Each week, culture intern Katherine will scour great works of literature for all the cheesy details your English teacher never showed you. Authors often include mentions of food and drink in their written works to give the reader a small glimpse into the culture and historic foodways of a particular place and era. This blog series will lend readers a helping hand and shed some light on the cheeses between the lines of the literary greats. Also, each week you'll have a chance to win a special issue of culture magazine.
Photo by Paste
During our recent visit to M. Cheesemonger’s hometown in Normandy, we were able to escape from his father’s Grande Fête preparations (more on that later) to visit some of the local cheese makers and farmers that make this region the dairy capital of France. Since I had been charged with organizing the Grande Fête cheese platter, our plan was to find some excellent local cheeses. The sun shone warmly and puffy clouds drifted overhead as we wound our way through the verdant countryside.
So it begins.
I find myself sitting in an unfamiliar room in a small village in east-of-central France, staring into an abyss... which coincidentally looks a lot like an iPad screen. I have two months ahead of me, to learn and and grow and ponder my existence. What brought me to this point in my life?
In case you had any doubts about the colonizing reach of American food culture, rest assured that it’s alive and well. Food trucks, those nomadic quasi-restaurants that have roamed streets from Manhattan to West LA in recent years, have now arrived in Paris. A front-page article in the New York Times yesterday documented the newfound popularity of food trucks in the City of Light, which are run primarily by American chefs and serve primarily American food. As Julia Moskin wrote, “Among young Parisians, there is currently no greater praise for cuisine than ‘très Brooklyn,’ a term that signifies a particularly cool combination of informality, creativity and quality.”
What with my two years of Jr. High French, I'm really not sure what this video is about.
As far as I can tell, the wicked cows defeat the peace-loving brachiosaurs in the battle of the sacred bell. Cows have a numerical advantage because they're really some sort of ambulatory hail or other weather phenomena, and don't rely on cumbersome egg-laying to reproduce.
Doofy cavemen then create Comté cheese, which blots out the sun, creating an ice-age plagued with pesky pterodactyls. The cheese then rolls down a hill and into a cave. The cave contains a number of ghosts, including Julius Caesar and the Beatles. Unafraid, the foolish cheese rolls straight through them and into the hands of a waiting affineur, who punishes its impertinence with a sharp rap with a hammer.
Milk has not always been the object of attack by nutritionists and animal activists. Hundreds of years before vegans were condemning dairy products as unhealthful industrialized commodities, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 18th-century French philosopher and arguably the first ecologist and environmentalist, was praising the nutritious and psychological properties of milk and its ability to reconnect people with nature. Throughout his writings, from Émile, or On Education to his Confessions, dairy is depicted not only as a building block of humanity but also as a vegetal fruit-like figure within his idealized bucolic literary scenes.
It’s not by mere chance that Rousseau starts off his masterpiece on the “art of education,” Émile, or On Education, with a tribute to breast milk and maternity (still a modern concept in the 18th century). He explains the profound impact of breastfeeding on infants, affirming that it intensifies the mother–child bond, and therefore the overall harmony of the family which he views as a fundamental unit of civilization.
My hand-drawn instructions are a sublime piece of art. Metro lines, directions, changes, rue by rue and the same in reverse. All this so I can achieve cheese Nirvana in Paris without having to speak to a single French person. Well, ok, I may have to say something at the fromagerie, the Laurent Dubois Fromagerie on Rue Sant-Germain, but here's to hoping.
Two weeks after being in Paris my French language skills remain that of a zygote. Sure, I could ask for some cheese, "avez vous de fromage?" But that would sound awfully stupid in a fromagerie. Ok, so I could say "avez vous de brie?" to be brief and specific. But what unholy concoction of words could comprise the reply to this simple question? "A Brie de Meaux madame? Would you prefer the double cream or the triple? How would you care to try some of this special little artisan goat's cheese made on my grandmother's farm in Normandy?"