cheese more than the cheese-clad people from Wisconsin even if they don’t wear giant foam-sculpted pieces of it on their heads.  While this is clearly an obvious sign of affection for something (I come from the mid-west, I am able to recognize this immediately), something tells me that the French wouldn’t be 100% down for this type of cheese show of love.  They prefer to show their respect by simply eating it.

And they eat a lot of cheese in France.  Each French person will consume 25kg of cheese per year .  That’s 55 pounds!  Holy deep-fried Walleye, huh?!  You betcha.  But, exquisite cheese in France can be expensive to make and the winds of change are slowly starting to sweep across the countryside.  I can’t imagine the French ever giving up their cheese or their traditional cheese making ways.  At least, I hope and I prayer that they never do because like I’ve said, French cheese is just oh-so-very-French.

My current French cheese eating affairs differ greatly from those of my days living in the land of 10,000 lakes.  You will not find a ‘cheese plate’ listed as a choice of appetizer on the menus here.  The cheese course here comes after the main course and before the dessert course.  If there is a salad, the salad will be served after the main course and before the cheese course.

And there is an art to the selection of cheeses presented in the cheese course.  The plate should contain a mixture of not only different cheese styles (i.e. goat, blue, raw cow’s milk, etc.) but also a mixture of regions.  The cheese in France is very territory specific and the different kinds come from very distinct places.  The French also know just by looking at the cheese what it is and where in probability it more than likely was produced.

The cheese region plays such a huge part in the celebration of eating cheese that at almost every presentation of a cheese course that  I have been witness to (and there have been many – thank you, gods of cheese) the discussion always and I mean ALWAYS moves to the topic of where the cheese came from in France.

Just two nights ago during the cheese course, I was nibbling on some cheese when my ears happened to focus in on some French that I could actually understand (yes, there are those moments of clarity in understanding that do occur from time to time – thank you, teachers at my French language school).  A great discussion was taking place about a particular French department that one of the cheeses had printed on its label. 

From what I could tell, there seemed to be complete disbelief that such a lovely cheese could have come out of this certain department.  Why?  I have no clue.  But, everyone agreed that it was one mighty tasty cheese.

One of the first times I experienced a cheese course at a formal dinner party in France, I thought everyone was either heavily involved in the cheese making industry or was a complete cheese genius because everyone knew so much about the cheese.

The cheese in France is different from what I used to eat back in Minnesota.  The cheese I grew up eating was as orange as the orange Crayola crayon and as hard as a pink eraser.  That colby or cheddar never melted into a soft pile of goozy ooze when left out of the refrigerator like the French cheeses do.

In fact, it wouldn’t change shape at all.  Even if those bright blazing slices of summery orange sat under the hot sun all day long on a plastic plate which was left out on the picnic table at the annual Memorial Day picnic, they would not change structure.  The cheese would simply become limp and oil-spotted and some fellow picnicker would always wipe off the cheese oil with a napkin and say, “Opps!  Guess we left the cheese out a bit too long, huh?”

And now, with no Cub cheese tray in sight, I have begun to question why a cheese should leak oil while left out of the refrigerator in the first place.  It doesn’t seem right.  A good cheese should start to get creamy and really fragrant and at times, let’s be honest, down-right stinky when left out at room temperature for days on end.

I used to have moments of ‘huh’ when I watched the Frenchman’s mother reaching for the cheese on TOP of the refrigerator, but now I get it.  It just tastes better that way.

The cheese in France has huge taste and some of these particular flavors are just a tad too huge for my naïve orange cheese loving tongue to handle.  But, that, I’ve noticed, has started to change.  I now actually enjoy a soft Camembert, but when I first tried it, it was like battery acid sliding down my throat.

Are my taste buds evolving?  Can such a thing happen?  If so, I’ll happily submit to my evolutionary journey.  It makes for such a lovely dining experience that is filled with simple joy and pleasure. 

And have I mentioned the wine or the way the wine and cheese clasp hands and dance a waltz on the tongue?  Simply divine.

Dear France:  Change is good, but please; don’t ever change your cheese.  It’s just too French and too wonderful.

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About Minnesota Pilgrim

A GenX Xpat who moved from Minnesota to Mauritius to France with her Frenchman lover. Multiple cultures, total bedlam, absolute bliss.
This entry was posted in Cheese, France, Minnesota, Wine & Food and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to One Nation Under Cheese

  1. malta4me says:

    Hey girl!

    Where have you been? Missing your delightful contributions to the blogging community! Hope all is well!

    WV

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