Fromage by any other name would smell as…sweet?

PERSONALLY, I wouldn’t put the live fretting chickens, roosters and rabbits next to the cheese display.  I would think the ‘aroma’ of one would influence the sale of the other.  But no one asked me, the FDA was nowhere in sight and this is the way it’s been done for hundreds of years…voilà.

Welcome to the weekly frenetic Friday market in Ganges, France where the streets are closed to cars for the day and fresh, homegrown and homemade EVERYTHING is on offer.

But we needed cheese.  And the best cheesemonger was, indeed, right across from the rabbits.

Best and busiest…so you had to know exactly what you wanted…quickly…and in French.

We saw our chance and seized it…no one at the counter.

Bonjour Madame…Bonjour!    Yes, can I help you?

Ok, we remember the name of the cheese.  Oui, s’il vous plaît.   Tomme de vache…yes, she’s going right for it…we got the name right!  Uh-oh, people are gathering…a little pressure.   Combien monsieur? How much would you like?

(Now here is where all these years of shopping at Costco have trained our North American minds that more is better)

The people in line know if they want 100 grams or 150 grams and they know which of the 250 cheeses on display they would like.

We just know…about that big.  Put your 2 hands together to form a wedge…it’s very precise.  Comme ça?  she asks.  Like this?

Say smaller, say smaller, say smaller says the little voice in my head…’Oui, comme ça’ is what comes out of my mouth instead.

There are 8 families of French cheese…Fresh, soft with natural rind, soft with washed rind, pressed, pressed and cooked, goat, blue, processed.  Then within each family you can have different types of milk…cow, sheep, goat.  This creates between 350 to 400 different varieties of French cheese.  With lots of variation within each kind, that amounts to about 1000 different sorts of cheese.  Phew!  ok, now which one do you want and how much can I get you?

Cheddar, Kraft singles, processed,bagged, shredded mozzarella…there, we have pretty much covered what is found in an American grocery store.

The woman was, in all honesty, very helpful and actually let us taste a couple varieties…until the crowd started to gather around us.  At that point tasting was over and it was down to ordering.  The 100 grams method to be sure, is a more accurate way of ordering than making a wedge with your two hands.  The wedge method gets you enough cheese for the neighborhood, which is what we had when we walked away.

The chickens, roosters, rabbits and pigeons were still there, fretting, cackling and cooing,  less concerned about my French ordering skills than they were about their immediate future.

And,  it is amazing how quickly one can acclimate to the ‘aroma’ in an outdoor market.

 

 

What doesn’t make you stronger, only makes you fatter

There is nothing more illustrative of “Journey. People. Culture. Food.”  than the traveling baker to the small villages in this area of the Cévennes.

St. Jean de Buèges, like many of the local villages, is not big enough to support a baker (or a store of any sort, for that matter) so the baker, the Boulangère, comes to us.

Pinch me!    How long have I dreamt about a traveling pastry truck driving to me?! Continue reading

A DIFFERENT Kind of Tour de France

Whatever you may think of Lance Armstrong, the Tour de France, which takes place every summer in July, is an absolutely grueling endurance test.  Three thousand, four hundred, ninety six kilometers…that’s 3,496 km! (2,173 mi), pedaled over 3 weeks, up mountains, down valleys, through small villages and across France…I am exhausted every time I watch it.  These men cycle all year in preparation for, what I would call the ultimate competition of strength and perseverance.  I watch with great enthusiasm as I learn the names of the individual cyclists, pick a favorite team, open my fridge and reach for a bottle of cold water as the thirsty, pedaling cyclists reach for theirs, held out to them by a team member standing along the road.

City Hall, Bagneres de Luchon, Summer 2012, end of Stage 16

Proud Sculpture…Le Tour de France Dans Les Pyrenees

But I want to talk about a different kind of Tour de France…the kind not relegated to elite athletes or needing months, nay, years of training.  I’m talking about the Tour de France centered in the wine country of southwestern France, sharing a border with Spain along the Pyrenees, from the Mediterranean to the Bay of Biscay…

THAT Tour de France!   Continue reading