Mar 16, 2016

500 - Halfway to a Jillion: La Guerchouette


It's official -- I'm halfway to a jillion cheeses. Actually, this is my 500th French cheese posting (502nd posting, but I'm not counting the butter or the Belgian cheese), a landmark that gets me my 15 minutes of glory. On the eve of the big 500, I'm interviewed by Rémi Sulmont, a very well-respected journalist on RTL, a national French radio station for a morning show about my cheese project (click here to listen and read -- in French).

Within half an hour, I get 1,000 new views on my blog. Within the week, I have countless suggestions of new cheeses and offers to visit farms across France: Le Béol from Haute-Savoie;  Le Manican, le Bicottin, Tome Fleur de Picardie -- from Olivier, "un amateur de fromage" (meaning a lover of cheese, not a non-professional cheese-eater, though he probably is); Chevillon, Rocroi, Delice de Mussy, and a handful of others from several RTL listeners in Champagne; a Mont d'Or-like cheese called l'Edel de Cleron (which I'm supposed to "teast"); Rapille and Rapilles Abondance (both organic and farmhouse);  Le Petit Agnelet from La Clusaz in the Alpes -- never even heard of the town let alone the cheese; Bergues (specialty of Dunkerques); and so many more.

I'm being deluged with enthusiastic, informative descriptions of cheese by passionate cheese-lovers, cheese-makers, and cheese-sellers from all over the country. I've been invited to a professionals-only cheese conference, and contacted by a new cheese-delivery business (you better believe I will be trying some of her delivered cheeses! Cheese right to my door. What could be better?). The people write me about cheeses they make, sell, and enjoy. They write in French, or in adorable English obviously written by a Francophone, and I reply to them in adorable French obviously written by an Anglophone. They seem tickled, one and all, that I've undertaken this project on behalf of their patrimoine. One of them signs off, "Yours, cheesily." I love it all and can't wait to meet the people and taste the cheeses. Or "teast" them, as it were.

The most nerve-wracking thing about the radio interview for me is knowing that I'm speaking French on the radio. In France. I don't think it's my best accent or grammar. I remember my parting words to Rémi, who would be mining our interview for sound-bites, as "I just hope I don't sound like an idiot."

photo from http://www.rtl.fr

But I feel like my first media appearance in French breaks the ice, and the next time I appear on air, it will be that much better. And I'll have that opportunity in a couple weeks, when I get interviewed and filmed for a French TV show. The real focus of the story is my favorite fromager here in Paris, Laurent Dubois, and I get to go in, to talk about him, his fromagerie, cheese, and my cheese project, and then taste and buy some cheese. Not a bad day's work.

Another perk of the blog is this recent conference, called "CheeseDay" that I attend here in Paris, where I met the budding vegan cheesemaker whom I reference in the radio spot. I spend my afternoon researching and eating cheeses in a lovely, historic building next to the Petit Palais. This is France, so even though I'm working, I'm still enjoying the free wine they're serving. Also, there is particularly delicious fresh-baked bread. Really, I can't complain.

 This is how I spend my afternoon. Am I working hard, or hardly working? Spolier alert: the latter.

Honestly, this could all only get better if I were getting paid for it. And, thankfully, I will get paid to write some articles about cheese. So 500+ cheeses and about a zillion calories are not for nothing.
Now, I need to finish up my proposal to turn it into a book and see if I can find an agent/publisher (hint, hint). I've already got a French translator lined up, and interestingly, I think it would sell as well in France as it would in the US. It turns out that the French find my cheese project fascinating, mostly because at this point I have probably tasted a greater variety of French cheeses than almost any person alive. Certainly, I've been more systematic about it, cataloguing my 500 (and counting) along the way. For my radio interview, I also speak with Sébastien Demorand, a Masterchef France judge and one of the country's most expert foodies. Obviously the man can out-cook and out-food me, but I feel like I can hold my own on the cheese-front!

photo from http://www.rtl.fr

And now, halfway to a thousand, I thought it would also be the perfect opportunity to look at "mille" -- "a thousand". Given many of words that deal with thousands, like millennium, millipede, and millimeter, it seems logical enough, though at first, it can be a little confusing because it also sounds like our word for "million". But then to confuse matters more, the French word for billionaire is "milliard", which still sounds like our word for "million". So in French, as you move one place over it's mille, million, milliard, which is just too similar for my taste.

