Nov 19, 2013

Cheesiest Quotes Ever: Brillat-Savarin


Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a politician, musician, teacher, and writer who lived at the time of the French revolution (whose revered book with the not-so-succinct title, Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes*, has been in continuous print since it was published in 1825 just before he died), once quipped that "a dinner which ends without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye."
And now, one way a meal might end is with this mountain of buttery cheese called, appropriately, Brillat-Savarin.

Soon after moving to Paris, I chanced upon a different quote that sparked the idea for this project: After World War II, when Charles de Gaulle was charged with helping rebuild a post-occupation France, he asked (in exasperation and only half-jokingly), "How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?"

On the other side of the Channel, in order to rally British support against the Nazi occupation of France, Winston Churchill once proclaimed, "Any country with 300 cheeses cannot die!" Both of these grand gentlemen are frequently misquoted, and the numbers are often placed at 258, 360, and, because it such a convenient figure, 365. This last may also be because Churchill supposedly said to Charles de Gaulle, upon his inauguration as President of the Republic, something about how France has "as many cheeses as there are days of the year."

All of which got me thinking: What would it be like to eat 365 different French cheeses -- because there are, in fact, even more than that by now -- and spend a year writing about cheese and France? When I say "France" I don't mean a starry-eyed writerly Paris but rather the place my American husband, school-aged daughters, and I actually live, eat, make friends whose names we can't pronounce, work in French companies, go to neighborhood schools, do sports and activities, step around the dog poop, deal with frustrating bureaucrats, puzzle over homework assignments, and -- frequently -- find ourselves at the heart of (minor) cross-cultural disasters.

So what does this mean for you? Well, by the end of this year, we will all know a lot more about French cheese, and also about life in Paris, local schools, travels in the countryside, language, culture, history, geography, and quirks and foibles. But only I will end up with higher cholesterol.

Besides the quotes by de Gaulle, Churchill, and Brillat-Savarin, I am also inspired to start my quest by some of the following words. Too true, too true:
When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.
John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

It's not really a cheese for eating -- it's more for encasing in concrete and dumping in the ocean a long way from civilisation.
Jasper Fforde, First Among Sequels
This had to be one of the unpasteurized cheeses that were banned in the UK, presumably because, to judge by the pong, they were scraped up off the floor of the cowshed.
Stephen Clarke, A Year in the Merde

Life is great. Cheese makes it better.
Avery Aames, The Long Quiche Goodbye

You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese. 
Anthony Bourdain, Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook

If I had a son to marry off, I would say to him, "Beware of the young lady who likes neither wine, nor truffles, nor cheese."

Cheese - milk's leap towards immortality.
Clifton Fadiman

If I had to give up cheese or chocolate, I'd give up chocolate in a heartbeat.
Amanda Peet

Age is not important unless you're a cheese.
Helen Hayes

A corpse is meat gone bad. Well and what's cheese? Corpse of milk.
James Joyce

Well, many's the long night I've dreamed of cheese--toasted, mostly...
Robert Louis Stevenson III, Treasure Island
If you are able to introduce a white person to a new cheese, it's like introducing them to a future spouse.
Christian Lander, Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions

I had rather live with cheese and garlic in a windmill, far. 
William Shakespeare, Henri IV, Part I

Creamy, salty-sweet, an oaky nuttiness.
Remy the rat, as he tastes cheese in the movie Ratatouille

A poet's hope: to be, like some valley cheese, local, but prized elsewhere.
W.H. Auden, XII 1958-1971 Shorts II

Cheese-eating surrender monkeys
Ken Keeler, term for the French in The Simpsons 
*Famed food critic and writer M.F.K. Fisher translated the book, whose title is as much a mouthful as the cheese, Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante; ouvrage théorique, historique et à l'ordre du jour, dédié aux Gastronomes parisiens, par un Professeur, membre de plusieurs sociétés littéraires et savantes as the much more concise "The Physiology of Taste," presumably to encourage people to read the book, instead of getting it all from the title. Or perhaps it just fit better on the book jacket. The full translation would be more like The Physiology of Taste, or Meditations of Transcendent Gastronomy; a Work of Theory and History with an Agenda, Dedicated to Parisian Gastronomy by a Professor and Member of Several Literary and Scholarly Societies. Besides being a true Renaissance man (having played first violin at the Park Theatre in New York City and been magistrate in post-revolution France), Brillat-Savarin was also a man ahead of his time and declared that sugar and white flour lead to obesity.

THE CHEESE: Brillat Savarin

This raw cow milk cheese looks like the biggest, most appealing block of butter ever. And it kind of tastes like it, too.

It is a creamy and delicious tower of fat (the C shaped white cheese below: C stands for cholesterol), and is much loved by everyone -- young and old -- who approaches the cheese plate. Yes, we eat the moldy crust, too. It just barely remains a solid at room temperature and oozes in the warmth of the mouth. It's a young cheese, aged only a week or two, and made with triple-cream. Triple the cream, triple the yum.

The cheese is young in another sense, too, having only  been created in 1930 by Henri Androuët, the grandfather of Pierre Androuët who is arguably the most famous cheesemonger in Paris. The cheese is made principally in Normandy, though it can be made anywhere.

Well, it's pretty obvious. Brillat-Savarin would have loved his eponymous cheese, and it's a fine, rich, creamy way to end a meal.


  1. You forgot "Ripeness is all." A milk-curdling proposition. Brava! Keep it up. Only 364 posts to go. --The Upper Crusteon

  2. I am very excited about this blog. Not sure if you knew this about me, but I am a cheese whore! I'd love to see some cheese fondue recipes :) xoxo Donna


Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Customized by Mihai