Jun 2, 2017

Wine Not?: Tomme Alsace Affinée aux Fleurs


When you are invited to a French person's house for a dinner party, you should not show up empty handed. I'm here to tell you that there is a reason there are so many gorgeous florists all around France, in cities, in the country, and at markets. It's because flowers are the hostess gift of choice. If you're American, you may want to show up with a bottle of wine in hand: Don't.

The flowers at just random little Paris florists are often breathtaking.


Exhibit B:


But I could go on all day with pretty florist photos. Back to the wine: Wine not? There's actually a very logical reason, and that is that the host will feel obliged to serve your wine, but since you don't know exactly what they will be serving and how it will be prepared, you can't possibly have chosen a wine perfectly matched to the meal. There's a hidden insult -- that either you don't expect your host's wine choices to be delicious enough, or you're afraid there won't be enough served. Similarly, chocolates, desserts, and food of any kind can be perceived this way by the French.


And, by the way, don't arrive exactly on time, either. Stated times seem to be more of a suggestion. I'm too American for this approach (dinner often ends up starting at 10pm and you can imagine how long it goes....), so I like to give people an embarrassingly firm time that the meal will actually begin and encourage them to show up any time before then. Then again, we can get away with all sorts of things just by playing our "American" card (and the French all know, and mock, that Americans like their dinners early. French kids are still having snacks at 6pm when we're sometimes starting a family dinner).

To be honest, since my husband and I are both American, you can feel free to show up to dinner at our house with any wine you'd like. Or flowers. Or chocolates, desserts, a good book, fragrant soaps, warm fuzzy socks, a box of paper clips, or absolutely empty handed. It's all good. As long as you're in time for the meal.

And full disclosure: I have been known to show up to a party with cheeses (!) which would have to be a huge no-no under regular circumstances but a) I ask beforehand and b) my friends know about this project and are happy to be my cheese guinea pigs.

THE CHEESE: Tomme Alsace Affinée aux Fleurs

The name of this cheese pretty much says it all: a tomme from Alsace, aged with flowers. The cheese itself is a raw cows' milk mountain cheese, made in the Vosgien Massif, the mountains of Alsace. During the aging process, the cheese is covered with dried flowers and herbs from the mountain fields, the very seem fields the cattle are grazing on and which permeate the milk. So, you've got flowers on the inside, indirectly, and flowers on the outside in a very obvious coating.

Interestingly, even with the great profusion of flowers, it's not a drastically different-tasting cheese. What you predominently get is the cheese, followed by hints of flowers. The crusty bites are rather more floral, of course, and it would be a shame to cut the crust off and not eat it. The Tomme Alsace is crumbly-creamy, with a very light floral bouquet (pardon the pun) and a mellow balance of salt and sweet cream.


A cheese aged with flower petals, on a platter decorated with flowers is a fine cheese to bring to a blog posting about appropriate hostess gifts in France. However, the only part of this Tomme Alsace Affinée aux Fleurs that would make a good hostess gift is the flowers. Or maybe the platter. But certainly not the cheese. Or the wine that would go with it. This would be an insult to your French host. On the other hand, if I ever host you, a wedge of cheese is always much appreciated by this particular American.


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