Saturday, September 13, 2014

Just Cheese? Mais non!

In France, naturally, everyone takes cheese seriously. Very, very seriously. The local grocery store we went to during our ski-trip had a collection fit for an small cheese museum. There were infinitely more varieties than your typical Wal-mart, despite, in all appearances, the store being a French Wal-mart. A lot of signs urged us again and again to "nhestitez pas in asking questions!" American store representatives carry aprons with similar sentiments declaring how may I HELP YOU?! but, as a former grocery store worker myself, I am aware that these signs are crafted by people far removed from actually the privileged of being allowed to help you.

So if it were up to me, upon entering the supermarket with my Belgian and French companions, Id have grabbed the cheapest cheese and ran for it, out of respect for both my bank account and the store-worker's lack of enthusiasm for their job. But I had Belgian and French companions; so grocery shopping wasnt that simple. The encouragements to "nhesitez pas!" were taken to heart and a detailed conversation with the store representative regarding cheese followed. 

It turns out that the store representatives at French supermarkets are indeed the cheese experts the overly enthusiastic company signs proclaim them to be. I dont know if they are being paid more than their American counterparts, or if French cheese is simply easier to be passionate about than American cheddar, but the woman seemed to vastly prefer being peppered with questions than have use walk away with with anything less than the best reblochon to make tarteflete. 

I understood nothing of the conversation. I did not know of the existence of tarteflete or reblochon before this fateful grocery store trip. I only knew something of life-threatening importance was being discussed. This is a great-rule of thumb when trying to understand the French-speaking people I know: when emotions are running high, its always about food.  

Fifteen minutes in, I was bored, and beginning to subtly convey this boredom by marching away decisively and then returning sheepishly when the cheese-conversing people took no notice, and then repeating the process. It was the definition of insanity, because the fromage-laden conversation ragged on. 

It was an hour and 100 euros later  when we left enough cheese to feed entire Chinese population in a year. (I have also been in the literal Chinese Wal-mart, and I can exclusively tell you hunting for any type of cheese at all is a fools quest. I was lucky to find  cheese-flavored plastic yellow slices.) The tarteflete was delicious and completely worth it.

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