Étamine

Étamine

Sometimes when I’m asked about what I miss from “home” (ie: the US). I might answer dried pluots, crunchy organic peanut butter, aluminum foil that you can’t read the newspaper through, and an unending supply of Sharpies. (Although thanks to a slew of well-meaning friends and other folks passing through, I now have an unending supply of them here in France.) But I no longer sherpa over cheesecloth, because I’ve found something better: Étamine.

Étamine

Way back when, I brought over a few packages of cheesecloth for such culinary projects as soaking fruitcakes in liquor (with mixed success), at times…and draining cream or yogurt for homemade cheeses, marmalade-making, and labneh. Then I discovered the gauzy, wispy fabric known as étamine and I haven’t gone back to cheesecloth. Nor have I asked anyone to sherpa some over for me. (And I can finagle them into bringing other things, such as dried pluots.)

Étamine

According to one definition, étamine is available in a few different materials, but the one I always see and get is made of cotton. Sometimes it’s bleached, other times it is natural – which I prefer. Whenever I go to the fabric store, I can’t help but run my hands down and savor the gauzy, airy-smooth feel of it. However, now that I’m writing that down, I’m wondering if when I come in, the salespeople all whisper amongst themselves that the fabric-fondler in the long black overcoat is back.

Étamine

Étamine is available in various mesh-sizes; I go for the smaller of whatever is available. And my favorite place to buy it is the fantastic Marché Saint-Pierre, a multi-level fabric store up near Sacre Cœur, which is a heaving mass of people – costume designers, homemakers, crafty types, and weirdos like me – wandering up and down the stairs (or in the elevator, which still has an attendant – and is worth the trip alone to ride it), hefting through the bulging bolts of titillating textiles.

Étamine

Marché Saint-Pierre isn’t all fun and fabric: it can be one of the tougher places to shop in town. Sometimes you get a super-helpful salesperson who gives a hoot, and other times, well – you take your chances. (Last time I went, the guy wielding the large scissors had obviously enjoyed a nice lunch, accompanied by a few too many libations.) But many of them are experts and even if they might come off as stern, starting off with a bit of humor is always advised. I always try to chat them up, usually beginning with some line about being a baker. FYI: Mentioning chocolate helps, too.

The first time I did it, the salesman asked if I brought him any échantillions, or samples. So I pointed at the big letters painted on the wall that said, “Pas d’énchantillions!” (“No samples!”), and shrugged my shoulders, which gave him a nice chuckle. But be careful, you don’t want to flop with those jokes because – FYI: the staff members all carry giant scissors in their hip holsters and I wouldn’t mess with them if I were you – or me.

Étamine

For those not interested in venturing to Montmartre to participate in the fabric frenzy (although why not?– the streets are lined with fabric shops hawking glittery get-ups for showgirls and other performers, and it’s quite a sight), the BHV carries étamine at a somewhat higher price. It costs just €4,5 meter, nearly 3 feet, at the Marché Saint-Pierre, and I am always happy to have an excuse to go up to Montmartre and ride the elevator. So I make the trek. Plus they have such household dry goods as bistro napkins, tea towels, and tablecloths, as well as gorgeous (and cheap) stiff cotton or linen kitchen aprons for a mere €16. It’s hard not to buy everything in sight, but I’m content to leave with my few meters of fabric, and head back down the hill, toward my kitchen at home.

65 comments

  • It’s definitely the best way to keep cheese as fresh as possible, I’ve been looking for this for months in NYC but never found any. I’ll check out the store at Marché st Pierre!

  • So for those of us stateside, the American equivalent is muslin? Or is etamine different?

  • Hey, cool! And that’s way cheaper than what I’ve paid for ‘imported’ cheesecloth from the UK. Thanks for the heads-up.

  • Thank you, David, for this nice tip. That store looks amazing, I don’t think there’s anything even close in Lyon. I will mark the 4th floor in my notebook for the next time I get to Paris, because ‘tenture murale’ – It’s an idea worth considering.

  • Amy: I don’t know what it’s called in English. Perhaps another reader knows?

    Phil: It’s great stuff and reusable!

