I’m sitting in a charming trailer, my makeshift room for a few days, parked alongside a serene canal surrounded by chickens and a few baby lambs roaming about here and there. So yes, I have to watch where I step. But it’s here that I’m unwinding after a rather curious weekend of wine tasting, which I’m slowly recovering from. Sure, there was a lot of wine, but as the temperature shot up to 38ºC (100ºF), and many of the events involved standing for a few hours in the blazing French sunshine, unprotected, it was hard to stay focused on task at hand.
Results tagged fromage from David Lebovitz
I was having drinks at a friend’s house last night, who is a cuistot, the French slang for a cook. I don’t think you’d say cuistat for a woman, but whatever you want to call us, the conversation pretty much stayed on one topic: Food. We talked literally for hours while we drank brisk sauvignon blanc and picked apart an amazing wedge of 30 month-old Comté cheese from a giant wedge on a cutting block positioned strategically between us.
For some reason, the conversation turned to food intolerances and allergies, which aren’t all that well-known in France. I’ve never been invited to a dinner party at a French person’s house and quizzed about what I don’t eat in advance. (Although since being served squid once, I’ve learned to be pro-active so it doesn’t happen again.) Yes, there is a growing consciousness about various food intolerances, although there isn’t a large-scale comprehension about many of the various diets and regimes out there.
Some friends from California were surprised when they went to a vegetarian restaurant in Paris recently and there weren’t any vegetables on the menu. And I’ve heard from numerous people who’ve told waiters that they didn’t eat meat, and were offered foie gras instead, since that wasn’t considered “meat.”
One thing I’ve learned in France, is that if someone who’s an expert tells you to eat something—you should eat it. (Except squid, of course.) When I lead tours, right before I place their hand on the bible, I make guests promise that if I tell them they have to try something, they will. It’s not that I’m on commission, it’s just I’ve sifted through a lot of stuff and it’s not worth filling up on the bland when the extraordinary is within equidistant tasting distance.
When my girlfriends Peggy Smith and Sue Conley, who make the wonderful cheeses of Cowgirl Creamery, were in town recently for the Salon du Fromage, they were surprised to be honored with a medaille along with an induction into the French Guilde des Fromagers.
I’d met Peggy way back around 1983, when I started working at Chez Panisse. She was a chef and I was a bit scared of her, standing over a large lamb carcass wielding a large, and very sharp knife, getting the beast ready to roast on the spit.
At the time, there were a few people in the kitchen determined to give the newby a difficult time. The French call it le bizutage, which we in America call “hazing”. Of course, I wanted to do my best, and Peggy somehow took pity on me, pulled me into the walk-in refrigerator, and gave me her top-secret advice on how to deal with everyone who was having a field day on the new kid.
Now, after three decades cooking in restaurant kitchens, very little fazes me and there’s nothing I haven’t seen or heard. So as thanks for turning me into the bitter, jaded person that I am today, I offered to take her to a few of my favorite cheese shops in Paris.
There’s plenty of fromagers in Paris, but a few, like Marie Quatrehomme, are truly le top du top. Some of the fancy fromageries can be slightly snooty if you’re not a regular (I won’t mention any names…), but at Quatrehomme, they’re always as nice as can be and when I told them that Peggy made cheese in California, the two salesclerks put down their cheese cutting knives, and quietly (mentally packing their bags) asked, “When can we go?”
Peggy scanned the counters and shelves, and pointed out cheeses that I didn’t know, and told me things about cheeses that I already thought I knew. One that really caught her eye was a funky-looking bleu de Termignon, which she said was especially interesting because for one thing, the mold is natural and isn’t from being inoculated.
And an interesting thing she told me was that the cows that produce the milk for this cheese graze very high up in the mountains of the Savoie and eat plenty of violets while also munching on the grass. (When I told a French friend this, she said, “You Americans will believe anything!“) But I did a little research in my handy French Cheese guide, and found out the cows do consume flowers, which does seem natural since I doubt they’re selectively eating around the pretty little flowers up.
So I bought a wedge of the cheese, stuck it in my messenger bag, and brought it home. (I was trying to be vert and not take a plastic bag, which does have its caveats: I woke up in a panic in the middle of the night because it was forgotten and I left the pungent wedge in there, where it was ‘perfuming’ everything else.)
And she was right, it was pretty interesting. In spite of its odd appearance, it wasn’t super-funky, or sharp and bitter, as some of the crust-covered aged cheeses like this usually are. Instead it had a surprising milky-mildness and didn’t have the abrupt sharpness of a traditional bleu cheese, which I was kind of missing. It went well with the cool white sauvignon blanc we were drinking, and although I didn’t taste any violets in the cheese, it was a nice change from the usual cheeses, like Comté, Saint Marcellin, and Beaufort d’été, that I invariably fall back on.
