Nov 26, 2014

Skin of My Teeth: La Dent du Chat


We're not in England, but we're just across the Channel. Like the land mass itself, French dental hygiene is a lot closer to Britain than to America. While the stereotype of rotted out, brown, crooked teeth is largely (but, frankly, not completely) outdated, there's still a noticeable difference between dental care and the resulting smiles. One of my American friends recently visited a French dentist and asked whether he should be flossing more: The dentist rolled his eyes and snorted, dismissively, "Floss! Pfft."

Perhaps that is because French floss costs about the same as a small kitchen appliance, and shreds irritatingly, unless you buy the American-style imported Glide ribbon, for the cost of a small tropical holiday. We bring back scads of floss whenever we visit North America.

This total lack of interest in dental hygiene (combined with a preternatural interest in chocolate) especially shows among the children. In the Bay Area, we start sending our kids to the pediatric dentist around 3 years old, and then go every six months. In contrast, most French families I know start sending their children to visit the dentist after the first baby teeth drop, and the adult teeth appear, at around age 6 or 7. Appropriately enough for a cheese-themed blog, baby teeth are called, in French, "dents de lait", literally "milk teeth".

I can't bring myself to take picture of kids' horrible teeth, because it seems too mean. Here's a French friend with a fabulous smile, that she flashes often, but I consider it largely luck. When the girls do sleepovers, they notice their French friends generally only brush once, at night, quickly with a manual brush, whereas they brush morning and night, usually with an electronic brush.

I try to Google, in French, the recommended ages for starting to visit a dentist and am surprised to see recommendations of 2 years old, 3 years old, 4 years old. Then I realize that all of the options that come up in French on the first page of Google are from French-speaking Canada. The French people aren't even asking this question online enough to make their sites pop up first. Those North Americans and their pristine white teeth, perfectly aligned spacing, carefully calibrated bites, and fluoride-protected enamel. What will they think of next?

When the French children here do go to a dentist (and it's very hard to find pediatric specialists), there is less in the way of fluoride treatments; this, despite the fact that the water is not fluoridated at all. Appointments tend to be quick, because the dentist mostly just checks for cavities. If you want a thorough cleaning, or fluoride treatment, you generally need to make a special request, which will be met with, "Why? Is there something wrong?" Preventative dentistry is, literally, a foreign concept.

This is partly because the national health system, and the insurances that people have through employment to cover whatever taxes don't cover, almost never cover dental expenses. Our private insurance does, and frankly we're just too American not to go every six months for as thorough a cleaning and check as possible. So, we've found an American dentist here in Paris that we visit -- American born and raised, trained and certified, who then came to France and got certified to practice here as well. I can't honestly say I think the care we get here is as extensive and detailed as what we get in the US, but it's light years above what most of the French are getting.

And while it's probably hard to find many middle schoolers in North America who can eat corn straight off the cob, here in France there are relatively few kids with braces. Perhaps that's why people can identify my continent of origin by my teeth alone. Now pardon me, I have to go, because I've got the crazy urge to brush with my electric brush, floss, and put on my retainer.

THE CHEESE: La Dent du Chat

La Dent du Chat, which literally means "The Cat's Tooth", comes from the department of Haute-Savoie in the Rhône-Alpes region and is, in fact, closely related in nearly every respect to a Tomme de Savoie. This cheese, however, is made not from raw or pasteurized milk, but rather from milk that is "thermisé" which is a word that I like to translate as "thermised", even though I have no proof that this is a real word in the English language. It means the milk is heated significantly, but not to the point of pasteurization, and therefore some of the bacteria is killed, but not all of it.

The cheese, made by the Coopérative Laitière de Yenne Porte de Savoie (Dairy Cooperative of Yenne Porte de Savoie), is not named after a cat's tooth, but rather after the mountain called "La Dent du Chat" at the base of which the dairy coop is located. The Cat's Tooth is a summit of the Cat's Mountain, on the western edge of Lake Bourget in Savoie.

The cheese is aged 10-12 months from roughly summer-season milk (April through October), making the resulting cheese fragrant with herbs and flowers, and pleasantly sweet-salty in that way of mountain cows' cheeses -- not strong, but not boring, either. For a hard cheese, it's actually rather creamy and soft, once in the mouth.


This cheese is a brown and yellow Cat's Tooth, to be enjoyed by the sometimes brown and yellow French teeth, though equally enjoyable to North American movie star white teeth, which are, in my biased opinion, the cat's meow.


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