March 3, 2004
Is there such a thing as eating too much cheese? I think not, although I did try my best at the 8th edition of the Salon du Fromage, last Sunday.
The Salon du Fromage is held every other year during the Salon de l'Agriculture, at the huge Porte de Versailles exhibition center. While the Salon de l'Agriculture is open to the general public - hordes of families can be seen going there, and my metro was full of those kids, shiny-eyed with expectation : "et alors y'aura des vaches, maman? et des moutons aussi, maman, einh, y'aura des moutons, aussi?" ("and will we see cows there, mommy? And sheep too, mommy, say, mommy, will there be sheep too?") - the Salon du Fromage is a smaller affair, held in a different hall, and open only to professionals.
Its purpose is to bring together all the actors of the fascinating little world of cheese : cheese producers, cheese refiners, cheese distributors, cheese importers, cheese co-ops, sellers of cheese-related supplies, and a host of miscellaneous cheese enthusiasts. I'll let you guess which category yours truly falls in.
And here are a few nuggets drawn from the notes I took while wandering around the alleys, chatting with the exhibitors and my fellow visitors, trying to juggle my notebook, samples of cheese, an increasingly greasy pen and an ever-growing collection of recipe cards and leaflets.
- I met Jean-Charles Karmann, a chef who has just published a book : in "Mes 100 recettes de fromage", he shares a hundred recipes in which cheese isn't just an ingredient - however important - but the star item, transformed and enhanced. He made me taste four of them : Brie affiné aux girolles (brie sliced in two to welcome a layer of chanterelle fricassee), Mille-feuille de camembert aux pommes et au Calvados (camembert layered with an apple and Calvados compote), Coulommier au mendiant (coulommier stuffed with walnuts, hazelnuts, apricots, figs and honey) and Sandwich de Pont-l'Evèque aux châtaignes et vieil Armagnac (a Pont-l'Evèque with a filling of chestnuts and aged Armagnac).
- Although cheese in France is traditionally served plain on a platter, with just bread and maybe a simple salad, the trend is steadily growing to serve it with simple slices of fruit or very lightly sweetened fruit jams, carefully chosen to compliment each particular cheese. A cheese producer called Guillaume et Lesgards displayed a tempting array of those jams, called "Les Folies Fromages" (The cheese follies) : quince and apple with three spices to pair with Roquefort and other blue cheeses, apricot cumin and orange zest for Camembert, black cherry and liquorice to accompany sheep's milk cheeses, and white fig with bayleaves and raisins for goat cheese.
- There were quite a number of visitors from Japan, which is apparently a huge market for French cheese. I smiled at the sight of half a dozen Japanese businessmen in dark suits, sitting around a small table, studying with furrowed brows a humongous hunk of comté, while an animated young man ran his sales pitch. I also loved the group of giggly young women who bought berets at the Basque cheese stand, modelled and paraded proudly for one another, took pictures, and walked away thus hatted, to explore the rest of the exhibition.
- I chatted for a while with the kindest cheese maker, the owner of the Fromagerie de Poisat near Grenoble, who makes braided mozzarella, mozzarella pears, smoked mozzarella and ricote (a type of ricotta), all extremely tasty and absolutely delicious. We talked about his products and the recipes to use them in, and he was sweet enough to grace me with one of his mozzarella braids (yes, the one from yesterday's guessing game) and a package of ricotta. As I was leaving, he dug out from under the counter the little home-published collection of his best cheese recipes. "Pour retenir votre mari..." he said with a look of connivance. ("To keep your husband around...")
- One of the stands was held by the Alliance des Fromages Anglais, who works to promote British cheese in the French market, with increasing success. So far Stilton and Cheddar are doing good, but they would love to have us eat more Sage Derby, Leicester and Double Gloucester cheese too!
[To be continued...]
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