Saturday, March 22, 2014

La Journée Nationale Du Fromage

Thym Tamarre, a raw goat's milk cheese from Haute-Provence.

Today is National Cheese Day here in France, and I'm celebrating in the only way I can now, with pictures. Well, with pictures and with plans to get back into making cheese, as it still fascinates and delights me, even if I can't eat the final product. I'm going ahead with my plans to apply for goat-dairy work in Scotland, and I always stop for pictures and conversations with any cheesemaker I meet, and I sigh with longing as I pass the small corner shops selling unlabeled local cheese or walk through the cheese section of any supermarket, a section that usually takes up at least two aisles. I used to have a book called "Anatole and the Robot" that I would read over and over. Maybe that early exposure to France and Paris and cheese and the virtues of handcrafting vs. mechanization and industrialization planted a seed at 5 years old that is now bursting into vigorous bloom at 50.

I just know that I want to make cheese.

Cheese shops in Villar-d'Arène and Grenoble, in the Alps.

No matter where I am in my travels, cheese will always stop me in my tracks. I didn't taste this brunost made by a young farming couple who live a few hours north of Oslo, but I made sure to note their names and address, and may get in touch with them in the future. There's a woman from France who moved to northern Norway years ago to make goat cheese, and she's also on my list. And Bea sent me a link to an article last year about the new generation of cheesemakers there. I liked Norway; I could live there, for a while.

Mhairi and Joe had a cheese cake for their wedding cake, and I wish I'd been feeling better and able to stay around after the ceremony to watch them cut it. The cheese came from Sgriob-ruadh Farm in Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull, west of Glasgow. I'd like to take a trip to the island and meet the family of cheesemakers when I'm in Glasgow next. It's on my list for next August, either before or after the World Pipe Band Competition.

There must be one or more small-scale dairies who need me in Scotland, mustn't there be? So far I have been where and when I was needed - as I am needed now, I like to flatter myself, at least to keep the store open while Florence is in Thailand. It's not cheesemaking, but I am being useful and productive, and that is satisfying.

I'm still trying to figure out why I am so fanatical about cleanliness and order where I work, whether that's a store or a cheeseroom or a butchery, when I can't be bothered to clean at home. I spent three hours yesterday scrubbing out the cold storage room, and I swept and mopped and restocked the store, and more - and I liked it. Or if I didn't like it, at least I liked the end result, and didn't feel all twitchy about disorder.

Fromagerie Laurent Dubois, 47 Boulevard Saint-Germain, Paris.

A small sampling of the huge variety of goat cheeses made in the Centre region of France.

Cheese for sale in Rungis Market, outside of Paris.

Although I enjoy interacting with customers and introducing them to new cheeses, I don't know how far I'll get in the commercial aspect of the business. Should I admit this? I suppose it won't do much harm since I've got the diploma from the cheese program already. Here's my dirty little cheese secret:

I can't really tell the difference between a lot of cheese types.

Oh, if you give me a slice of cheddar and a wedge of brie, I can tell which is which, but ask me to identify a camembert over a brie? No clue. This would, of course, be something that I could improve with practice, but that involves eating cheese, and even if I do the wine-tasters' discreet spitting technique, it's not really an appealing thought. Maybe even LESS appealing when I think about the spitting. Especially with squishy cheeses like camembert.

So I'm not sure how much help I'll be to enterprising new cheesemakers trying to improve their cheeses, but I've got the recipes and instructions for a hundred different cheeses in my suitcase (and eventually on my computer) so there's bound to be something I can do to help add value to their local products (to paraphrase the title of the professional license program I'm currently in), other than the work itself.

Mouflon, a raw sheep's milk cheese made in Corsica.

So happy National Cheese Day! Support your local cheesemaker if you can, because they work really, really hard. Go to a cheese shop and get a wedge of something you've never tried before, opt for raw-milk cheeses if you can, and swear off plastic-wrapped industrial cheeses for the day (or the week, or the year ...) - and if you're dairy-free like me, celebrate anyway!

Caseus ille bonus quem dat avara manus.
- Gabriel-François Venel, Fromage (1757)

Herb-flecked goat cheese from the annual Oregon cheese celebration The Wedge, October 2011.

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