It amuses me to see outfits that promise to let folks “experience Paris like a local!” While there’s lots too see and do here as a visitor, I wonder why so many people want to come and experience the more mundane aspects of life in a city, such as calling the gas company to find out why your bill is 300% over what it is supposed to be, or dealing with a forest’s-worth of paperwork that would make the most anti-environmentalist weep, when they could be exploring world-class museums, dining in historic bistros, visiting amazing chocolate shops, and gorging themselves on sublime cheeses all day?
When I’m on vacation, I want to be on vacation, thanks. But every so often, I try being a tourist is my own city. Because I get to stroll around and discover wonderful new places, as I did when walking near the Jardin du Luxembourg and passed by La Coop.
La Coop is an entire boutique dedicated to the products of the Savoie, with a special focus on their famous cheese – Beaufort d’Été. And indeed, the moment you walk in, you’re faced with an impressive line-up of cheeses from the mountainous region, the crowning glory being an enormous chunk of Beaufort cheese perched on a giant slicing machine. But no need to be alarmed: when I was in the region where it was made, people sold so much of it that in order to save their wrists and shoulders, they finally resorted to taking to a machine to do the hard work.
The cheese is made from raw milk produced by cows that graze in the high alpine pastures, who munch of grass all day long as well as the tiny flowers and other tasty things (well, at least to cows) that grow up in the mountains. In addition to regular Beaufort (which can be industrial or artisanal), there is Beaufort d’Été and Beaufort alpage – the former being cheese made from milk produced mostly in the summer (été) and the latter, alpage, referring to cheese that is made at a chalet from the summer milk as well, but from a single herd of cows, and is considered le top du top of Beauforts.
The region is known for its wintery weather, and there are rounds of Reblochon, a cheese that gets its name from the double-milking of the cows and is the base – actually, some say, is the raison d’être – for the famous dish, Tartiflette, a layer of cooked potatoes and bacon with an entire disk of this cheese sliced in half through horizontally, splayed out over the potatoes, and baked until melted and gooey and crusty on top.
Obviously the people who live in the region expend a tremendous amount of calories to absorb all this rich food, although the last time I went, I found I was with a group of world-class skiers and eventually resigned myself to staying home by the fire, reading and making dinner for everyone after they spent a day racing at full-speed down the near-vertical slopes. (And peering down from perched atop a mountain, with a near-vertical drop, is not exactly my idea of a relaxing vacation. Although that didn’t diminish my consumption of the local cheeses.)
For those who prefer dining on the lighter side, there’s a full arsenal of soups in the shop that I want to buy just for the Weck bottles. And because this is mountain food, there are lots of sausages, crozets (buckwheat pasta squares, that are baked into a cheese-rich casserole, obviously best enjoyed after a day spent climbing the mountains of the Savoie, not slumped in a cozy armchair, reading…I’ve not made it because all the recipes I’ve seen have a terrifying richness to them), jams a-plenty, and – if you’re lucky – a sale on butter.
Even though I’m livin’ like a local, I didn’t stock up on butter. Which I am now miffed at myself for not doing. But since I live here, I can continue to monitor the situation and go back to get my fill at a later date. (And I don’t have to worry about those Weck decanters breaking in my luggage, although no guesses on how well they’ll fare on a crowded métro.)
If you’re not living like a local, but still want to taste some cheese (which I certainly would do), there’s a cave underground next to their ripening shelves, where you can do a tasting of 3, 4 or 5 of their cheeses (€8 – €12), plus a glass of wine from their cruvinet. Or two, if you’re on vacation.
La Coop: Beaufort Cheese Cooperative
9, rue Corneille (6th)
Tél; 01 43 29 91 07
French Cheese Eyewitness Companion (Amazon)