Friday, April 20, 2012

Pass the Cheese Platter, Please

My neighborhood cheese shop
     You can't get around it in France.
     Whether pasteurized or not. Hard or soft. Pressed or fermented. Cow’s milk, or goat’s, or sheep’s. (They’d probably even make cheese from yak’s milk or llama’s if France had yaks or llamas.) Until recently, Paris alone had two restaurants - one of which was the famous Androuët - that served nothing but cheese dishes, from soufflé appetizers to fondue main courses to cheesecake desserts. But definitely no Velveeta or Cheese Whiz.
     General de Gaulle, who not only helped free France in World War II but also governed the country twice, once regretted he hadn’t been born American so he could be President of the United States instead. He lamented, "How can anyone govern a country that has over 300 cheeses!"
     There are many ways to classify those 300 cheeses. In the early years of my family, my half-French children broke them down into two categories: Red Cheese and Stinky Cheese.
     Red cheese they named after the Dutch Edam, with its protective red wax exterior. It included such geographically far-reaching varieties as Gouda, Provolone, Emmenthal, Chester or Wisconsin Sharp. The common traits of all these cheeses were a mild taste and a compact consistency. No surprises. Ever. You could never go wrong with a Red Cheese, God love ‘em.
A colorful palette of goat's cheeses
     But the Stinky Cheese... Ah, the Stinky Cheese! As delicious as it is flavorful, it ranges from "mildly pongy" to "stinky shoe". Goat cheeses come in a wide variety of shapes, consistencies and strengths, from almost none to overwhelming. Then there are the medium-strengths: Brie and Camembert which, when ripe, will make a break for freedom by relaxing so much they ooze into a totally new form, like the changling Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. And finally there are the hard-core Stinkies that are right off the olfactory Richter scale, climaxing in the Maroilles or the Corsican broccio that might just be strong enough to clear a drain faster than the Roto-Rooter Man.

St. Nectaire
from central France

Camembert named after Charles VII,
the king Jeanne d'Arc helped crown

    Yet whether you opt for mild or heady, spreadable Roquefort from the heart of the nation or mountain-flower-fresh Beaufort from the Alps, no true French meal is complete and satisfying without it. As the famous 18th century French writer Brillat-Savarin said, "A meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.
     And if that’s not France in a nutshell - women and food - I’ll eat my hat.
     But could you put a bit of Comté on it, please?

1 comment:

  1. My husband once knelt down in front of the dairy case, folded his hands and said, "I love my Cheeses."
    Delightfully delicious post. *Me gusto mucho los quesos.*