OK, true confession time: Dorie Greenspan has the life the Accidental Locavore aspires to. It would be easy to be jealous, however she is so delightful that it simply goes away. At a recent lunchtime book talk at the James Beard House, she charmed everyone with her tales of falling in love with France.
If you’ve never been to France, or are one of the few (misguided) people who supported “freedom fries” you can stop reading now. For the rest of you, here’s how the Locavore spent a very pleasant hour.
Dorie Greenspan is known for the many cookbooks she’s written, mostly about baking. Her latest, Around my French Table, is the first book to focus on how she fed her family and friends in Paris. It’s a huge book, beautifully photographed, with lots of interesting stories about her life there, and great recipes.
She spent most of the time talking about eating cheese in France, one of the Accidental Locavore’s most favorite things to do there. Dorie describes the cheese course as being a “minefield”. Turns out there is plenty of room for grievous etiquette faux pas, but hey, we’re Americans, so we’re excused (sort of).
First of all, when you’re dining in a French home, as here, it’s fine and appreciated, to ask for seconds. As my mother always said “flatter the cook…” However, we learned you should never ask for seconds on cheese. Why? Because it wasn’t made at home (don’t ask me why cheese is singled out and not bread or wine).
Secondly, you have to be very careful about how you cut the cheese when it’s passed to you. You are never to cut off the point of a cheese (the good part). The idea is to cut it so it’s exactly the same shape as it was when you got it, just a little smaller. Turns out the French are so particular about how their cheese is cut, there’s a book, L’Art de Couper le Fromage, and several websites. And if you want to get invited back to Dorie’s, you’ll be like one of her friends, and carefully sculpt any misaligned cheeses back in place.
Then, if you’re not totally traumatized by all that, there’s the order in which you actually eat the fromage. When you go to a restaurant in France, they usually arrange the cheese in the order you’re to eat it in, clockwise, starting with the mildest, usually a goat cheese at 12:00 and ending with the strongest, normally a blue at 11:00 (depending on how many there are). My mother thought this was terribly pretentious, but if you think about it, it makes sense, like drinking white wines before you switch to reds. I always start out like that, then bounce back and forth between the cheeses I really like.
Dorie Greenspan admits to only eating certain cheeses in the privacy of her home. When asked, she wouldn’t fess up to which ones they were, but my money would be on something like an oozing Vacherin-Mont d’Or. The Accidental Locavore has never really met a piece of cheese she wouldn’t eat in public. Is there a secret cheese you only eat when you’re home alone?