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"No fromage for you!"

This is a true story. It may be a little "Un-PC", but no harm is meant.

My wife and I visited a little cheese shop in Paris off the Rue Cler that apparently is famous for supplying cheeses to high-up French mucky-mucks. Advertised in the doorway was the offer of “Sample 5 cheeses for 15 Euros”. Being cheesy guy that I am, I knew a good deal when I saw it!

So, I walked in and greeted the cheese monger with a hearty “Bonjour!”. Then she said something back in French. Uh-oh. Let’s see, how’d that go? “Parlez vous Anglais?” I asked. “Non,” was the reply. Then she vanished into the back and brought out this hulking man in his late 40s, broad as a barn door. Apparently, someone she keeps around to deal with schmucks like me who don’t have the decency to learn some French.

I pointed to the sign, hoping that soon I’d be feasting on the finest cheese in all of Paris. “Fromage, see-voo-play?” I asked in my best polite French. My only polite French.

This huge guy looked at the sign, then looked at me; he inhaled deeply and in the best puffed-up French-accented English informed me, “It is not time for ze cheese now.”

Silence.

He stared at me. I looked sheepishly back at this guy who is a cross between Gérard Depardieu and Hulk Hogan.

“Uh, when will it be time for the cheese?” I asked hesitantly.

He huffed and said, “In an hour it will be time for the cheese”.

They were CLOSED in an hour.

Thus the legend of The Cheese Nazi was born.

(‘tho a day later I returned and was able to negotiate the promised sample of 5 cheeses for 15 euros without The Cheese Nazi being there. And they were some damned fine cheeses, lemme tell ya! Only, there was a lot of cheese. Like, a LOT of cheese. I couldn’t eat it all! I was worried the cheese monger would be offended, so I kept on shoving du fromage in my pie-hole until I was groaning. Then I gave up, covered the remainder up with a napkin, and quickly slipped inside. ‘Tre Bien — tre bien’ I said repeatedly, intersperced with lots of Mercis, as I handed her the plate. She smiled and I beat feet before she saw how much of her wonderful cheese I left on the plate and called The Cheese Nazi on me!)

Posted by
27718 posts

good story - glad you survived, and that the fromage was tres bien...

Posted by
95 posts

Interesting story. Just wanted to find out, did you have to eat the cheese right there and then? You could not wrap it up and take it away? What kinds of cheeses were they? Could you share it with another person?

While in Paris, Rue Cler area last November, I stopped at a rather large and busy fromagerie there, and wanted to find out if they sold "cheese paper" (to wrap up cheeses ). They looked bewildered as if they had never heard of this request, and then said that if we bought cheese they could give extra pieces of cheese wrapping paper, since they only had a huge roll of the paper. Nevertheless, I did not get any cheese wrapping paper in Paris. Which was good, because I found it at my local cheese supply store, for a really cheap price. One thing less to look/shop for in Europe.

Posted by
2018 posts

Mike, your post are so much fun to read! I thoroughly enjoyed this one-maybe as much as you enjoyed the cheese! Love the Seinfeld reference........

Posted by
2318 posts

Love this!! I'll be in Paris next May and absolutely intend to eat as much fromage as humanly possible.

Posted by
3110 posts

We discovered these little packages of assorted French cheeses at a Huit a Huit store (like a 7-11 :-) near a house where we were staying one year in Albi, France. When we came back home I noticed some similar packages of exactly the same varieties at two of our uppity cheese stores for about 3x the cost. One person's everyman experience is another's gourmet dining.

Posted by
247 posts

Here's my "no cheese for you" story.

We were in Florence last May for 5 days and ate at several places around town. At one, wife requested some cheese to sprinkle on her vegetable soup. The waitress displayed a "yuck" look, said "are you sure ?" and "I wouldn't eat it that way". We did get the cheese, although the waitress made it clear that we were barbarians. Another day we stopped in a a little pasta shop. Wife ordered a pasta with some meat on it but no sauce and limited seasonings. She asked the waiter for some cheese to add. He started to comply when the owner rushed over and literally said "No, you must not put cheese on this pasta, it is too much. But if you want some cheese I will give you some AFTER you finish your pasta." Sure enough, after she finished the pasta, he came over and cut her a very big slice of cheese off a wheel. And yet a 3rd time we had a situation where she wanted some cheese on her dish and the waiter was aghast. He did comply however. This time we had an extended conversation with the waiter and the owner who came over to see what was going on. We explained how many "Italian" restaurants in the US have a container of grated cheese sitting right on the table or have the waiter come around and offer to shave cheese on anything from salad to soup to pasta. The owner stated that these must be people who know little about Italian food. I pointed out that many of these places are run by people of Italian ancestry. To which the owner replied that they "have forgotten what real Italian food is". He went on the explain Italian sensibility for certain kinds of flavors that do or don't taste good together. I guess I have very unrefined tastes because don't remember the detail, except to say that apparently cheese only goes with a limited number of other foods in Italy.

