It started with a bucket list, made long ago: visit Paris and taste a raw milk Camembert before age 40.
This week, five months before my 40th birthday, I’m in Paris with 20 members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals, visiting cheese shops, tasting endless rows of bloomy rind cheeses and touring the City of Lights. Tomorrow morning we leave for Loir-et Cher to tour Chateau de Chambord and to taste goat cheese in Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine. More about that later in the week – first I have to tell you about the cheese we discovered in Paris.
Our trip started Thursday night with a visit to Sacre-Coeur Church (I can also check singing nuns off the list), a tour of the artist community in Montmarte, the Bohemian heart of Paris, and a four-course welcome dinner at La Bonne Franquette.
Several bottles of wine, an appetizer of snails in garlic and butter sauce, onion soup, duck in orange sauce and a healthy serving of chocolate mousse later, we were a very happy bunch. There’s nothing like a stomach full of French food to help you catch up on sleep after a way-too-long overnight flight from the U.S. to France.
Friday was cheese shop day. We started with a visit to the fabulous indoor/outdoor Marche d’Aligre, a farmer’s market on steroids. There, we caught up with Gigi Cazaux, who is now living in Paris, and who, in May, published a 135-page report titled: “Application of the Concept of Terroir in the American Context: Taste of Place and Wisconsin Unpasteurized Milk Cheeses.” Gigi joined our group for the next couple of days, helping us with rudimentary functions such as ordering cafe au lait in corner bistros and navigating the interesting French world of same-sex restrooms. Thank, you Gigi!
Then it was off for two private tours of cheese shops. First, we visited Androuet, a shop with 250 cheeses, 85 percent of them being raw milk (hello to my first raw-milk Camembert!). Shop manager Jean Yves was amazingly gracious, offering us a tasting of five different French cheeses, ranging from sheep to cow to goat to raw to pasteurized.
The second stop was at Fromagerie Dubois & Fils, where the fabulous owner herself, Martine Dubois, welcomed us with a private tour and tasting of three different French cheeses. Madame Dubois has run her cheese shop for more than 40 years and carries 300 different cheeses between the retail space and her affinage caves. She specializes in carrying different cheeses cheeses from EVERY region in France. I discovered cheeses here that I never even knew existed.
As if that weren’t enough, Madame Martine then called her affineur, Hubert Quinque, who gave us each a tour of the shop’s underground caves: a catacomb of three different spaces that have aged cheeses for the last 200 years. Hubert showed us his meticulous record-keeping system, which consisted of six notebooks full of labels and hand-written notes with information on when/where and from whom each and every round of cheese had been purchased. Cheesemaker Brenda Jensen of Hidden Springs Creamery, was jealous of Hubert’s cave, admiring the stone walls, straw mats and wooden shelves. I could see her mind already thinking of new cheeses to make once she gets back to Wisconsin!
When we weren’t eating cheese, we were touring and shopping our way through Paris, with stops at the Eiffel Tower, a boat ride on the Bateaux Mouches on the Seine, and an amazing guided tour of Notre Dame Cathedral. Hearing the bells ring in Notre Dame wasn’t even on my bucket list, but I checked it off anyway. Paris is a magical place and deserves all the credit it gets. Looking forward to six more days of France and eating cheese in Tours, Bordeaux, Montpellier and Dijon. I will keep you posted!