    Lucy: That store is really something. It’s a bit overwhelming but it’s packed with stuff and the other shops in the area are fun to poke around in. Especially if you’re looking for linens/sheets/kitchen towels.

  • It seems like étamine can also be the name of the brand that produces the tissue. Wikipedia.fr gives a definition that sounds a lot like cheesecloth :D

    http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89tamine_(tissu)

  • Well I learned a new word today- thanks :) (I have taken cheesecloth with me to France on some visits so I could make things like coeur à la crème so knowing about the Marché St Pierre is wonderful).

    And it looks like it can be used to mean both muslin and cheesecloth according to the trusty WordReference.com

    http://www.wordreference.com/fren/etamine
    http://www.wordreference.com/enfr/cheesecloth

  • Did you ever go to Britex Fabrics in San Francisco — they have four floors of some of the most wonderful fabrics….

  • I love this post so. When you get up and about and do the adventure thang, you are contagiously uplifting in your hilarity. I am now compelled to infect others, at least for the next hour or so. :-)

    I have substituted a fine metal mesh and/or sturdy, moistened paper towels for cheesecloth during my 17 years in France, but will now thankfully include étamine in my culinary fabric répertoire.

  • Speaking of etamine, have you ever been to the Etamine Cafe in your neighborhood?

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/etamine-café-paris-2

  • Fabric, my second love! (I do a lot of hand-stitch.).

    Thought at first it might be linen, but changed my mind to muslin. Now inquiring minds want to know, and this includes all twenty-seven of my personalities. I’m off to Google Translator, or American finger-type. Gotta know, gotta know…

  • Lovely pictures of the cloth, and the story of your quest gave me a chuckle as your stories invariably do. And double thanks for the tidbit about Marche Saint-Pierre having bistro napkins and tea towels. I will pick up some more on my next trip in May. Can never have enough.

    Merci, David!

  • A fabric nut from ‘way back, I went looking for etamine.

    It is a particular type of loose weave. Can be cotton, linen, wool, etc. It is used in clothing and curtains, so is definitely not the very loose flimsy stuff we know as cheesecloth.

  • The good news…most fabric stores expect you to fondle the merchandise. Just don’t try it with the staff…as you point (pun intended) out, they carry large, sharp scissors.

  • If only I’d read your post a few years ago when I spent the day in Marseilles trying to find cheesecloth for the pips when making marmalade. I was sent all over the town from the pharmacy to buy bandages to a kitchen shop to be sold a jelly bag…..and all I wanted, but didn’t know the name (I think the dictionary translation was mousseline) was a square metre of etamine……

  • Hey there! Nice informative piece. Just wanted to point that etamine is definitely reusable (so you can make the most of your money in it for some time), but remember if machine washed it should not be with a softener added to your wash – the smell clings and unfortunately transfers to whatever beautiful thing you are preparing using the otherwise perfectly reusable fabrique. Cheers!

  • Try the Raglady in Maryland for professional quality, bulk cheesecloth of various degrees of fineness of weave. You will never buy the supermarket stuff again. Nor will you need to as a box will leave you with a lifetime supply to use and share. But it will pay for itself quite quickly when compared against those $4 bags of stuff you need to triple layer.

    I take it you understand that the sign meant that they were loath to give samples (échantillons, sp. ) to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who popped through, not to see samples that render a much better description of what you seek than a verbal description.

  • It appears to me it’s what we call “butter muslin” and is available from cheese making supply places. Probably available at the fabric store too at much lower price, but I haven’t thought to look for it there. I will now. It’s very useful and much better than cheesecloth.

  • You might find it here in the US as tissue muslin.

  • I buy a muslin in Toronto to use for fruitcake. But here’s a lovely (surprising) definition of étamine for you:
    Une étamine est l’organe mâle de la reproduction chez les végétaux supérieurs ou angiospermes.

  • Do you wash the fabric as most of them have some kind of sizing in them?

  • Maybe this is, or is similar to, butter muslin that is much finer than cheesecloth?

  • We call cross-stitching in Turkey “etamine” … It must have come from French because of the fabric maybe. Interesting.
    Enjoy your trips to the store. Does the store have a smell of century old hardwood flooring and cracking sound when you walk on them? :) In Turkey I love going to the fabric stores that are still located in their centuries old buildings.

