Jul 13, 2014

For the Bargain Hunters: Le Chèvre Crémier


For all you Goodwill-shoppers out there, you soul sisters of mine who hate shopping unless you get to make it a challenge that involves rummaging through bargain bins in order to discover unexpected treasure, you will be sadly disappointed by Paris' used clothing stores. The "fripperies" are filled with highly overpriced, polyester 1980s clothing for hipsters. But the Parisian garage sales ... aaaah ... now we're talking.

The closest thing to an actual Goodwill store (that's an Oxfam store for you British folks) is an Emmaus, which functions very much in the same way. But they're not as big, not as common, and just not as good. My own theory is that since French people have smaller closets and, therefore, can't buy tons of unusable stuff in the first place, they don't cull through their clothes and give away barely (or never) used clothes in perfect condition. The stuff they give here tends to used. Very used.

What makes the garage sales really work is that they are organized in different neighborhoods -- usually by arrondissement -- in a very official manner. You can't simply hold a garage sale on your own, on the sidewalk. You have to buy (cheaply) your little spot in the market, which generally covers entire blocks and closes down the streets to traffic. You'll find expensive antiques at some stalls, and sometimes whole markets are devoted to this (called "brocantes"). But at a garage sale, called in French a "vide grenier" -- which literally means "empty the attic" -- people haul out the good stuff. Maybe they just like to get something for the slightly-older treasures they need to clear out in order to make room for their slightly-newer treasures.

Under the best circumstances, some petite lady is getting rid of stuff for 50 centimes to 1 euro. Under the worst circumstances, somebody wants 15€ to part with a shirt that probably only cost them 18 euro on sale in the first place. So you need a discerning eye, but there are, indeed, many treasures to be had. And because the people actually have to haul their stuff to the site, and rent the space, they tend not to bring their broken alarm clocks And it's so much more convenient than garage sale shopping, because it's like having 100 of them all in one spot.

Here are some of my recent purchases, now washed and hung up in my closet. Most of them cost 1euro. One thing in there cost 20 centimes. The most expensive thing is probably 4 or 5 euros.

And here is the most expensive piece of clothing I  buy at a Parisian vide grenier. Anthony is surprised when I tell him I spent 15€ on it, but then again, I know that it's a Zadig & Voltaire, cashmere sweater, that's in perfect condition and fits me like a second skin. It happens to be from a sale in my own arrondissement, and by coincidence I know the seller -- a woman I have met from walking along the quai. And I know that to buy this new would cost several hundred euros. So a bargain, even at a whopping $20.


I use my camera as a mirror. You can tell just from the try-on process which one Gigi is excited about. But I buy them both, anyway, because the Beatles-style olive coat will be perfect for the fall.


Here's a small haul of clothes for the girls -- for less than the cost of a cup of (overpriced) tea at a Parisian café.

If you're a fan of garage sales, second-hand shopping, or even high-end antiquing, click here for what I think is the best website to find markets in all of France throughout the year (and especially in the summer). It's even easy to use for non-French speakers. And a small list you'll need to understand:

brocantes: antique market/ higher-end retro fashions/ old stuff
vide greniers: garage sale/ can be all levels of expense, fashion, household items, crafts, anything
vide dressing: specifically clothing
marché aux puces: flea market/ could be cheap new stuff and also
bourse philatélique: stamp market
bourse aux jouets: toy market
bourse de puériculture: market for childcare items
bourse aux vêtements: clothing market
livres: books
BD: comics
vieux papiers: old papers
salon d'antiquaire: antiques

THE CHEESE: Le Chèvre Crémier

Made from pasteurized goat's milk in the Périgord (la Dordogne), this inexpensive, industrial cheese is surprisingly high quality. The texture is soft and creamy, as the name suggests. It's a little on the gummy side, as opposed to oozy or spreadable, but still very pleasing. Unlike many industrial cheeses on which the crust is thick, highly mass-produced, and almost inedible, the crust here is thin, delicate, and soft, much like in a higher-end artisanal or farmhouse goat cheese.

The taste can range from more subtle (a younger, fresher disc) to an intensely goaty taste of the farm, as in the more aged example pictured above. You can tell it's on the older side both by the yellowish color and also by the very narrow slit of the white creamy center that remains. That would be much more pronounced in a younger cheese.

Rians, the company that makes this cheese also makes cheese with cow's milk and sheep's milk. They make a wide variety of cheeses, some of their invention, like Le Chèvre Crémier, and some that are more familiar AOC and AOP cheeses.


At about 2.5€, and easily found in many major grocery stores (the low-class bin of cheese shops), this cheese is a bargain.


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