When counting with big numbers in French, I often think of the scene in Austin Powers where Dr. Evil, who's been cryogenically frozen for decades and awakened in modern times, asks for a ransom of "1 million dollars" and everybody laughs because 1 million just isn't that much any more. So he rephrases: "1 billion dollars" and everybody gasps. That one zero makes a big difference. I once read an article that valued the Mona Lisa at 2 "milliard" and at first I think, $2 million dollars? That's a bargain! I should buy it! Until I realize it's 2 billion dollars. I guess I'll let it stay in the Louvre.

I'm halfway to mille fromages (does that make this a big millestone?), but I still have a way to go before I hit the million or milliard mark. Now that would be a lot of cheese.

THE CHEESE: La Guerchouette

La Guerchouette is an organic, cow and sheep cheese made at La Caprarius fromagerie, based in Bain-de-Bretagne ("Bath-of-Brittany"). The cow's milk is described by the cheesemaker as "coming from Philippe's place, the Guerchette farm in Bain, with a truly particular color." I'm not sure where the sheep milk comes from, but, in my expert opinion, I'd say it comes from some ewes.

In this case, the milk is not pasteurized but it is drained for 75 minutes, and the grains are then heated at 35°C. Once the "paste" is molded, it's turned 4-5 times during the first day before being brined. After that, La Guerchouette is an aged tomme, turned by hand one to two times per week for 10-12 weeks of affinage.

The aging (and brining) shows not just in the rocky and rough crust, but also the multi-colored brown molds, and especially in the strong aroma and flavor. It's difficult to tease out exactly the cow and sheep milks, but the combined effect is gamy. I have just looked up gamy to make sure I'm spelling it correctly, and Mirriam-Webster defines it as "having the flavor of meat from wild animals especially when it is slightly spoiled." That pretty much sums up the flavor of La Guerchouette in a nutshell. Oh, and it has some hints of nutshell, in there, too. And herbs. But mostly gaminess. In a good way.

It's a strong cheese, with a crumbly-creamy texture in the mouth. Even the kids are able to eat it, so it's not as strong as, say, a really powerful Laguiole, but it's heading in the same direction down that cow (and sheep) path.


The radio journalist asked me, what will your 500th cheese be? Did I have something special set aside? No, if there's one thing I've learned after 500 cheese postings and connections, it's that it's not possible to plan too carefully. Suddenly, there I am with an unforeseen story, and I need to find a connection to a cheese I've got in my files. Or, I'm faced with a great cheese that inspires a story. Or a cheese languishes in my files for ages because I have no story to go with it. With all the possible permutations, I pretty much just use what I've got.

While I'm in the radio station, I take pictures of the microphone, the earphones, the equipment in general just thinking, "Maybe I'll find a round cheese. A long cheese. A red cheese, or a black cheese." In the end, my cheese is neither black, nor red, nor long, nor microphone-shaped. It is yellow and wedge-shaped. This is not helpful at all.


But La Guerchouette is a 50% cow, 50% sheep cheese, which makes it kind of nice for a story about hitting the 50% (towards a thousand) mark. To be fair, out of the 500 French cheeses (plus one Belgian, and one butter) that I've posted so far, probably about 50% are actually goat cheeses, 30% cow, and 20% sheep, which is about the ratio I see in the country in general. Also, I gravitate towards goat cheeses, not just because I love them but because there are so many different varieties, most with unusual shapes and creative names. The cow and sheep cheeses are not always so clever ("tomme de" this and "tomme de" that), and they often just look like doorstops.

But there are two other reasons I choose La Guerchouette for this story. One is that I get La Guerchouette at the recent Cheeseday conference when I am talking with a distributor about his cheeses. I ask about this one in particular, but I think I've already asked so many questions about everything else on the table that rather than give me a sample, he just throws the entire cheese wedge at me (kindly). So not only am I eating cheese and bread and drinking wine all afternoon for free, I actually come home with a free wedge of rather yummy cheese for the family. All in all, a good day.

And, finally, the word "chouette" found inside the cheese name means, literally "baby owl", but is used as slang to mean "swell" or "nifty" or "cool". It even has that slightly old-fashioned feel to it, though it is still used by children and adults alike (more by adults -- nifty!). I think my sudden surge into 15 minutes of French cheese fame is nifty, indeed. It's all been very satisfying (and often quite filling, too).


  1. Congratulations! I just love your blog and am excited when I see your update in my inbox. You are living the dream! Well the dream of us cheese lovers anyway. Thanks for sharing the 500

    1. I'm glad you enjoy it and thanks for reading! That makes me very happy.

  2. Congratulations! You totally deserve the publicity...and a book deal!


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