  • Ilke: Yes, the flooring is that old wood that creaks. I love those places, too.

    Helen: I wash it in savon noir, which is a vegetable-based soap. I use just a few drops of it.

    Bill & Scott: I’ve never heard of butter muslin but maybe I’ll do a Google image search to see if it is because I don’t know of it. Thanks.

    PB: Thanks for the source-tip for US readers!

    Angela: I know you can get gauze at pharmacies in France, but this is so much nicer. I think : )

  • For those of us back at home (the U.S.), I have found a great and heretofore undiscovered source of cheesecloth: Walmart.

    Now, I know you are now holding your nose at the very thought, but you must wait to do that until you actually enter the store. The whole place smells of the off-gassing of their plastic clothes. But it will be worth you while to soldier on, not to the cooking tool department, but to the fabric and sewing department. Walmart carries cheesecloth on a bolt, often used for things like making ghosts at Halloween time and such. I do not recall the price I paid per yard, but I do recall it was so inexpensive that it took my breath away (Again, a good thing. See off-gassing, above). I think it was in the range of $3 per yard, and it is quite wide.

    Why, do you ask, would one walk into a Walmart to begin with? Well, they carry a comprehensive stock of canning jars and supplies, plus, Better For Bread bread flour all year long. It is very difficult to find outside of the holiday season, and a much better price for someone who bakes her own bread all the time.

  • I bought this 6 pack of dish towels really cheap that were labeled as flour sack dish towels; which I love! Once I washed them, they shrank (this word looks like it’s not correct, is this right? guess I’ve never written the word shrank before. Oh, whatever) and kind of wrinkled up. The fabric was thin and gauzy though it was a finer weave than gauze but equally as flimsy. I was so disappointed…until I needed cheesecloth to strain some ricotta I had made. These dish towels were perfect! I don’t have a fine mesh strainer so I use them when I need to strain raspberry seeds and other such straining jobs. I cut a few to size to fit my regular strainer. They are getting pretty worn but now, of course, I can’t find them again. I hate that.

  • Great info, thanks David!

    Can’t help myself from adding that a meter is somewhat longer than a yard, being over 39 inches. :-)

    I shuttle between BHV and Britex, too.

  • I use both cheesecloth and butter muslin, neither of which really float my boat – the ones I have are just too fragile. I’ve actually taken to using an organic pillowcase to strain my fruit for jellies, etc. and to make farmhouse cheese.
    I don’t know why peanut butter is so hard to find in France, but if you can get some organic peanuts you could always try making your own – it’s super easy, and as crunchy as you like. Not sure how easy it would be to source the organic nuts, though.

  • A friend noted your article in a post and i was curious to read it. Just returned from a trip to Paris and spent a day in that same fabric area. Great choices to make! Some years ago, in the late 1990’s i worked at Draegers Culinary School as your assistant. Still have your first aotugraphed cookbook on my shelf and fondly recall the several yimes you came to Draegers to do demo classes. As i recall you were getting ready to head off to Belgium for a period of study. Sounds like things have gone well for you. Bravo!

  • Just yesterday I experienced a pretty hilarious cheesecloth disaster in my kitchen and quickly realized its limitations. I’m also curious about sources for étamine in NYC. From the pictures it looks like it has a more delicate and airier weave than muslin.

  • My Langenscheidt Pocket French Dictionary defines etamine as “butter-muslin; cheesecloth; bolting cloth”.

  • Ha, fabric fondler, Just so you know I wold have the same issue if I went in. I am a Designer/patternmaker/seamstress by trade so that is sense number 2 that I use to find fabrics. :)

    Cooking and baking are my second loves. But a Very close second. They are what I do to destress from clothing manufacture.

  • I used to use an old muslin hanky for marmalade pips, but my mother’s way is far easier- put them in a small saucepan with a few tablespoons of the juice, and boil for 5 minutes, then strain the juice back into the rest of the marmalade before adding sugar. No cheesecloth or butter muslin needed! But I should like some as I’ve just realised I threw out all the lovely thin tea-towels I used for making jelly.