Peggy invited me to come back for a few weeks to spend some time working at their shop in San Francisco, which I’m thinking of doing. So if you happen to see me there, and I make a suggestion, take it. Because some people will believe anything. Or so I’m told.
62, rue de Sèvres (7th)
Tél: 01 47 34 33 45
(Quatrehomme closes at mid-day, from 1pm to 4pm.)
Marie Quatrehomme (Rosa Jackson)
Guilde des Fromagers (Official Website)
Le Bleu de Termignon Selon Marcel Bantin (Production & Photos of Bleu de Termignon, in French)
Favorite Books on Cheese (Amazon)
Bleu de Termignon (Wikipedia France)
If you go to Lyon, you’ll find Saint Marcellin pretty much everywhere. It’s the best-known cheese from that region, and the user friendly-sized disks are inevitably piled high at each and every cheese shop you step in to. Locals bake them at home and slide the warm disks onto salads, and I’ve not been to a restaurant in that city that didn’t have Saint Marcellin on the menu doing double-duty as the cheese or the dessert course. Or both. At the outdoor market stands, you can see how popular they are with les Lyonnais. And if you don’t believe me, their presence is so pervasive that I once bought a ticket on the bus in Lyon and instead of change, the driver handed me a ripe Saint Marcellin instead.
Because they hover around €3, I used to pick one up at the fromagerie since they’re an inexpensive way to add variety to a cheese platter. The ones I’d buy were decent, although I never heard anyone put a dab on their bread and say, “Good gosh David, that cheese is friggin’ amazing!” (Although I’m not sure “friggin” is a well-used word around here.)
It’s funny, because some people get the impression that I don’t like where I live. Which is kind of strange, because I don’t understand why anyone would think that I’d live somewhere where there was a dearth of clothes dryers if I didn’t like it. And if you saw the paperwork that I have to fill out just to stay here, well, let’s just say that one really has to want to live here to plow through it all.
I’ve read a lot of books extolling what a glorious place Paris is, with tales of skipping along Left Bank streets, happily shopping for new shoes whenever the mood strikes, and resting in one of those cafés on the boulevard St. Germain sipping a $7 coffee.
They certainly paint a rosy view of the city. But then I realized something: The authors of those books no longer live here.
Like all cities, Paris is a real place. A lot of people understandably come here looking for old bistros and quaint cafés, often to find those kinds of place disappearing, or disappointing. Then they’ll step into La Maison du Chocolate, take a bite of a Rigoletto Noir, filled with caramelized butter mousse, and realize that life doesn’t get any better than that.
Sometimes I’ll be riding my bike around at night by the Seine, under the softly-glowing lights. I’ll look around, and think, “Paris is breaktakingly beautiful.” Other times, I’ll scratch my head when the bank tells me they have no change that day. Or stare at the pile of paperwork that’s arrived in the mail, filled with endless forms that need to be filled out, and think, “Can someone remind me why I moved here?”
Anyhow, I still live here and accept that like anywhere, Paris is a real city with its flaws and its fabulousness.
Just announced—an all-new tour this fall! For one delicious week we’ll be feasting and tasting the best of France.
From extraordinary chocolate shops, to magnificent fromageries and bustling bouchons, this one-week adventure will be unforgettable! The itinerary is different than my Paris Chocolate Tours, so those of you who’ve traveled with me before, if you’re interested in coming along, we’d love to have you.
For this trip, we’ll be focusing on some of the other tasty aspects of Paris, including…
…visiting the best candy and pastry kitchens, and watch them dipping chocolates, piping macarons, and swirling sugar into edible confections.
I’m a big fan of wine bars. Not only because there’s nothing more I’d rather do than work my way through a large list of wines available to sip by the glass or pot, but because they’re some of the most enjoyable places to eat in Paris.
And with summer coming up, bringing warm weather and longer, lazier days, I find I’m more interested in eating simply, preferring to snack on interesting cheeses or share a slab of pâté, a mound of unashamedly fat-rich rillettes, and slices of chorizo and saucissons, accompanied by a nice glass of Sauvignon blanc or a cool, fruity-red Brouilly.
Le Baron Rouge is one of my favorites. With the wines on offer, you can make a more than decent meal with a large or small platter composed of various cheeses, or pile up some of their excellent charcuterie on a crust of baguette.
There’s sort of some rhyme and reason to my cheese-buying habits. One fromagerie might have the most amazing butter, so I’ll trek over to the place St. Paul to buy a packet of it. But if I want a round of Selles-sur-Cher, I’ll go to the fromager at the marche d’Aligre who always has beautiful ones on display. For St. Nectaire and Cantal, I’ll only buy those from the husky Auvergnate dude at my market on Sunday mornings and refuse to even taste one from anywhere else. His are just so good, I don’t bother doing any comparison shopping.
Last week my neighbors from San Francisco came to visit and I took them to my Sunday market, where I figured we could gather the ingredients for a semi-homemade meal, sans the tablescape.