Quotes

Mar 14, 2015

Good to (Almost) the Last Drop: Timanoix

THE STORY:

My friend brings in a box of chocolates to his law office to celebrate the birth of his son. It's a smallish box of exquisite chocolates, classy and minimalist. Despite the fact that there aren't many to start with, after a few days, he comes back home with some of the chocolates left, uneaten. I am amazed, unable to fathom that a whole group of people can't finish off the box, but he reminds me, "Oh, they probably all wanted more chocolates. But it's that French thing, where they wouldn't take the last ones, because it would look too greedy."


When I returned to Nagasaki, Japan, at the age of 18, to spend a second summer with my exchange student host family, they knew exactly what all my favorite foods were. My host mother and grandmother fed so many of them to me so frequently, you would have thought they were fattening me for slaughter. Knowing the effort they were putting into cooking for me, I ate. And ate. I finished off each plate and bowl politely, licking my lips and declaring myself stuffed; and they would pile on more.

It was the only time in my life I was downright chubby (and I am thrilled to note that I don't have any of those photos in my digital files or in any form with me here in Paris so I honestly cannot show you). After weeks of this, finally, I had no choice but to admit defeat. Using my best, politest Japanese, I told them, "I love your cooking! I'm so grateful! But please, I have to stop eating so much! My stomach actually hurts. All the time."

They smiled, "But you keep emptying your plate!"

"That's because I want to be polite."

"Ah, but in Japan, it's not polite for us, as hosts, to leave you with an empty plate. It means we haven't fed you enough. If you want us to stop, just leave a couple bites uneaten."

Now that that was cleared up, I could be polite and they could be polite, and I could also stop overeating. I lost my new-found chub almost immediately and felt so much better.

I tell you this because, finally, years after arriving in France, I have come to understand that the French operate under a similar etiquette principle. And that all my "good to the last drop" American clean-plate club behavior has only served as a subconscious signal to my hosts that "I needed to lick the plate I was so hungry, because you haven't fed me enough."

THE CHEESE: Timanoix

Timanoix is a pasteurized cows' milk cheese from Bretagne, rubbed with walnut liqueur. Basically, it's the poor man's version of Trappe d'Echourgnac. This "poor" version has a browner crust, instead of eggplant purple; a rubberier texture; and a milder taste. However, it still manages to impart a pronounced flavor of walnut liqueur, making it taste something like a cheese, but also something like a cake.


In fact, the cheese is made at the Abbaye de Timadeuc with a similar base cheese to their own Trapp de Timadeuc. But then, the monks at the Abbey learned a trick from the sisters at the Abbaye d'Echourgnac about rubbing the crust with walnut liqueur during the aging process. In 2003, the sisters realized they simply couldn't satisfy demand for their amazing walnutty cheese, so they shared their recipe with the monks. Together, they supply much of the walnut-infused cheese the French enjoy.

THE CONNECTION:



On this platter, which was decimated by a hungry and happy dinner party, you can see that urging them to "not be polite and just finish off whatever you want!" has had some effect. But no amount of urging will get this group to finish the one little last nubbin of almost every cheese, the largest of which happens to be the remnants of the Timanoix.

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