    I’m off to France in the morning (yay!), but won’t have time to shop anywhere other than a “grande surface” (boo). Still, you never know what you might not find….

  • Oh my god, thank you!!!

    How silly that in France we cannot find cheesecloth !! I have asked at least 20 salespeople in various shops for it and finally asked my mom to ship it to me from the US. It never occurred to me to go to a fabric store :)

  • I’ve shopped in that very store, bringing home some nice knits for sewing as they’re hard to come by. I had the same experience with the clerk. She wasn’t happy with me for not speaking French but allowed me to buy fabric anyway. Great experience, great fun!

  • Butter muslin was what I was thinking of too as a possible comparison. It is also the “best cheesecloth” as the cheesecloth most easily found is pretty flimsy.

    @ Christine!!
    Walmart tip… Awesome!! Inexpensive cheesecloth and entertainment in a single stop- bargain!!

  • Hahahah. Had to laugh. It’s “etamina” in Polish. I searched forever for a translation of “musiln” and “cheesecloth” in Polish for completely different projects (sewing and cooking), and not long ago figured out that it is, in fact, “etamina”. Languages are so strange sometimes. Now I know it en francais as well. What a relief!

  • David, just out of curiosity, what do French cheese makers use, if not cheesecloth, to make cheese?

  • Butter muslin is available on Amazon.com for those of us in the States.

  • I look forward to your new book, ‘Confessions of a Fabric Fondler’! I also can’t get the image of shopkeepers walking around with giant scissors, it’s almost Dali-esque, out of my head now.

  • David, this cheesecloth source’s site is amusing. Check out the clever navigation buttons.

  • I just use old washed nylon tights. The legs cut up for small jobs and the panty part for larger.

  • Hmm… I think you’ll find that a metre is slightly longer than three feet! Fun post, sir.

  • Per Scott D: In the US, “butter muslin” at 90 threads per inch of cotton is sold at the cheesemaking shop in Ben Lomond, CA. The store’s name is Mountain Feed and Farm Supply, 9550 Highway 9, Ben Lomond CA 95005 ( in the Santa Cruz mountains in northern California.) Their Web site is: http://www.mountainfeed.com. Type in “butter muslin” into the search box.

  • Nan + Lori: Thanks for the links where to get it in the states – appreciate you pointing those out for readers ~

    Long Tom + Connie: Yup – that’s why I said it was “nearly” 3 feet. I thought that was a little unwieldy to write a precise number (such as 3.2808 feet) and figured readers would be fine with a close approximation.

    June: Peanuts are consumed as a bar snack in France but peanut butter, according to my French friends who I’ve asked, has a peculiar taste that isn’t popular. You can get peanut butter in supermarkets (commercial-style) and some natural food stores and markets that cater to various ethnic communities carry peanut butter that doesn’t have all the additives, but it has a different taste than the natural peanut butter in the states – and you don’t find extra-crunch! : )

  • There are some very interesting points here. Firstly, I shop regularly at Lidl and Aldi and they sell very good aluminium foil and cling film, although it is not wide and I prefer to use the wider ones (not as wide as turkey foil) which I stock up with from the UK. Also I receive a weekly email form Lidl telling me what they are promoting that week. Sometimes they have American products which usually includes peanut butter. At the edge of country towns in France, there are agricultural shops which sell all sorts of interesting things and equipment for cheese makers. The name of the shop usually has the word Vert in it. I have never heard of dried pluots, but there must be some prune producers local to me, so I’ll ask if they can do some. In London, John Lewis sells muslin by the yard.

  • I know you’re talking about a cotton fiber product, but I can’t help being reminded of my mom’s old copy of “Hints from Heloise” she had in the 70s which waxed poetic for pages about something called “nylon net.” Apparently you could pick up nylon net for pennies at the fabric store and then use it for everything from scrubbing dishes or the tub to sifting powdered sugar and making curtains. It made nylon net sound like the second coming of the Messiah. I loved reading that book!

