Thursday, August 19, 2010

No surrender to the big cheese

It was Charles de Gaulle who said of his native France: “How can you govern a country which has 246 different cheeses?”

History does not tell where he got the number from. Indeed, some sources claim that le général put the figure at 258. But judging from our recent  holiday across the Channel, he probably underestimated.

Visit any self-respecting French hypermarket and it’s not just the cheese counter that’ll have you staggered. Twenty-five different types of ham. A bewildering range of natural yoghurts. Three different sorts of pizza-flavoured cracker.

And the wine. Let’s not get started on the wine. (Too late, unfortunately. We already have.)

No, there’s a colossal difference between the English concept of choice and the French idea of choix.

To your average Sainsbury or Tesco, choice means either (a) own brand or (b) expensive.

To its French counterpart, la choix seems to a passing Brit to be synonymous with abundant variety.

And the only problem with that is that it leads to indecision among those who are doing the buying and mutterings of rebellion from those who are traipsing along behind wishing they were still at the beach.

The differences don’t end there, of course. You won’t find many English supermarkets in which a live spider crab glares balefully at you from a glass tank, knowing that the only thing preventing a dinner date is a certain squeamishness on the part of the designated cook in the matter of grabbing said crustacean and bumping it off.

On the other side of the coin, you won’t find many French supermarkets that do cashback. Big swing, small roundabout.

No, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. And the cheese is always smellier.

As we discovered when, seeking to bring back a little souvenir of de Gaulle’s administrative nightmare, we plumped for a Camembert with the unlikely sounding name of Jort.

Jort is made of unpasteurised milk. Jort is moulé à la louche. Which would take an entire blog to explain. Follow the link instead. Jort is supposedly best eaten with a wine of the 1984 vintage. Fat chance on our budget.

(Quick break here for our Word of the Week slot. Tyrosemiophily: collecting the labels of Camembert cheese. Strange, but nonetheless true.)

Anyway, Jort was so smelly it had to be put in the rooftop box on the way home to forestall a full-scale revolution on the part of the smaller passengers.

Thinking about it, we should probably have acquired an export licence before attempting to drive on to the ferry.

And once we were back in good old Blighty, Jort had to be transferred to a holding cell in the garage, whence it now exudes a malodorous warning to anyone rash enough to approach it with a cheese knife. According to one French supplier, a good Camembert should give off  "odours of farmyard and stable". If that's the case, Jort is good in spades.

Still, it will meet its fate, sooner rather than later, at a dinner for two in celebration of our 20th wedding anniversary.

And it will undoubtedly taste a heck of a lot better than it smells.

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