Friday, April 23, 2010

In France, it's easy being cheesy.

Everyone knows that France is famous for its cheese. It stands right behind Wisconsin for making the best cheese the world over ;). A guy named Rick I used to know once (only half-jokingly) put on his resume: I like cheese. Well, I do too, Rick, and the cheese I like I like a lot, mostly the hard salty types, like Cantal, Comté, and Gruyere. Yet, by Frenchie standards, I like a relative few, which is deceiving considering that in France there are upwards of 500 of them (the figures vary.) Back in 1962, at a low point in his political career, Charles de Gaulle famously quipped, "How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheeses?"

Indeed, the best part about living here is the food culture and part of the fun is getting pretty tuned into different regions based upon their
gastronomique offerings, most notably the fromages. I appreciate how history and geography are truly manifest in a region's specialties: Normandie with its rolling hills and dairy cows gives you creamy Camembert, for example. Mmmmm... Camembert... But oh, I digress.

My in-laws are originally from Auvergne, a beautiful, if under-appreciated region in the center of France. It can be a little hard to get to, and has a hard time competing with the Atlantic or the Mediterranean as a go-to holiday destination. At its core is the industrial town Clermont Ferrand (not unlike my own hometown: big ups for Schenectady, NY!) Still, it is green and mountainous, and comprised of extinct volcanoes that produce some of the world's most minerally-of-mineral water (think: Volvic brand water- you know that little Volcano on the Volvic bottle? It's called the Puy de Dome, and my hubbie's grandparents live there.)

Maybe it's the minerals that have something to do with it, for when it comes to cheese, there are several celebrated types from the region, including Cantal and Salers. But for the locals, its all about the St. Nectaire, an uncooked, pressed cheese, made from cow's milk. It's dense and silky smooth. Delicate and aromatic. I'm no food critic, but in a word, it's scrum-delicious, with hints of hazelnut and mushrooms. As it happens, hubbie's colleague is from the very same small town in Auvergne that my MIL is from, and so he picked us up a little local love on a recent trip home. Colleague must have been trying to score some serious points, as he returned with some of the best St. Nectaire I've ever had- and so much of it that I thought for certain we couldn't work our way through it. But we made a couple meals out of it. And how:


Roman secures his grip.

Camille has a taste for only the finest

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