One of the most quintessential things about France is le fromage. You cannot go to France and expect to have the full experience without trying at least a few different types of cheese. My love/hate-affair with French cheese started my very first night here when I tried a regional classic, Comté. It was my favorite from the start and remains so today. Since then I’ve tried plenty of other types: soft, semi-soft, hard, stinky, and even stinkier. I’ve tried some truly atrocious (to american standards) kinds of cheese. But I digress. Today I went to a fromagerie to buy some Comté to bring home to my family (but really it’s for me). French cheese is very particular and the way you go talk about and order it is particular as well.
So here I offer you my step-by-step guide for buying French Cheese:
Step 1: Be an incredibly anxious person, aka moi.
Step 2: Be a cheese-lover. This step is particularly important because you need that extra motivation to really get out there and go to the fromagerie in town all by yourself and manage ordering cheese without any help.
Step 3: Moments before going into town, frantically search online for the correct phrases for ordering cheese like a real French person. You know full well that you will be so obviously American that this doesn’t really matter, but the facade is part of what makes it more nerve-wracking. I mean, fun!
Step 4: Now that you’re fully-equipped with the correct vernacular (je voudrais une tranche de Comté, sous-vide si possible – I would like a slice of Comté, vacuum-packed if possible), get going! But first:
Step 5: Look outside and notice that it’s raining des cordes (because it apparently rains ropes in France, no cats or dogs to seen here).
Step 6: Mentally prepare yourself for the reality that you are seriously about to go out in the pouring rain for the sole purpose of buying cheese.
Step 7: With dignity comfortably stowed away, get on out there!
Step 8: Arrive twenty minutes later to the cool fromagerie with a glass floor so you can look down into the cave where the cheese ages (sorry, I didn’t get a good picture because the glass was …well glass, and it was quite reflective – but you can get a little glimpse of it in the main photo up top).
Step 9: Stare at the two proprietors and wonder to whom you should direct your question and then, after running through different scenarios in your head, blurt out your order into the air at no one in particular.
Step 10: Engage in a short conversation with the very nice shop owner who doesn’t care that your family lives in America and would you like any sausages with the cheese? (Also, get into a weird back and forth of, “C’est possible.” “C’est possible?” “C’est possible.”)
Step 11: After successfully ordering cheese all by yourself like a big girl, run on home with your delicious slice of vacuum-packed Comté in hand.
Finally, the last and hardest step:
Step 12: Remind yourself that you bought this cheese for your family who would otherwise never get to try it because it’s not available in the U.S. and you really should not open it right now and devour it all by yourself.
And after all that, you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done. Or at least not poorly done. You know, now that I think about it, I’m probably going to need a 12-step program to undo my addiction to French cheese!
I wish I had more advice to offer people who are thinking about visiting France, but really it’s just a matter of being here and figuring out what it means for yourself. Though I will say, maybe don’t get involved with a handsome French dude right before you’re supposed to leave the country. That one’s kind of a bummer, but as it goes, c’est la vie, amirite?