The Big Cheese Thing

photo: cafe daguerre, sunday

On Sunday Parisians took off their winter duds and
took on some vitamin D's.

Pre-Autumn Winter Short

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 30. September 2002:- This week has a surprise waiting for diligent readers and possible visitors in the form of a perfect autumn weather forecast, and it is my pleasure to write it instead of the usual moan.

Beginning yesterday, Paris skies have been full of nothing but solid blue - and this is supposed to continue all week, and include next weekend with its all-night 'Nuit Blanche.'

I actually remember the press conference held on Tuesday, 18. June when Christophe Girard said that soothsayers predicted that 'Indian Summer' would be happening next weekend, but I didn't believe it then. We had just about finished 'no spring' and were about to begin 'no summer.'

Normally I will whine if the temperatures are no higher than 24, but with today's sun blazing I am willing to admit that 21 or 22 can be pretty good too.

Okay, you get the usual 'early morning fog' cop-out even if it isn't a major part of the forecast. Sundayphoto: domed cheese cooler night's TV-weather news showed all of France covered in blue, spotted with fuzzy sunballs. As the week continues, the blue will get bluer and the sunballs will be fewer, until there is just one big, unfuzzy one.

France sets new record with 1000 cheeses.

I had forgotten that the server-lady was to take her first sailing lesson on the weekend. I expected her to report the usual channel 'report' - mucky with bad sledding - but instead she said it was brilliant and dead calm.

If I understood her report correctly, she spent a lot of time learning to tie knots instead hauling on ropes, without a lot of bailing and no dodging of swinging booms or getting anxious from being constantly keeled over. Good thing she didn't do it the previous 'winter' weekend.

Late TV-weather update:- forget half of all the above, because western France will soon be invaded by miserable clouds, and the future beyond Thursday is now nonexistent. The coming 'Nuit Blanche' may be a bit 'gris.' Do not blame TV-weather news for this terrible reversal. It tends to be fickle.

Café Life

1000 Cheeses

It was, again, the alert server-lady who tipped me to a story in Le Parisien last Tuesday, about the '1000 Cheeses Fête' being held in a tent in the Tuileries. After doing the magazine I usually skip Tuesday's paper - and there were no other warnings I saw about this event.

After its title, 'La France aux 1000 Fromages,' the subhead for the show was 'Paris - Capitale des Fromages!' I assume this is so, simply because so many eaters of cheese are concentrated here.

Without luck, I have been trying to track down the comment about how can anyone expect France to be governable when it has 350? or 400? cheeses. Was it Churchill as many claim, or was it De Gaulle who had greater first-hand experience?

In either case, during 2001 another 47 cheeses were launched in France. Since I hadn't read Le Parisien's story, the server-lady asked me if I knew the name of the favorite French cheese.

My guess of Emmental was based on the endless hand-cut slabs of it ready to be sold by one of the cheese merchants in Rue Daguerre, and I was not too surprised that this is correct - making it sort of France's cheddar.

But Emmental alone isn't going to satisfy a cheese-crazy populace that consumes 24.5 kilos per head of the stuff, and which increased its consumption by 1.2 percent during 2001.

As they say, cheese is doing okay in France. The associated producers of milk products hardly needsphoto: caprice des dieux, vosges to set up a 1400 square-metre tent in the Tuileries to flog a failure - so I consider that it was a thoughtful thing for them to do - between patrimony weekend and the Fête des Jardins.

Brand-name cheeses were on display too.

Under a cool and grey sky on Wednesday I joined a fairly long line to get into the cheese tent. The entry of two euros got me a pair of tickets for a sample of cheese and a glass of wine. Inside the long tent, fair-sized flying-saucer affairs displayed dozens of cheeses, each named on a little flag with the origin.

In all there are eight cheese families, made from three types of milk, from 19 regions, but all made basically the same way. And just so nobody tries any copycat stuff, there are 43 official 'AOC' cheeses for France, plus a 'AOP' label for authentic European cheeses such as Gorgonzola or Hervé.

The guide said I was to look at the cheeses first, but the line for the closest samples was short, so I started with this. I exchanged one ticket for a plate of cheeses from Normandy. The clear-plastic-topped plate was big and the cheeses looked small, but they were bigger than they looked.

Getting rid of the wine ticket wasn't as easy as I thought it should be. It wasn't easy to pass it up, but there was free water too.

With 1000 cheeses on display it was a good thing they were under cover, or it might have been an extra-sensory overload situation - like it was with all the information about cheese. The last quarter of the tent was a cheese shop for take-aways, and visitors were buying it by kilos.

Cheeses made, or distributed, by the food biggies were mixed in with the hand-made cheeses, so it was democratic. The third favorite cheese in France is Babybel, partly because its marketing is similar to candy - with small packages for little people. The similar Vache Qui Rit type is seventh on the popularity list.

Emmental's popularity is partly due to half of it being sold grated - to be melted on the top of croque-monsieurs I suppose. Camembert doesn't take to grating, and is the second most popular type in France. It amounts to 10 percent of sales, of which 80 percent is pasteurized. The unpasteurized rest becomes one of the 'AOC' names.

In France a meal is not complete without cheese, and it is also possible to have meals entirely of cheese. Well, you have to have bread too, and every sample cheese plate came with a tasty piece of this too. For two euros I got to skip lunch and have my cheese too.

'Au Bistro' Column Change

An updated 'Scene' column is absent from this issue for reasons having to do with personal shelter, and because it is a couple of days too soon to get October and November 'futures.' This is, if they do become available.


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