French Language Blog

French Cuisine – Fromage Posted by on Aug 31, 2009 in Culture

A few things happened to me when I lived in France that made me begin to understand one of the major points of French culture – le fromage!  First of all, as a student who had to go out and get her own groceries for lunch, one of my first excursions was to a supermarket and the cheese aisle was about as long as the snacks aisle in the US (not just Roquefort, Camembert and Brie).  I later was told that there are over 1000 different kinds of cheese produced in France.  That’s a lot of cheese!  There are soft cheeses, hard cheeses, blues, goat’s cheeses (chèvre), herbed/garlic (Boursin) cheeses and much, much more.

After about six months of living in France, I was invited to a friend’s house for lunch.  After the main course, out came the hostess with a large, round dish with several different cheeses on it.  My friend told me to take some of whichever I liked or to try them all.  So, I grabbed my knife and was just about to cut off the bottom of one of the cheese triangles, when his father waved me off and said, “On ne se coupe pas le fromage comme ça!” (You don’t cut cheese like that!).  After seeing how red I got in the face, he quickly laughed it off and said not to worry and explained to me that you are supposed to cut cheese in a way that everyone gets an equal part.  So instead of left/right (or just hacking the point off), you should cut the wedge from the top to the bottom.  In other words, with the large end of the wedge at the top, you cut a slice off vertically.  He then proceeded to explain the different taste of each of the cheeses and took great pleasure in getting me to try them all and discuss them.  Each different kind of cheese is cut in a different way, but always with the same principle behind the cut- that each person basically gets an equal part and for the cheese not to look demolished as it is served again and again after each meal on the cheese platter.  Custom is to pass the cheese platter around the table with each person carefully cutting a portion from each type of cheese and placing their portions on their own plate to eat them once everyone has been served.  You normally won’t see French people reaching to the center of the table to get more and more cheese.  If someone does want more, they usually take the platter to serve themselves more or ask someone to pass them the platter.
Years later when I again lived in France, a friend of mine would often invite me out to dinner and would always make a point to tell me to close my eyes and savor the cheese served after the meal and tell him if I could taste the grass the cheese-making animals had eaten prior to getting milked.  What???  Can you actually taste the grass in the cheese?  Is this true or is this just exaggerative French people for you again, I remember asking myself.  Needless to say, I never could taste the grass.  It just tasted like cheese to me, albeit delicious.

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