Notes from the Salon du Fromage

Notes from the Salon du Fromage

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...]

  • http://radio.weblogs.com/0129838/ Donna in Harrisburg

    don’t stop now!!! (even though this is killing me!) I’m tempted to take the next flight to France, just to have one more bite of REAL cheese. (Funny — central PA with all the sheep, goats and cows wandering around you’d think someone would be making cheese?).

  • http://www.rappyamhappy.com rappy

    Denied! Well, it still looks gorgeous!

  • Marina

    Clotilde, you have me on the edge of my seat! As much as I like to think myself an adventurous spirit in the kitchen, I’m almost embarrassed to admit that my lunch ere several months now has consisted of crusty bread with Trader Joe’s brie and a pear. I have been happy this way, like a total ignoramus. Les Folies – delightful. I look forward to tomorrow, reading Part 2 of “Salon” while I lunch like a Parisian. Yay cheese!

  • http://www.toomanychefs.com Meg C.

    I guess it’s too late for me to visit this year (ends today and I have plans tonight) but for next time – how do you go about getting tickets??!?? I am kicking myself because I saw the posters for the Salon and forgot to research it in time! Now I’ll have to wait two whole years….sniff.

  • http://chezpim.typepad.com/blogs/2003/11/an_afternoon_wi.html Pim

    Clotilde,

    I am so envious. There is nothing better than cheese, except perhaps more cheese.

    Reading your account of the Salon brought back memories of my recent encounter with M. Jean d’Alos, one of the last remaining true affineurs in the world. He gave a lecture while in the Bay Area a few months ago, and I was lucky to have been able to attend.

    His frustration, almost to the point of resignation, with the declining state of raw milk production and artisanal or fermier cheese was palpable. This is due to a whole mess of things, such as, the over-regulation of dairy and cheese production by the EU and the over-reliance on the “Milk Factory” Holstein which is causing many breeds of cows to disappear.

    Every time I go to France now I eat cheese like there is no tomorrow, since, indeed, there might not be tomorrow for much of the artisanal and fermier cheese I love.

    Interestingly enough, the state of artisanal cheese making in the UK seems to be in an upward swing, as opposed to the downward trend in France and, perhaps, the rest of Europe. Thanks, largely, to a valiant effort by Randolph Hodgson of Neal”s Yard Dairy in London.

    I highly recommend that you check to see if Neal”s Yard had a stand at the Salon. If so, you definitely should check it out. Neal”s Yard shop at Borough market is always one of my first stops every time I am in London.

    Cheers,
    Pim

  • lil

    I went to Jean-Charles Karmann’s site. Beautiful pictures, but I would have to try to translate French from my little knowledge of Latin roots (medical, Spanish, and English)…
    Anyway, your Sunday sounds dreamy…I’ve loved cheeses since I was three years old. :)

  • http://megsfoodandwinepage.typepad.com/megsfoodandwinepage/ Meg

    Ah, cheese heaven! I have lately become so saddened by the quality of the cheese we can get here (yes, even in NY!). Some rockhard Chavignol goat cheese that wouldn’t melt on toasts, some too-old Tete de Moine. . . I think I need to get to France, and soon!

  • http://www.womanchild.com Allison

    Oh, yum! Yum! YUM!

  • ludo

    Hello clo!
    how lucky you are visiting such an amazing place!
    Did Maxence survive your shopping bag?
    Nice Jean Charles Karmann’s web site. I really like the recipe. Great “Trucs et astuces” part, where I find response to all my existancial questions :
    -Comment paralyser une anguille ?
    -Comment donner du moelleux à votre morue ?
    -Comment donner le maximum de goût à une langue ?
    :)
    CHEESE POWER!!

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Donna – It’s very surprising indeed that PA does not make cheese! Isn’t that a great opportunity to start your own business? :)

    Rappy – It was quite a sight and quite a taste!

    Marina – So happy to know C&Z brings you a little entertainment to match your brie sandwich!

    Meg C. – But the Salon de l’Agriculture happens every year, and there’s loads to do/see/eat there too! And I contacted the press services to get an invitation.

