French cheese withdrawal

If you’ve had even one conversation with me, it’s likely you know that I love cheese. Especially French cheese.

I love cheese so much that I splurged on this book as an emotional pick-me-up after a trying day in Auch (retail therapy is real). I love cheese so much that I fear I will wake up one morning only to discover that I’ve become lactose-intolerant. And I’m sure that without cheese I’d have a hard time maintaining my curvy physique.

In France, good cheese is dirt cheap at the supermarket (less than 2€ for a hearty slice of something we Americans consider a luxury item). In my experience, it’s even better when purchased at the local market.

Auch has two weekly markets: one on Thursday and one on Saturday. Thursday’s features the cheese man.

The Cheese Man

Each Thursday, I would finish up my morning classes, erase the white board, and book it down avenue de l’Yser, around the Patte d’Oie, and down rue Rouget de l’Isle until I reached avenue Hoche and the sprawling marché de jeudi. 

I’d buy some local eggs, various pieces of fresh produce, maybe some honey, and a couple scones or a loaf of bread. Then I’d get in the cheese line.

I’d stare wide-eyed with my mouth watering at huge wheels of Camembert and Emmental, little round cylinders of Chèvre, and mold-speckled Roquefort. I’d watch the cheese man lop off slabs of butter from a giant block and spoon crème fraîche into little plastic containers. I’d witness crotchety old Frenchmen exchange upwards of 30€ for their weekly cheese order like it was no big deal. Suddenly it was my turn and though I’d been in line sometimes for as long as 15 minutes, I never quite knew what I wanted.

Les fromages

The first few times, flustered, I ordered a trusted favorite: Comtéa semi-hard cow’s milk cheese. It’s sharp and nutty on the tongue; I usually describe it as the love child of Parmesan and Swiss, though really it’s so much more.

Eventually I got bolder and would ask for something unfamiliar that had caught my eye along with a classic stand-by like Brie.

Cut me off a tranche of that Brie

The cheese never disappointed: a million times tastier (though usually slightly more expensive) than its supermarket counterpart (which, for the record, was also really tasty). And I’ll always remember my friendly rapport with the cheese man as fondly as the fromages he sold me.

After my third or fourth visit, I had become a regular. He’d greet me with a wink or a “Bonjour, Mademoiselle!” as soon as I got in line. Other regulars would jokingly goad him while we waited and he’d urge me to defend him with a twinkle in his eye. And when I got to the front of the line he’d patiently say “Oui, ma petite?” before slicing me off a tranche of whatever I’d selected.

Since returning to the United States, I’ve had a hard time replacing my weekly visit to the cheese man with trips down the dairy aisle. Luckily Portland lies in the land of Trader Joe’s whose selection of fromages français is satisfactory (they have all my classic favorites) and whose prices don’t threaten me with immediate bankruptcy.

Roquefort, Délice de Bourgogne, TJ's Social Snackers, Farm-fresh Blueberries

Roquefort, Délice de Bourgogne, TJ’s Social Snackers, Farm-fresh blueberries

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10 comments

  1. Sally · · Reply

    I think I know a story about someone who wakes up one day only to discover he’s become lactose intolerant… 😉

    1. I knew you’d appreciate that sentence. I hope to avoid lactaid pills and seamen, but wouldn’t mind riding across the ocean on a vespa via ferry someday…

  2. My French experience seems forever incomplete as…I don’t like cheese! La honte! Oh, how I wish I did! I do love looking around cheese shops, though! 🙂

    1. GASP. At least you still appreciate it as a cultural gem, even if you don’t get satisfaction on your taste buds 🙂

  3. Jamie · · Reply

    Ooh la la! I especially love the pictures and descriptions of the cheese man with the twinkle in his eye! You definitely won’t find him at Trader Joe’s, alas.

    1. Definitely not…he was one in a million.

  4. […] gratifying and challenging. I liked it enough for the year it allowed me in France, a year of fine cheeses, finer friends and fabulous travels. But there’s a reason I didn’t apply to renew my […]

  5. […] apprentice? Tempting—oh so tempting—but I never quite got up the nerve to ask the cheese man if he needed […]

  6. This post left me missing the market! I had forgotten about the scones.

    1. They were so delicious!

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