J’adore les fromages français

I’m coming down from a little bit of a cheese/wine high.  You see, the school where I take my French class offers numerous activities each week to students.  Today, for 20 euro, you could sign up for a class on French cheese paired with wine lead by a cheese monger from Xavier Fromager Affineur.  I’ve passed by this fromagerie a couple of times (it’s in our neighborhood, across the street from Victor Hugo), but never gone in.  Jim and I often marvel at how fancy it looks.  Not surprisingly, no one had to twist my arm to attend.

There were maybe 20 or so students/staff in the class this afternoon, but I was the sole American.  As such, I had to bear the role of speaking for all Americans throughout the class:  Do you all eat cheese?  Do you drink wine?  Is either ever an apertif or digestif?  Can you take these cheeses back to the USA with you?  Probably the most interesting was being singled out as one of the only countries that don’t import much French cheese because of the lack of pasteurization.  I was scolded rather heavily for that one.

We had both white and red wine along with eight or nine cheeses (I cannot remember the exact number) spanning cow (vache)/goat (chevre)/sheep (brebis), all of which I enjoyed quite a bit.  The soft, smelly ones more than I would have thought.  Things I learned…

  1.  Your first bite of ANY cheese must be the cheese alone.  After your first bite, you are free to enjoy it as you please (I learned this the hard way…it’s on the school’s videocamera of nearly everyone scolding me).
  2. You need to cleanse your palate between different types of cheeses with anything you’d find in a crudités (greens, celery, tomatoes, carrots, radishes, endive, etc.).
  3. Bread is (really) only there to aid in digestion.
  4. You should always be drinking wine from the area with cheese from that area.  Chances are if they’re from the same place, they’ll taste amazing together.
  5. Some rinds must be removed and others you can happily eat.  I didn’t really understand much of how to discern the differences aside from don’t eat the ones that look hard and gross and totally eat the softer ones.
  6. All cheese is portioned out more like pie pieces for soft cheese (goat, camambert, roquefort, vieux boulogne, rocamadour, etc) and long rectangles for harder cheeses (comte monts jura).
  7. Some of the smelliest cheeses seem to be from around the Toulouse area and/or closer to Spain.  They don’t smell great, but they really do taste QUITE amazing.  I believe the vieux boulogne is said to be the stinkiest cheese in the world, but it’s pretty outstanding.  Just not sure I’d like to keep them in my fridge.

I’m pretty excited to head back to Victor Hugo (or to Xavier) to try out a few more cheeses and more knowledgably select options from the LARGE cases for a picnic, party, or just a typical weekend.

Final thoughts…sheep cheese seems to be one of my favorites in all countries.  France is no different.  Those cute little ewes just make great milk!

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