I excitedly walked into the Parisian cheese shop at 31 rue Cler (7th arrondissement) where there were rows and shelves and boxes and containers of artistically displayed aromatic cheeses. With over 450 varieties produced in France, I was in cheese heaven. The display and the aroma alone were worth the visit to La Fromagerie Cler.
In a daze, I appreciatively looked at the various sizes, shapes, colors and textures. A clerk approached and asked if she could help me. In haltingly slow French, I tried to describe what I would like. Immediately she suggested something and whirled around pointing at several cheeses while she tried to get me to be as specific as my taste buds and lousy French descriptions would allow me to be. “I would like a strong cheese with a lot of flavour,” I murmured. “Something I’ve never tried before. Something I can’t get in the United States. I’ve tasted, and I love, Epoisses, Munster and Livarot. How about a pungent chèvre?”
This whirlwind of a cheese encyclopedia led me around the store pointing, gesticulating, describing, and praising– completely caught up in her job. We arrived at the chèvre display. She indicated several…Chabichou du Poitou, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, Selles-sur-Cher, Valençay. She asked if I wanted a soft and mild young cheese, a medium-aged or a mature cheese, firmer and dryer. Fortunately I knew that the French word affinage was used to talk about aging. The longer-aged cheeses generally have the strongest flavour but can be crumbly and difficult to spread.
After much deliberation, I finally selected a medium-aged Banon, wrapped so beautifully in dried chestnut leaves and tied with a raffia string. Madame Cheese Lady deftly wrapped up my Banon in a slick coated paper printed with miniature cheeses and blue stripes. It looked like a gift, and it was… for me!
All this service, education and gift wrapping for about $3.50. As I exited the shop with a “merci, bonne journèe!“, I felt immense satisfaction and anticipation for the savouring of this particular cheese with the approaching evening meal. My only regret was that I hadn’t bought more.
Pictured: Jo Anne’s painting, titled “118 cheeses”
Jo Anne Marquardt is the author of My Trip Around the Hexagon: Meandering in France and Falling in Love with France, both available at Amazon.com. Her first published book, Falling in Love with France, offers responses to the various questions friends and family have asked her over the years about why she visits France so often. The second book includes illustrations and descriptive notes from her travel journals.
Visit Jo Anne’s website to check out her art: www.joannemarquardt.com.