My Cheese, My Self
At the age of six, when I was asked to identify my favorite cheese, the answer came effortlessly and without question: blue, and not just any blue—it had to be Roquefort.
I was at this age a recent transplant to the suburb of Harrison, New York, having just moved with my family from Ève, a quiet village northeast of Paris. I began attending a French-American school in the area, where other young émigrés like me often dwelled on the things they missed most. Apart from the snowball trees of my backyard, my list was almost exclusively culinary: rillettes, petit-suisse yogurts, and Roquefort.
After some time settling in, one day my mother came home beaming, a slab of Roquefort Société in tow. The local stores had caught on to the presence of a target market for French products, and despite its irregular availability on the shelves, the knowledge that we’d have access to Roquefort, right in our newly adopted hometown, was reason to rejoice. If there was a wedge in the fridge, we indulged in small doses, making sure it would last.
My relationship to Roquefort got personal. After all, we had a lot in common. Origins in France. A funny name Americans mispronounce. An ambiguous position among our all-American peers.
Not too long after my mother’s initial discovery, Roquefort slowly emerged as a regular in the cheese section of our local supermarkets. Just as it was beginning to find its place here, I was following a parallel trajectory, constructing an identity that would no longer come off as exclusively foreign. I let America in a little, and in return it made some room for me.
During one summer trip back to the homeland, my family visited the Roquefort caves in the region of Aveyron. My most vivid memory is of the tasting—there was not just one variety of Roquefort manufactured by the Société brand, but three! Only one, the mildest, was put on the export market.
Suddenly, there were two other Roqueforts to miss, an ocean separating me from what could be a more satisfying, multidimensional relationship. I had to come to terms with this, just as I had to realize I would not grow up fully French in all its forms. I was destined to become only half-French, only mildly so.
My loyalty to this cheese wavered for only a short period during college. Alarmingly, I found myself actually not liking the taste of Roquefort. It’s telling that I also remember those years as a period during which the sliding scale of my bicultural identity veered most consistently to the American side. I attended an American university; I read and wrote exclusively in English. My French identity was left to lie on the shelf. There was no room for it at the time.
Today I’ve found more of a balance. Roquefort makes its way again into my fridge, regularly. If food is part of our cultural identity, then Roquefort is essential in asserting mine.
Written by Noémie Bonnet
Illustration by Richard Mia