Oh, Paris. There is something there that captivates the mind, sweeps into the heart and tickles the soul - and stinks up your fingers. Cheese, almost everyone's favourite food (I say almost because some people are assholes who claim not to like it) is at its best, most decadent, pungent and exhilarating in France, and I left my heart in its Fromageries.
On our second day in Paris, S and I decided to forgo a restaurant lunch and live the typical cliche- we strolled to the market, bought bread and cheese and wine and sat in a park (we couldn't find a church nearby and we had cheese burning a hole in our pocket!) rather than dine on steaming hot moules et frites and soupe aux poissons. I am glad we did.
I'll take this bad boy over a doughnut any day...We headed to a small farmer's market in the Latin Quarter and entered what can only be described as a cheese mecca. Displayed on the shelves were hundreds of varieties of cheese, most of them unwrapped and displayed in the open air. It was an agonizing process.
We perused the selection, breathing in the fierce goat-y smell and letting it waft over our faces. I stared at the huge wheels of rinded cheeses, their gooey centres bulging out slightly and debated over which goat cheese to choose. I peered into big vats of soft Mascarpone, drooled over veiny blue Roquefort and compared the firm butter coloured Raclette and Emmenthal. It was an intensive procedure.
Finally, after about twenty minutes we decided on a small round cylinder of hard goat cheese, a big creamy slab of Morbier and a round orange rinded cheese wrapped in plastic. We popped next door for some bread, thin crusty wands filled with salty olives, grabbed some wine and headed to the Square Michel Foucault for some serious lactose.
The Morbier was dreamy - a slice of Brie-like soft cow's cheese with a vein of mold running up the middle. It was smooth with just a hint of blue flavour, spreading easily over the bread and reminding me of a glass of fresh farm milk. The hard goat's cheese was almost like a parmesan, nutty and tiny bit acrid at the back of the soft palate, nice to chip off and eat in small bites. And then... then there was the wrapped cheese.
I have done some research and found out that this particular kind of cheese is called Epoisses and is considered by the French to be one of the stinkiest cheeses in the world - so much so that it is actually banned from public transport. This information would have come in handy (perhaps the shopkeep could have shouted "Interdit! Interdit!" when we tried to buy it) as we greedily tore into the cheese. With our hands. Instantly I knew something was awry. Being a lover of rank cheese, I bravely scooped the sample into my mouth.
Demon cheese. This is actually the plot of next season's True Blood.
Everything went blurry for a few moments as I faded in and out of consciousness. The taste, somewhere between rotting flesh and clabbered milk and something even more inexplicable and ghastly, seemed to hit me at the base of my skull and I nearly wretched. S, being the brave foodie, soldiered on to have a second bite in the "Anthony Bourdain/adventurous traveler/intrepid eater" tradition while I frantically crammed Morbier, bread and wine into my mouth to try to erase the flavour.
It was less a cheese than an angry god that needed appeasing - and I was fresh out of slaughtered fowl to burn and present. Not since durian have I tasted - or smelled - something filled with so much otherworldly hate. S decided that he too could not bear it and we guiltily threw it away.
After eating, walking through the Latin Quartier past the Sorbonne on our way to the Catacombs I could not get the taste out of my mouth- or the smell from my fingers. The oils in the Epoisses seemed to have penetrated my skin, and no matter how many times I washed my hands and scrubbed my nails with strong soap over the next few days, it was futile. The smell pervaded. I never got used to it.
Paris Picnic. Just watch out for Yogi Ours.
So my idea of a dream lunch is still intact - cheese, fine wine and delicious bread amidst a soft Parisian Spring breeze. But next time I will leave out the Epoisses - unless, of course, I am prepared to bow down to its evil god.