The forms of the quote vary, but de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces during the Second World War and occasional president of France, is alleged to have asked, “How can you govern a country with 200 cheeses?” One of my goals for this stay in France is to become knowledgeable about cheese. I definitely haven’t reached the point of being willing to eat cheese for dessert, but I’m motivated to become more familiar with the various cheeses, and to eat a lot of them. To that end, I’ve been picking up a new cheese every couple of days, and I purchased a copy of Guide de l’amateur de fromage, or “Cheese-lover’s guide.” (You would be amazed at how many books on cheese there are in a good French bookstore. I went to Gibert Joseph. I picked this one because it was ranked #2 among all cheese books on Amazon’s French web site. Strangely, I was unable to figure out which one was rated #1.)
Like everything else about France and the French language (or any other language, for that matter), Zipf’s Law comes into play, and I am constantly picking up new words. Some of these are very general, but even reading about a specific cheese, I’m constantly looking words up. More on that in some other post. Here are some general words for talking about cheese:
déguster: to taste, to savor.
disque: disc. The shape of many cheeses.
épais/épaisse: thick. Some cheeses are épais, some aren’t.
diamètre: diameter, as you might have guessed. But, if you don’t ask, you don’t know–sooooo many French words don’t mean what they look like in English (and vice versa).
fruité: fruity. I haven’t figured out what constitutes fruitiness in the context of cheese.
texture: texture, but also “weave,” and “structure.”
moelleux/moelleuse: soft, creamy, gooey.
forme: shape, form.
matière: matter, stuff, substance. Also urine, feces. Not in the context of cheese, I hope. Shows up in the context of matières grasses, which I believe means “fat content.”
I’ve got pages more of cheese-related words in my notebook, but this will do for now–there’s only so many words that you can absorb at once! There’s only so many words that I can absorb at once, at any rate.
When you read my reports of conversations in this blog, you should be aware that other people’s sides are as I report them, but my side of the conversation sounds more like a French version of the “I Can Haz Cheezburger?” cat. Indeed, in this country, dogs do understand French better than I do. French children are famously well-behaved, and French dogs are similar. Although most dogs are leashed, it’s not unusual to see a dog off-leash, walking obediently behind his owner down the sidewalk, and even crossing busy streets in the crosswalk. Dogs are typically allowed in cafes, where they typically lie quietly under the table. I have no clue how French dog-owners manage this. It’s certainly not like all French dogs are well-mannered–I saw a little guy jumping up on people the other day as his owner stood talking with a group of friends in the middle of the sidewalk, oblivious. But, for the most part, it’s amazing how well-behaved these dogs are.