Nov 7, 2014

Au Lait? No Way: Rond de Lait


The one French coffee that everybody knows is café au lait (coffee with milk), so I find it particularly funny that here in France, nobody orders café au lait. More than that, nobody offers it, either. It's about as French as French fries or French braids.

A brief guide to ordering coffee in a café:

café = small shot of espresso
allongé (or café allongé) = "long" coffee, an espresso thinned out with hot water (pictured above)
double = double shot of espresso
déca = decaffeinated

You can sometimes order:
café américain = American coffee. If they happen to have actual American-style coffee (unlikely), that's what you'll get. If not, they'll probably give you an allongé, a big cup of weakened espresso.

And if you do want it milky? Seriously, I know all the guides tell you to order a café au lait, and we obviously got the term from the French sometime in the past, but you'll just have to believe me when I tell you that Parisians simply don't order that. The wait-staff at the café will want to clarify which of the following you really mean:

noisette = small shot of espresso with a dash of cream. Might even be foam. Despite the name, it's not hazelnut flavored ("noisette") but rather nutty colored.
café crème = small shot of espresso with lots of cream or milk to fill up a bigger cup -- the closest you can get to café au lait, if they don't offer real café américain with a lait on the side.

THE CHEESE: Rond de Lait

A Rond de Lait, or "Circle of Milk" is an aged raw cows' milk cheese hailing from the mountains, in Eastern France. It's a farmhouse cheese and not one you're likely to find very often. I find mine at a specialty produce market bringing in farmers to the Paris area with their farm-made and artisanal products.

The Rond de Lait is well named, because its main feature really is its milkiness. The flavor is mild with a sweet little aftertaste, and for a hard cheese, it's quite creamy. The size of a dinner plate, it's got a thick, rough crust the color of (you see it coming) coffee.

Both the subject and the cheese are milky. Now, the same could be said of any cheese. But this one is not just milky in ingredients, it's milky in name. So the connection is simply "lait".


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