  • Fabric fondler… you crack me up :o)))))

  • I’ve always fantasized about fabric in Paris – I used to work for a seamstress who would go there to work of projects that involved yards and yards of silk and I got to keep the scraps which I turned into pillows. Anyway…fabric is something of drag to lug home on a transcontinental flight and so I never took the plunge but now you’ve re-ignited my fantasies. Chocolate tours and fabric sprees sound like a good combo for someday….

  • I thought I was the only guy that has spent hours in Montmartre wandering from shop to shop…fondling fabrics.

  • I actually was very recently looking for some cheesecloth. I tried everywhere I could think of, my local Carrefour, a home goods store, a cheese shop, but I had forgotten to look up the word for cheesecloth before setting out, so in all of the shops I went through a convoluted attempts at description “uhh c’est un tissu…. pour faire du fromage… comme un filtre? Il fait ricotta et quelques chose?”

    I got the most disgusted looks from the assistants. And now I know my quarry was just up the road. Sigh. Next time!

  • For those in the U.S., another good option is flatfold cloth diapers (unused, of course) like these at Amazon. Totally useless as diapers, in my opinion, but they work beautifully for straining stock, draining ricotta, etc. The edges are hemmed so they hold their shape, come in nice manageable sizes, and are easily washed. Just make sure you don’t get the “prefolds,” which are different.

  • Fabric-fondler!! Your just too funny David!!

    I got mine just last week after I searched high and low for cheese cloth here in Swiss ( you would think it would be readily available in the Land of Cheeses ). Then I said, hey search the net! So found a link that guided me to MANOR and the baby section! People did say it is available at Migros and Coop and is called Mousseline in French and Mullwindeln in German. But I love Manor and got 6 pieces of 60*60 cms of “Gaze-Windeln” in a brand called – Mon Coeur! Cost 9.90 chf, which is not a bad price for 6 pieces that will last a long time and help me make my cheese in peace!

  • THANK YOU for this ! I am French, I read a lot of food blogs in English, and – believe it or not – I was desperately looking for the french word of that fabric you can use as cheese cloth … étamine, mais c’est bien sûr ! Now I can go for my future home made ricotta experiment !
    I take this occasion to say how yummy and inspiring your blog is. Everything seems to be goood, and I think that’s the one criteria (that can be forgotten sometimes, in other places). I specially share your love of middle-east food and ice creams. Can’t wait for the next summer !
    Have a great day, Aude

  • Hi David,
    Regarding your interest in developing your food photography skills, may I recommend Bill Brady’s More Digital Food Photography, available through Amazon? It has received rave reviews as being an essential companion to food photographers, both beginners and pros. It covers in a conversational tone all aspects of food photography from the technical aspects to running a food photography business. I think you will find it a godsend as I did.

    • Hi Phyllis: Thanks, I did get a highly recommended book just to deal with Lightroom, but the section “Getting Your Photos into Lightroom” spans 53 pages. I keep wondering why can’t I just “Drag & drop”? The editing is fairly straightforward, but all those things like folders vs collections, vs “smart” collections, makes me crazy. I’d love it if those things were easier to deal because the photography part is much (much!) more fun.

  • I have the worst luck with cheesecloth – twice I’ve made a point of buying it in Zabar’s only for it to disappear somewhere between there and Auckland. Perhaps next time I will try to lose some étamine instead:).

  • Hi David,

    Love your website almost as much as visiting Paris. Just wanted to mention that a meter is about 3.28 feet, not “nearly 3 feet” as you state in this article.

    Regards,

    Den

  • Oh my goodness, I spent three days last year trying to explain cheesecloth to a parade of butchers, cashiers, grocers, épiciers and neighbors, and didn’t get through to anyone. How much do I wish I had known the word étamine??? Thank you!

  • Just bought one from E. Dehillerin in Les Halles for 13 euros!

  • wow, i’m tempted to buy this and make my own cheese now.
    Greetings from Qatar :)

  • Not related to cheesecloth, but I found crunchy, fair trade (not sure if organic) peanut butter at both a marché franprix and a carrefour market. Thought you might like to know!

  • For the entire time we lived in France and Switzerland (10+ years), we “imported” cheesecloth.
    Now we are back in the USA, in New York City, and can’t find it anywhere! We’re “importing” it from our hometown in Washington State!