Monday, 25 July 2016

Understanding the French: Cheese buying

I was down in Berry last weekend and we popped into La Chatre for the market.  A local cheese maker had a stand there - a chap from Beddes, about 20km away, selling goat's cheese.

Very simple. All the cheese was the same, from the same goats (beautifully shown on the signboard). You had a couple of choices; ash-rolled or not, pyramid or log.

But this being France, of course, there was a third choice: fresh, aged, completely dry.

And this being France, that meant each customer entertained a negotiation along the lines of: I want it about two weeks old. You haven't got that? Er... well if I get it a bit younger, I'll be having friends round next week, will it age by then? or.... What's the freshest you've got?

Then the vendor would look around his cheeses and fish one out for approval. But more likely than not, the first one would be too old, or too fresh, or too big, or not quite what was wanted... and so a second cheese would be prodded forwards, and that one would be approved of, and wrapped in its paper, and priced up.

So the queue, although it wasn't very long, proceeded rather slowly. But I think I learned several lessons about the French along the way.
  • Being choosy about your food isn't an upper class thing or a foodie thing. It's normal. This is not a posh stand in any way; it's the regular cheese guy.
  • Transactions aren't simple (other than buying a baguette). Specifying what you want involves a little dance with the vendor, a little to-and-fro that takes time, but gives a certain seriousness to the purchase.
  • Cheese isn't a simple commodity. It's a complex purchase - even when all the cheeses are the same.