Jul 7, 2014

Not Terrible: Grataron d'Arêches


In English, when you say something's "not bad", you mean that it's not great, but it's not awful. It's acceptable, so it's not bad. Unless you say it with a wolf whistle, then "not bad" means "hot stuff" indeed.

When the French say "pas mal", it is virtually always with this second meaning. The pas mal-ier it is, the better it is. Whether it's your teacher, your boyfriend, or the casting director at your audition, when you get a "pas mal" you should feel like you're sitting pretty. Here Gigi and some friends give a thumbs up for finishing their last day of school. That's pas mal, indeed.

Therefore, you'll understand my confusion and pain when I tell you that "pas terrible", which means "not terrible" is terrible, indeed. When something is pas terrible it's pretty awful. When it's simply terrible it's even worse still. Getting in a car accident and being hospital-bound for weeks is terrible. Being stuck in a two hour line at the immigration office and realizing you forgot a critical document is pas terrible.

To confuse matters further, terrible is worse than pas terrible, except when it's not. In France, terrible can mean tragic, horrible, monstrous, atrocious, and even apocalyptic (I know, I looked up the synonyms) but also, more slangily (and sure, I know that's not a word), fantastic, extraordinary, and incredible.

THE CHEESE: Grataron d'Arêches

Grataron d'Arêches, often just referred to as Grataron (and occasionally spelled Graitairon) is a semi-hard raw goat's milk cheese made in the style of a cow's milk tomme. This makes sense, given the region it hails from is the Doron de Beaufort valley in Savoie -- as in Beaufort cheese. The cheese is pressed to get rid of the liquid and then aged a good month to 6 weeks in dry cellars, with brine washes during the aging process that help develop the substantial crust.

It has a nice flavor of goat and salt, with a hint of fruitiness, but not the same level of nutty sweetness you'd get from a great mountain cow's cheese. It's also not as crumbly and Parmesan-like as some other hard goat and sheep cheeses like Ossau Iraty or Vieille Tomme de Chèvre. The texture is firm but still moist enough to melt in the mouth. I enjoy the sliver I sample, but am not overwhelmed enough to buy an entire quarter of a wheel at 32.5€/kg when there are so many other cheeses to taste. That cheese looks heavy.


Both the Grataron d'Arêches itself, and this connection, are not bad. There's bad, and then somewhere above that, there's this cheese, which is not bad. But it's not great, either. Which is not to say that it's pas terrible, which would be terrible, and it's not that. So it's not not terrible. But if I say it's terrible, is that the opposite of not terrible? Does that mean it's great? Because it's not great, either. It's not terribly tragic, nor is it terribly fantastic. Ugh. This could take a while.


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