Mar 14, 2018

What's Lacking: Crémeux des Cîteaux


Though English remains our family language, we find after so many years of parler français, that there are certain French words and phrases we miss and can no longer quite express in English. Ironically, one of the words I'm annoyed I cannot express when I'm not speaking French is "dépaysement" (literally "being out of country") or that feeling of being someplace exotic and away from home. Which for me, at this point, is virtually everywhere I ever am (in Paris, I'm dépaysée, but also in San Francisco. It's either all "home" or all "exotic" to me!).

When I am in Paris, one of the things I love most is "flâner" which means "to enjoy a city by strolling about and taking in the atmosphere." It's such a simple concept, but such a complicated way to express it in English.

"Retrouvailles" is that sweet feeling you get when you see somebody you haven't met up with for a long time, so what I'm missing in English is a special word to describe this feeling of having missed, but no longer missing, somebody special. I'm very likely to feel retrouvailles as I flâne around the part of the city pictured, my home-base in Paris, and run into old friends from the neighborhood.

The French word I can't translate that comes up for me most often is "décalé" which means, kind of, "staggered" or "not aligned." It's used, for example, when talking about scheduling (we can't meet up with that family, because our vacations are décalées) or being jet-lagged or dealing with time differences, or differences in expectations. It's also used to describe a gymnastics landing when you land one foot after the other instead of both together, as pictured in the crazy beach-gym move below.

There's "faux" and "piste" and "décolletage" which translate roughly as "false", "slope" or "track", and "exposed cleavage area, including the upper chest and neck", but which are used so much more commonly in French. These are words I can throw in to my English conversation in a French accent as we have -- sort of -- imported them into English. It's worth sounding like a snob because sometimes they are just the words I want.

When describing cheeses and foods, moelleux comes in handy, in order to describe something oozy, squishy, soft, wet. But in a good way. I also can't quite find the right translation for the word "mou" when describing a person. It also kind of means "soft" or "squishy" or "limp", but in a less-good way, like when I'll say to my gymnast daughter, "the judges might have taken off from your score because your legs were sometimes moues in your routine."

For expressing a little "wow!", I like and miss and sometimes utter -- even in English -- "Ooh la la!" and "Oh la vache!" which are like the "Oh my!" and "Oh my Gosh!" of French, yet so much more expressive.

I miss "péter le plomb", "dans le gaz", "ras-le-bol", and "l'esprit de l'escalier" -- roughly (but not exactly) "to lose your sh**", "head in the clouds/out of it", "totally fed up", and "spirit of the staircase" which, in turn, means when you think of the perfect witty retort after it's too late to use it.

The most problematic word, which I've discussed before, is trying to use the word "entrée" in English to mean "plat" or main dish, when "entrée" in French is, logically, the appetizer. If we order in a non-French restaurant, our family sounds like we're trying out a bad "Who's on First" routine: "For the entrée, I mean the plat, I mean the main dish..."  

It does, of course, go both ways. There are English words and concepts that  exist in English and not in French. The difference is that when I search in vain for some specific word or phrase when speaking French, there's the possibility that it exists, but I just don't know it. Whereas when I'm speaking English and come out with a French word or phrase that fits just perfectly, but can't find the English equivalent, I'm pretty darn sure that's because it just doesn't exist in English. The one exception to these English words I miss when speaking French is the word "to miss" which, in French is said in a convoluted, more passive way: "I miss you" turns into "you are lacking from me (tu me manques)." "I miss good burritos when I'm in France" becomes "When I'm in France, good burritos are lacking from me." It's a very unsatisfying way to express that sentiment -- about as unsatisfying as Parisian burritos themselves.

THE CHEESE: Crémeux des Cîteaux

Crémeux des Cîteaux is a white-bloom, triple-cream pasteurized cows' milk cheese made in the tradition of Brillat-Savarin by "Meilleur Fromager" and "Meilleur Ouvrier" (Best Cheesemaker, Best Worker) Rodolphe Le Meunier. He starts it with milks and added creams in Burgundy, then finishes the aging process in Tours, further to the west.

Because it's pasteurized, it's exportable. And because Le Meunier ages it relatively long for a soft, creamy cheese, it develops a fuller, more complex flavor. It's buttery, salty, sweet, and mushroomy with a substantial, toothsome crust.

It's probably the texture that most ensures this will be the first cheese on the board to disappear. The ooziness is simply too alluring. No cheese-lover can resist this. If it weren't painfully obvious that this is a rich cheese, you should know that as a triple-cream, it has cream added to the milk in the cheese-making process in order to reach the 75% fat content (of the cheese solids, so excluding all the water found in the cheese) required for the triple-cream designation.


There is nothing lacking in this cheese -- not in its buttery flavor or its moelleux texture, a word that doesn't quite translate into English. Also lacking is the translation for the name: a "creamy of the Cistercians" as if "creamy" were a noun and "Cistercians" were anything that anybody understood.

In contrast to some of the French words I wish I could use outside of France but for which there is no equivalent, I actually can find this cheese outside of the country. In San Francisco, I find it at a Whole Foods, and it's exported throughout the United States to many places where foofy, fancy, expensive French cheese is sold (and even sold online). Like a Brillat-Savarin, on which this cheese is based, Crémeux des Cîteaux is almost impossible not to love. The only problem is that once you love it, and you finish your piece, you will feel the cheese lacking from you.


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