    Pim – Thanks for the interesting comment! Neal’s Yard didn’t have a stand at the salon (but maybe they are affiliated with the Alliance des Fromages Anglais), but it’s definitely on my list of places to visit next time I’m in London! Last time I went I tried to locate it but didn’t have the exact address so it was pretty much a lost cause!

    Lil – Yes, it is very nice! It’s not completely ready yet but he’s working on it, he apologized profusely about it at the Salon. And if you have translation questions, I’ll be happy to help!

    Meg – True, I guess cheese doesn’t always travel in ideal conditions to preserve their flavor…

    Allison – Well said! :)

    Ludo – I felt very privileged indeed! And I also loved Karman’s trucs et astuces! We should try his recipes one of these days, don’t you think?

  • Pablo

    This cheese thing reminds me of a food epiphany I dramatically stumbled on, last Fall in New York City. I had been invited by a high-rank French diplomat (best haute-cuisine secret in town, actually). It was an informal dinner, in fact a buffet where everyone helped oneself. I had decided I was on a half-diet, so I didn’t take any cheese, although a large wheel of Brie beaconed from the table. The dessert was memorable – chocolate… I learned later the Brie was stuffed with black truffles. This regret I will carry till the last day of my life… although mysteriously I shared a great deal of the enthusiasm of those that tasted it. Does food or its longing open up new dimensions of our experience?

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Pablo – I understand the regret and frustration! But that’s a great prompt to make your own black truffle stuffed brie, no? And send a slice my way, too! :)

  • http://www.rurou.org/cheese/ max

    Clothilde, I have admired your site for some time — I’m glad you found us over at our modest cheese diaries. A couple questions:
    1. What’s your favorite cheese. Also, where do you buy cheese?
    2. The mozzarella/ricotta-maker from Grenoble is intriguing. Is the French attitude to Italian food changing at all? Historically, it seems to me to have consisted largely of incomprehension. And what, I wonder, did the french traditionally do with leftover whey? I can’t think of a ricotta-like product, but maybe I’m being stupid.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Max – The favorite cheese question has to be the hardest! I don’t really have one absolute favorite, I love the variety and trying new things. But these days, I am particularly fond of a “Brebis du Larzac”, a sheep’s milk cheese from the Larzac, a region in the center of France.

    We buy our cheese at fromageries, specialized cheese stores. We are lucky enough to have half a dozen of them within walking distance of our place, but our very favorite one is in the rue Lepic, where they age their own cheese and have quite a selection, at a very reasonable price.

    It’s true that this French cheese-maker who makes Italian cheese is one of a kind, and I agree about the weird food snobbery between Italy and France. Jealousy on both sides, I’m sure!

    I never wondered about the traditional use of whey in France. After just a little research, it seems that the most popular use is to give it as is, to kids, veals and pigs! Other than that, I found a few recipes for sauces, breads and desserts, but I’m not sure how traditional they are…

  • http://http://www.rurou.org/cheese/ max

    Hmm, I have never had a Brebis du Larzac, but the ones from the Pyrenees are very good indeed. Do look out for Beaufort if you don’t know it — it is a real mountain gruyere from Savoie, incomparable. Though I think the season is nearly over.

    I suspect that whey is commonly used as animal feed in all cheese-making operations. Particularly for the calves/lambs/kids whose milk has been appropriated for the cheese. That is what they do in the Parmigiano DOC. I wonder if there is something distinctly mediterranean about “re-cooking” the whey for ricotta, etc. I know they do it in Greece too; I’ll have to check out Spain and Provence.

    Please keep us posted on your cheese adventures over at the Cheese Diaries.

  • http://chocolateandzucchini.com clotilde

    Max – Mmm, yes, Beaufort is fantastic! I blogged about a Beaufort cheeseburger here : http://chocolateandzucchini.com/archives/2003/10/cheeseburgers_with_a_twist.php ! My family and I would spend our summer vacation in Savoie, and Beaufort is one of the only cheeses I would eat as a child, before I also developped a taste for oozy ones!

  • versakay

    Great post, great discussion. I eat cheese only occasionally, but love to read about food in general.

Planning a trip to Paris?
Eat Your Books Recipe Index

Instagrams

Get the newsletter

Receive a free monthly email with a digest of recent entries, plus exclusive inspiration and special announcements. You can also choose to be notified of every new post.