All things cheese in France

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Terroir - The Very Soul of the Earth

The other day while doing some research, I came across an old interview with someone I much admire - Marie Quatrehomme, the first woman to be awarded the coveted Meilleur Ouvrier de France (2000). She is one of the best maître or in this case Maîtresse fromagère-affineuse in Paris, a star, an expert in her field. What was interesting about this was that the interviewer asked what spurred her curiosity for cheese and her response was la gourmandise

Really? Gluttony? One of the seven deadly sin? Was this really what she meant I wondered, for this woman is purported to be one of the most modest and genteel people in the business and gluttony seemed a bit strong (watch this BBC interview to see her in action and judge for yourself). To be sure, translation is a landmine, and while today the sinful word is more often translated as la gloutonnerie, in earlier times gluttony translated as la gourmandise. So in this case I have to believe she was referring to a more subtle, refined meaning of the word gourmandise, like delight or indulgence or delicacy.  Using my version, her response to the question about what inspired her passion for cheese was :  

"Indulgence (delight). There is not one cheese I have not tasted, and I would be hard pressed to say which I prefer. What is interesting with cheese is their infinite variety. To a certain extent, each cheese is an individual: with sample that bear the same name, you can have different tastes depending on the season, the degree of ripening, even the time of day. That's indulgence, ephemeral pleasure, fleeting, but that one can repeat at will."  

She goes on to say that "People here want des fromages de terroir (local cheeses) of which the progress from cow to shop does not eluded us! It is part of a history, the geography, in short, the way of life of our country. There is not a region in France that does not produce cheese, including Brittany." All very interesting and very true. The interviewer summed up the passion Madame Quatrehomme has for the subject of her metier in this phrase - "Cheese: a delicate substance, eminently appreciable, elusive, it is somehow the soul of the earth." 

Indulgence, delight or just a pure pleasure, when it comes to cheese, it is indeed any one of these, for to share the very soul of the earth it offers us is truly worth the sin. 

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