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the third course in a french meal–cheese

“How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” ―Charles de Gaulle

“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” ―Willie Nelson

“I don’t have much patience for people who are self-conscious about the act of eating, and it irritates me when someone denies themselves the pleasure of a bloody hunk of steak or a pungent French cheese because of some outdated nonsense about what’s appropriate or attractive.” –Anthony Bourdain

Once upon a time I spent a week in Toulouse. I have fond memories of the city. When asked to tell a story about my stay there, I start always with a description of Les Halles in central Toulouse.

Les Halles in many cities in France is a “shopping mall,” a covered food market, with many many stations where different kinds of foods are offered. One can find cheese there, of course, but also charcuterie; there will be butchers, fish mongers, fruit and vegetable stands, wine and beer, chocolate, ready-made foods, and so forth.

At one time Paris had the largest one in France, Les Halles de Paris, which was demolished in 1971 and replaced with the Forum des Halles, now a center for boutiques. (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

My favorite Les Halles is in Toulouse. I was astonished to see so many cheese stands–fromageries–under one roof. When I walked out, I saw another one across the street. I walked a block down the street and saw another but more expensive one. Between Les Halles in Toulouse and the streets surrounding it, I counted seven different cheese stores, or crémiers. The French are obviously buying enough cheese to support that many businesses.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

In Antibes, where I spend a good part of the year, the Marché Provençal is a small covered food market, much smaller than what I have seen in larger cities, such as Toulouse and Lyon. In the Marché Provençal one can see three cheesemongers, one at each end of the market and a large one in the middle. Step outside and walk a few steps, and one comes to another cheese store. Walk a few blocks and another one appears.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

A favorite entrée (the first course) of mine has to be la salade de chèvre chaud, miel et noix, or the goat cheese salad with honey and walnuts. It is never the same at different restaurants, but it does have the same basic ingredients, notably the goat cheese warmed, the honey, the nuts, and the lettuce of some kind.  (Click on any photo to see it larger and in more detail. Cliquez sur une vignette pour l’agrandir.)

Some French dishes require copious amounts of cheese. The tartiflette is an example. It is a dish from the Savoie region of France and is typically made with reblochon, a raw cow’s milk cheese. It is made with potatoes, cheese, lardon (ham, bacon), and onions and then baked in the oven. This particular serving was ordered at Le Brébant, a lovely bistro in Juan-les-Pins.

Often, if one looks around a cheese shop, one can find butter as well. I like the butter made by Bordier. I will be asking for une motte de beurre Bordier, and a French person standing next to me will confide that it is a favorite, too.

I find the beurre salé or demi-sel has more flavor than the beurre doux. In the morning a baguette with a slather of slightly salty butter and some artisanal jam is like eating candy for breakfast.

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