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CHEESE 101

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“A country that produces 325 varieties of cheese can’t be governed.” – Winston Churchill

The real culture shock for Americans comes during the course of a fine meal in a Parisian restaurant. Just when you think you’ve reached the finish line, after sopping up the juice of the shrimp cooked in garlic, with half a baguette, and emptying the bottle of a great white accompanied by roasted fish, out comes the cheese. It’s a cheese course. How weird. Doesn’t cheese go with Ritz Crackers before dinner? And what’s with the salad. It’s way too late to be thinking about cleansing my palate. I really don’t think my belt has enough holes.

My server, who has the patience of a Saint when it comes to Americans, is ever ready to educate me. “Our cheese selection tonight includes the following, to be eaten in a clockwise direction, once plated…” I can’t even see the cheese, so blinded am I by the gleaming silver carriage on wheels, nestling auspiciously tableside. I reach towards the footstool on my right, to retrieve the smelling salts from my evening purse. No need. The heady pungency of something streaked with blue has revived me.
Okay, to be polite. Because the affinage, or maturing of the cheese is closely supervised by the restaurant’s fromager, in the cellar below.

“The sheep, the cow, the goat. Do you prefer strong or mild?”

Traces of cheese have been discovered in France dating back to the 5th century AD. We know that Roman soldiers feasted on bread, cheese and figs.

By the 14th century, cows were grazing where the Eiffel Tower stands today and Parisians were engaged in the art of cheesemaking.

Duh, I still don’t get why I can’t get a cup of coffee with dessert and I always feel awkward about whether or not to leave a tip when the bill states “service compris”, but I totally get the cheese thing now.


Fashionable French Cows



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