Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A French Wine and Cheese Festival

It's been a little while since my last post. I'm still trying to figure out when to write about all the adventures I'm having in between all the adventures I'm having. This past weekend alone, I meditated on Monet's water lilies, fought for some face-time with Mona Lisa, helped rescue the old man who feeds all the cats of the Montmartre Cemetery, hunted down Vincent Van Gogh's old apartment, and learned how to "really" eat Thai food in Paris. But my favorite experience, perhaps since arriving one month ago, was what I consider to be the quintessential French experience: a wine and cheese festival set to the lovely autumnal scenery of a small French village.

I met with my go-to Saturday morning adventure buddy Lu to catch a train the little suburban town of Meulan, about an hour northwest of Paris. The air was crisp and clean and quiet as we hopped out onto station platform, and we gulped it down as we wound our way down a curvy road down the hill from the train station to Meulan. When we reached the city center, we were greeted by a charming panorama of town homes and shops. The annual Fromage Festival was in full swing; little booths stocked with choice cheeses, meats, breads, pastries, and lots and lots of wine lined streets and squares. Everything you know about how food tastes... it all changes here.

In addition from all the mouthwatering morsels, the festival itself was so picturesque, so exactly what I would imagine from a French countryside wine and cheese festival, that throughout the day I continued to remind myself that this was not a dream. The berets! The dancers! The bagpipes! And best of all--no tourist trap. We were immersed in an authentic French world.

As we passed by the stalls, the cheerful vendors were busy dallying out samples of their prized goods to shoppers. That's right. To taste some of the most delicious cheeses and wines and champagnes you have ever had or will every have in your life, you simply greeted the vendor with a warm "Bonjour!" and then, "Je peux gouter?" and make your selection.  And they would gladly offer you a generous piece of heaven (or more than one if you so desired) for absolutely gratuit. Cheese lover's paradise.

On top of that, once you tasted, you were free to move on without a sour look of dejected sales in sight;  if you didn't want to buy, you simply said, "Merci, au revoir." You were sent off with a smile and jovial "Bonne journée!" No guilt trip needed. These vendors knew their goods would sell anyway. And did they ever...

Camembert, bleu, Gruyère, raw goat cheese, Raclette, Beaufort, Comté, brie... every variety awaited our eager taste buds. There were cheese for every budget. My favorite was of course the most expensive, a Gruyère Suisse at a low, low price of 50€ a kilo. (That's $63.13 per 2.2 lbs!)

There were also cheeses you probably wouldn't find legally in the US. Some because of they were younger cheeses than the FDA approves, and some, well, for other reasons...

There was also a wide variety of wines from the surrounding regions: champagnes from Loire Valley, new wines from Bordeaux, vintages from Normandie. Tasting some of the best wines in the world for free, I was able to learn about the differences in years and tastes and regions from the very people who made them.

What really struck me about the whole festival though was how passionate each vendor was about their goods. Many of the stalls had detailed information about origins of the food and wines, the production process,  and even the history of the farms. (Most of which have been passed down from generation to generation... I saw a few photo albums of the vendors working the farms as children.) They took special pride in explaining the process of creating their sumptuous fare, and even a language barrier couldn't deter their contagious zeal for what they do. I know people who are in charge of massive companies, who manage mountains of money, who make moving speeches to thousands of people, and they will never love their lives and their work as much as this jolly farmer who herds stinky sheep and milks cows all day. Figure out that one, America.

And of course, I had to do my part to ensure these farms succeed and indulged in some obligatory guilty pleasures for later....

Including this cheese my friends and I concluded should be illegal just on taste alone. I mean, hey, we got it from some young, rambunctious Swiss men after all...


  1. DU FROMAGE! C'EST ICI! (winking goat)

    Also - pot cheese. what. ;)

  2. Think I gained 5 cheese pounds just reading this and seeing your colorful pics! Awesome!

  3. Love love love the pic of you hoarding the goods. Ha!!!
    But really, this is getting ugly. Now I am not only green (with envy), but I am drooling.