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Today meet Julian Bach, the only Franco-American cheesemonger in the land of the long bread. He gracefully responded to our questions at his shop « Au Petit Fromager » in the 15 arrondissement.
1. What is the origin of the word «fromage» ?
Fromage – «formage» in old French – is derived from the word «forme», meaning shape or mold. Interestingly, many French cheeses are still commonly called by their shape: «pyramid» or «log» for some of the Loire Valley goat cheeses, «crown» for a donut shaped cheese, «wheel», and of course «crottin», best left untranslated…
2. Is there a special way to cut cheese?
The most important thing to me is to have a different knife for every type of cheese. This avoids getting Roquefort on your Reblochon.
3. What’s a good number of cheeses to include on my cheese board? And is there a simple rule of thumb for pairing cheese and bread?
A cheese board usually includes 4 to 6 cheeses, all from different regions and with different intensities of taste, the idea being to work your way from the lightest and freshest to the most powerful. The cheese platter thus becomes a journey, a symphony of tastes, smells, shapes and colors, a journey through France. That being said, a good cheese is a world unto itself, and sometimes I prefer sticking to just one or two cheeses, and to really take my time to experience them.
4. Why are some cheeses wrapped in foil or leaves?
Many blue cheeses (Roquefort, Bleu des Causses, Bleu d’Auvergne, etc…) are wrapped in foil to prevent them from drying during the long months of ageing, enabling the prized blue mold to develop. The «Banon», a goat cheese from the southern Alps, is wrapped in chestnut leaves which gives it a wonderful wild tang, and preserves the humidity level of the cheese, and its creamy texture.
5. Why do some cheeses seem to sweat more than others?
Cheeses «sweat» accordingly to their fat content (hard fattier cow cheeses sweat more than soft lighter goat cheeses) and, of course, to the temperature of the room. Contrary to popular belief, hard mountain cheeses (Comté, Beaufort, Gruyère..) are best served slightly cool (between 12 and 16°C), which prevents them from sweating and brings out the best of their buttery texture.
6. Aside from wine, what other beverages do cheese pair well with?
In many cases cheese and wine pairings are overrated, so don’t hesitate to taste cheeses with different beverages. I would much rather have a Camembert de Normandie with a nice glass of local apple cider, an alsacian Munster with a cool lager beer, a 2 year old Gouda with a solid whiskey, or an aged italian Pecorino with an old Grappa, than with a generic red wine.
7. Where did you get your passion for cheese?
Hard to say really. I remember storming out of the dining room in disgust when, during my first visits to France as a child, my parents would bring the cheese platter to the table. After school I worked as a cheesemonger, and then spent a year on a farm in the Swiss mountains making cheese. I learned to understand and appreciate the correlation of tradition, climate, nature, and hard work, all of which together form what the French call «le terroir», and I found in cheese (along with wine and perhaps bread) one of its purest expressions. Since then I’ve been hooked.
8.How many varieties of cheese are in your shop and tell us about one of your speciality cheeses.
We have a selection of about 150 different cheeses over the course of a year, many of which are seasonal, so there will usually be around 120 cheeses to choose from when you come visit the shop. In addition to French cheeses, which form naturally the basis of any respectable Parisian fromagerie, we take great pride in our selection of European cheeses, Italian and Swiss cheeses leading the way. On of my favorites is the authentic «Gorgonzola Piccante», a wonderfully expressive blue cheese from Italy, which brings together elegance of texture with a powerful finish, best eaten with raisins or fresh pears.
9. My favorite quote about cheese in French comes from Brillat-Savarin: «Un dessert sans fromage est une belle à qui il manque un oeil» What’s yours and why?
Mine would have to be the famous De Gaulle quote: «It’s impossible to govern a country that produces over 365 different cheeses», a true (if unintentional) celebration of France’s diversity!
Julien Bach is the head cheesemonger at «Au Petit Fromager» in Paris. He spends his time between Paris, the Swiss mountains, and the Rhine valley, making, ageing, and eating cheese.