Cheeseism in Normandy and elsewhere

Look for Vieux Amsterdam

It is usually at its best in the autumn. In mid summer we often get thunderstorms and cloud created by the mountains. At this time of year and through the winter the air is clear and even in January when the sun shines it is hot enough in the middle of the day to eat outside. We do not get long settles spells of hot weather as is the case nearer the mediterranean. On the other hand we have very little wind - no mistral.

Thanks for the info. My son’s in laws have just retired to a village near Mauleon which is just classed as the Pays Basque. They are in the heart of Ossau Iraty area and spent a few days in the area before lockdown and picked up some local O A cheese. It was very tasty though not that different to the stuff I buy in the local Grand Frais.

There are also some good Basque wines notably Irouleguy though they are quite strong. There is also an interesting sparkling wine called Txakoli that has to be poured into the glass from a considerable height - can’t quite remember why!
I am a non cheese eater (as I don’t like it) but I much admire the French commitment to locally produced food - here you see lots of Pyrenean cheeses but not much from the north.
On the subject of cheese, and remembering from a previous exchange we had that you were interested in Classical music, did you know that the name of the Vache qui Rit cheeses comes from the Valkyrie?
Finally, I think you talked of liking Mahler. My wife Clare has been involved this year in an amazing organisation called the Self Isolation Choir which was set up in April to sing the Messiah. Since then they have done several things including, amazingly, the last movement of Mahler 2, the Resurrection Symphony. All the singers sang at home and during rehearsals could just see and hear the conductor who could neither see nor hear anyone. The same applied to the (professional) musicians. Everyone then recorded their part at home against a backing track they were sent. The recordings were then combined to make a “performance”. The musicians are shown while the choir is just heard. There is an interesting introduction by Mahler’s granddaughter Marina.
This is the link if you are interested:

It will be good to be able to go further than 1km from this weekend.
Best wishes

We live in the land of Vache Qui Rit…and the origin starts with meat, not cheese, as a smiling cow was on the trains that contained meat for troops. The soldiers called it the Valkyrie from norse goddesses, rather than Wagner I believe. Leon Bel the founder of the cheese brand was one of those soldiers.

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Yes, I appreciate that the origin is from the Norse legends, and I knew it was used on the wagons carrying meat. I am not actually sure the Valkyrie were goddesses, but they were daughters of Odin (Wotan in Wagner) whose job was to decide which warriors would die in battle as heroes and after death they took them to Valhalla. Wagner’s use (or adaptation) of this mythology is the best known 19th century German use and bearing in mind the name was chosen by a French soldier in WW1 it is reasonable to see a German (as opposed to just Norse) link. Another connection is that after the 1870 war the Germans, having conquered Alsace and Lorraine, put up signs at the frontier saying “Wache” meaning guards/sentries. The French pronounced this as “vache”. Not too serious but just interesting to know that there is a slightly darker history behind what seems an amusing brand name.

Social history fascinates me much more than kings and queens and battles. If you are ever passing Lons le Saunier pop into the Maison de Vache qui Rit, it is quite nicely done.

Is it possible to buy free range pork in France?


Yes, but you have to search for it! We have found it from a local supplier, but never in a supermarket.

I can only find it in Waitrose here - some 20 miles away but I buy it at a farm shop. FR bacon is easier to find. There is an organic farm about the same distance as Waitrose which is owned by 8000 shareholders. Nice place. Are farm shops common in France?

Yes, but you have to know where to look for it. Many years ago, I went halves on a free range pig with the neighbour across the street - the husband had been a professional butcher, so he did the work chopping it for us, all we had to do was pay and find room in the freezer !

Actually, thinking back to that time, I now remember washing pork intestines and helping to make sausages with the neighbour from scraps and cut-offs that we minced up.

Yes. And more and more there are local organic/bio shops, co-ops, veg box schemes and so on. Also the local markets are an outlet for loads of small producers. Unfortunately while organic food has taken off here, the animal welfare issues are still trailing behind other countries so apart from free range eggs you have to look carefully.

To oxidise it a bit so it doesn’t take the enamel off your teeth :grin: it is very acid as it’s made from green grapes. You do the same with Basque cider.

Thanks. A fun wine to drink when in País Vasco but not necessarily one to take home.

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Auchan in Périgueux (Marsac) too has as good a chedar as you’ll likely to get outside whole truckles, and better than many of those. Wyke Farm. They do mature white and milder red. Forget the Red … rubbish unless you like very mild cheese, but the white is generally very good. It is ‘block’ cheddar, but block cheese can be very good these days. I find there is no substitute for cheddar. The French version ‘Cantal’ just doesn’t cut it, and it is different in anycase. In an effort to make cheese taste ‘mature’ manafacturers up the acid, which some people like, but it does sometimes leave the body of the cheese weak and crumbly. Wykes sometimes suffers from that, but 90% of the time it’s excelent.

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I agree. I have been trying, since I got to Normandy from Spain at the beginning of Nov, to replicate or even approximate the mature Cheddar I brought with me on my diversion via UK/buy a car/Sainsbury. Tried the recommendation of Cantal - nothing remotely like. Mild and waxy.

I realise that ageing cheese generally improves it and often moves it into price brackets which I can’t afford, unless as a treat. Parmesan is a good example of this. But even the £15/19€ - kg Parmesan does the biz in the way that the £8-£10/kg Cheddars do and there’s no substitute.

Have you tried an 18 or 24 month old comté? Or Beaufort? Or Abondance?

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I did notice the different ages for comté on a big comté display in Carre4. I shall check again but I seem to recall that those 18-24 month comtés brought up the €/kg problem I mentioned. I’m after the sort of cheese which can be layered 3-4mm thick over and melted on toast or layered with ham and tomatoes for a sandwich.

Cheeses for their own sake - the cheese board thing: a piece of Camembert between main course and tarte tatin, for example … that’s not the function of what might be a Cheddar substitute.

But I will look out for your other recommendations, also. Depending where they come from, my midi-size Carre4 Market may well not sell them. I’m waiting for the distance restrictions to lift before I venture to St Lo and the maxi-size LeClerc.

Totally amazing performance, beautifully played.
It’s so difficult to name my favourite Mahler but the second is up there. If I could only take one with me on a desert island it would have to be Thé Titan.
Thanks for that Jonathan.