|My local cheese shop|
But the quote also makes a point of how many different types of cheese the French do indeed have. Each region has its own palette of cheeses, raw milk or cooked, pressed or soft-ripened... from cows, sheep or goats. Maybe now that there are bison, they even have a buffalo cheese, but I haven’t heard of it.
Cheese has long been revered in France. For the poor, it was often the only protein they could afford... or better yet, make themselves. But Respect for the Cheese isn’t just a rural or a blue-collar thing. It’s a feeling shared by all castes of French society. After all, no less than Brillat-Savarin - chef to royalty and generally recognized expert of gastronomy - wrote: "Un repas sans fromage est une belle qui il manque un il." A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman who’s missing an eye.
There’s also a less frequently used expression to denote the moment near the end of dinner when conversation becomes lighter, more sparkly. That’s the moment "entre la poire et le fromage" - between the pear and the cheese. This expression dates back to the Middle Ages, when spicy meals (spices added to cover the taste of over-ripe meat) would end in a piece of fresh fruit and a cheese. Nowadays the order would be inverted, with the cheese coming after the main course - sometimes accompanied by a simple green salad - and before the dessert, whether fresh fruit or something more elaborate. (N.B. In homes, dessert usually is fruit or something yoghurt-y. Cakes and pies, mousse au chocolate and île flottante are kept for festive occasions... or the restaurant.)
But there must be cheese. Red or Stinky. Otherwise, it’s not a meal.