Je Suis Désolée – C’est le Fromage!

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I’m sorry. It’s the cheese!

This is a public apology. And apology to all my visitors who have made the trip already, as well as to those who plan to come and visit me here in France in the days to come. There’s nothing I can do about this grave problem, I can’t change the fact that it exists … nor do I really want to, but I need to express my contrition.

The problem … is … the cheese. First of all, while I’m begging forgiveness, I must apologize to all the milk producers and cheese makers in my home states of Wisconsin and Minnesota before I say this, but the cheese in France is the bomb! It is said that there are enough varieties of French cheese to try a new one each day of the year, but in fact, that’s false. According the French milk producers web site, there are more than 1000 varieties of cheese in this country. Cheese is made with cow’s milk, goat’s milk, and sheep’s milk and it is often covered with mold or filled with mold, which adds to its flavor. Much of the cheese is non-pasteurized, which is why Americans cannot buy many varieties of “real” French cheese. It is against the law to sell it in the United States.

Cheese is revered here in France. Not only are there eight separate “families” of cheese, there are actually “protected” cheeses and cheeses with special appellations, like wine, which is also revered. We have fresh cheese, pressed cheese, soft cheese, unpasteurized aged cheese, northern cheeses, southern cheese, cheese wrapped in leaves or covered in ashes, artisanal cheeses … and yes, even cheese squares wrapped in plastic (quelle horreur!)

We eat soft, fresh cheeses as spreads or in a bowl with a little sugar or fruit as you would eat yogurt for dessert. We use cheese in cooking, to make a lovely sauce, or to make a gratin of potatoes or vegetables. But most importantly, we follow every dinner with the cheese course. This comes before dessert and though I thought it was strange and a little bit of overkill when I first got here, I now always save room for it and am disappointed when it’s not served for some reason.

And like good wine, it can be the subject of conversation around the dinner table. I was at a dinner party a couple of weeks ago, and the subject of conversation at the table was the fabulous and most horrible smelling cheese that we were going to be served after dinner. The host had found it in Corsica, and was so excited for us to try it … and smell it. It was exquisite, by the way.

Which leads me the subject at hand. My visitors have been subjected to the odor of French cheese, over and over. I always insist on taking some bread and cheese in the car when we travel. The ensuing smell isn’t too much for me and though I notice it, it is more of an appetite stimulant than anything. But my sister threatened to upchuck the first time she opened the car door after we had left the cheese inside. She insisted that she wouldn’t be able to eat something that smelled like … well, let’s just say … excrement, although she didn’t use that word!

“Oh, it does not, Jennie! Get over it!”

My youngest son, although he loved the taste of the cheese, was just as repulsed. He was a little kinder but a similar sentence slipped from his mouth.

“I’m sorry to tell you this mom, but your refrigerator smells like … excrement” (not his exact word either)!

I kept insisting it wasn’t that bad and that he needed to just get used to it. I poo- pooed him (no pun intended).

My oldest son was not even nice about it.

GEEZ MOM, what’s that horrible smell? It smells like … excrement! (We’ve established that this was not the word used). I can’t stand it!”

I had an especially ripe Munster in the fridge at the time. When I told him it was cheese, he couldn’t believe it.

“You really eat something that smells like that? No WAY! Shut the fridge! Throw it away!”

I told him yes, I eat it, and you will too. It’s not so bad. It tastes completely different than it smells.

In spite of all my chastising and insistence that he try it, he just couldn’t get it past his nose.l (he’s always had a sensitive sniffer). And I made fun of him and his obviously over-sensitive snout.

So last night, I smelled cheese. I was surprised because when my son was here he had insisted that I cover all the cheese or put it in a plastic bag (I told him this is not good for the cheese…it needs to breath…but I accommodated him). The smell of cheese got stronger and I couldn’t figure out why. I checked the refrigerator for uncovered cheese. I tested the zip-locks on the bags and the seal on the Glad Press-n-Seal. All were in perfect working order. Nope, no holes in the bags either. I thought I must have dropped some and searched all over the kitchen for a runaway hunk of fromage. No luck. I finally decided maybe a neighbor had purchased some particularly intense cheese and it’s odor had just permeated my apartment. I let it go at that. 

Until I was on the floor trying to find a pen I had dropped. I was searching for it around the cat box. The smell of cheese became especially strong. I looked in the cat box and saw that the cat had deposited a fresh crotte. And with my nose in the cat box, I realized—at that moment— that in fact, no matter how much I love it, no matter how much I reprimand and ridicule my visitors for their obvious lack of taste and refinement, no matter how much I hate to admit it, French cheese really does smell like shit!­­­


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