Posted by
6627 posts

bobbing4 data, as it was explained to me, adding cheese (a major ingredient, not a seasoning ) to an already prepared dish, is considered an insult to the chef. That is, you've decided that the dish was not prepared properly and needs to be changed to be edible. Not what we are used to in the states, but an example of how "the customer is always right" is not a universal principle.

Posted by
4682 posts

The etiquette to follow apparently with food in Italy is that if cheese or whatever isn't offered as a potential extra ingredient, don't ask for it.

Posted by
3304 posts

I have been told that Italians do not add cheese to fish or seafood dishes. Not being a cheese lover, I couldn't care less. However, I have seen cheese offered as an addition to seafood pastas at fairly upscale Italian restaurants here in the U.S.

Posted by
249 posts

We also had a "no cheese for you" experience (sort of) in France. We were on Île Saint-Louis in the middle of the Seine. We had read a National Geographic Traveler article about this great cheese shop there. We were traveling with our daughters. On entering the store, there were so many choices. My then 9 year old daughter asked the cheese lady, "do you have smoked Gouda?"...admittedly not the right question in France, but it was my daughter's favorite. AGHAST, the cheese lady turned to me and said, "Our cheeses are ALIVE! We don't smoke anything!" It all turned out well. We asked her to choose three different types of cheese, bought some olives, salami, and cheese elsewhere and had a memorable picnic on the banks of the Seine.
Kaye

Posted by
138 posts

I like the part of the Rick Steves philosophy which suggests that (if I am interpreting it correctly?) when in France, we do things as the French do (as much as we can), and the same in other countries. If offered a dish in Italy, the experience is more Italian if you don't ask for things to be added to that dish which would normally not be eaten with that dish. I don't do this because I feel that I should, or because it is PC, but because the meal feels more authentic, which is what I enjoy. Vive la différence!

Posted by
1 posts

NO APOLOGIES
I was in Milan looking for some good spaghetti. The only restaurant I could find had sauce basically without spices - so bland.
The next time I ate there I asked for more spices in the spaghetti so was presented with pasta and spices and no sauce. I suspected the Chef was mad at me. I ate it the best I could and never went back. The waiter was overly flirtatious so I just
enjoyed the "entertainment". In Murano I had a plate of spaghetti that was not only delicious but enough for an army.

Posted by
39 posts

Each time I've visited Paris, I experience a cultural quirk that I don't quite understand until I return home and read an explanation in one of the many books written by ex-pat Americans that I love. One memorable example occurred at a wonderful restaurant where I was having dinner with three friends. Our waiter was a gregarious Gerard Depardieu look-alike (they are all over Paris). After bringing a basket of bread with butter when we were first seated, subsequent bread arrived without butter. Although we politely requested more butter numerous times, our waiter politely said he would bring it - but wouldn't. He checked on us often and provided otherwise impeccable service, but he just would not bring more butter. Back home, months later, I read an explanation - "Although you may butter your bread at breakfast, and possibly at lunch, it is not the custom for dinner." As with many French customs, that's just the way it's done and they see no need for justification. With every trip abroad, I know I will be presented with some inexplicable quirky way of behaving that gives me an opportunity to 'go with the flow'. It's part of the adventure.

Posted by
39 posts

Each time I've visited Paris, I experience a cultural quirk that I don't quite understand until I return home and read an explanation in one of the many books written by ex-pat Americans that I love. One memorable example occurred at a wonderful restaurant where I was having dinner with three friends. Our waiter was a gregarious Gerard Depardieu look-alike (they are all over Paris). After bringing a basket of bread with butter when we were first seated, subsequent bread arrived without butter. Although we politely requested more butter numerous times, our waiter politely said he would bring it - but wouldn't. He checked on us often and provided otherwise impeccable service, but he just would not bring more butter. Back home, months later, I read an explanation - "Although you may butter your bread at breakfast, and possibly at lunch, it is not the custom for dinner." As with many French customs, that's just the way it's done and they see no need for justification. With every trip abroad, I know I will be presented with some inexplicable quirky way of behaving that gives me an opportunity to 'go with the flow'. It's part of the adventure.

Posted by
4682 posts

At a guess bread and butter was served first as an appetiser. The rest of the bread was served with other courses as an adjunct to mop up any sauce.

Posted by
8397 posts

Surprised you were served butter for the bread at all, much less a refill. The only time butter hits the dinner or lunch table is to accompany a first course of radishes, sometimes charcuterie, or Roquefort cheese.

Posted by
6627 posts

Like Bets said. I was told it was an accommodation to American tourists to bring bread & butter, since "why would you want to fill up on bread when your meal is coming?"