Dec 31, 2013

Sloppy Seconds: Briquette Thym


Recently, I am reading through the Dorie Greenspan cookbook, Around My French Table, and I come across a nugget on French cheese platters in which she mentions that good etiquette dictates you should never go back for a second slice of a cheese from the platter. You have one chance as it goes around to get what you want, never to be seen again.

I am stunned. For years, I have been delving into the cheese -- repeatedly and enthusiastically (and, frankly, loudly. I'm not exactly a shrinking violet).
Am I really that classless and gauche, or is Dorie Greenspan crazy or outdated?

So I confirm this with my friend and her mother, who are the daughter and granddaughter of a French Count (but they are not, themselves Countesses, as the title is hereditary only through the male line). And while they are too kind to confirm that I am classless and gauche, they do confirm that Dorie Greenspan is correct.

Do I trust them? Well, yes, given that they are the daughter and granddaughter of a Count, and I am the daughter of a guy who sprinkles artificial sweetener on his Chinese take-out food, and the granddaughter of somebody who spent the childhood years he would have been studying the finer points of etiquette instead doing things like burying dead bodies at the command of Russian revolutionaries.

But even the daughter and granddaughter of a Count agree that you may, indeed, take seconds in casual settings. It's only for the more formal, multi-course dinners that you should not. But then, as if purposely done to blow my mind completely, they tell me something that Dorie never mentions: At a formal gathering, you also do not try all the cheeses. Good French manners dictate that you take a maximum of one cheese shy of the full platter. That means on this lovely cheese board shown below, you could politely take servings of only eight of the nine cheeses. But which one will you sacrifice? It's like Sophie's Choice, but with cheese.

The purpose of both of these rules, by the way, is two-fold: one, it presumes there will be a sweet dessert course after the cheese course, so it allows you to leave a little room. And two, it sends the message to your hostess that she provided you with a generous and plentiful meal, and that you enjoyed the food she prepared for you (not just the cheeses she bought for you but had no hand in making).


Briquette Thym which means, simply "Thyme Brick", is pretty much what the name suggests: a brick of thyme-y cheese. It's made of raw goat milk in the Perigord region, one of our family's favorite places in all of France. It's a young cheese and the creaminess factor is outrageous. Creamy is not a creamy-enough word to describe it.

It is very strongly infused with thyme, as you can see under the thin skin. The children find this cheese too herby. That's actually the aspect I like the most about it. It's so full of flavor and herbs, it's as if it's already a full-concocted sauce. In fact, as I'm eating it (crassly taking seconds, thirds, fourths), I keep thinking that it would make a fabulous cheese sauce on macaroni -- without doing anything but melting it.


Why use this cheese to talk about the etiquette of not taking seconds, and on the last day of the year no less? Because of the awful pun on "thyme" which is, frankly, a pun that only works in English. But, the pun on "seconds" works in English and French, in both cases referring both to an extra helping and also the unit of time (not thyme). And did you notice that I put seconds of each photo, too? If this cheese goes around on the cheese board, and you're only going to get one shot at it, take a nice-sized chunk. You'll want it.


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