Here at Formaggio Kitchen – despite our obvious allegiance to the Italian word “formaggio” – our dedication to French cheeses and other produits du terroir is the foundation for our entire selection. So, visiting France and meeting the folks who make the dozens of different products we regularly import is a special experience – kind of like when you visit a college friend at home and meet their parents, see their neighborhood.
Every two years, France hosts a huge fair in Paris, Salon de l’Agriculture, to celebrate the people and products that make up the country’s agricultural scene. Imagine eight convention centers, each with a different theme — one hall full of wine, another full of olive oil, and even one full of animals. It’s a giant country fair, complete with medals and honors – Paris-style.
We attended earlier this year specifically for the cheese show, Salon du Fromage. This particular salon is open only to industry professionals and is an opportunity for cheesemakers, affineurs and distributors to display their products and chat with clients. Cheese industry folks from all over the world crowd the hall to see what’s new and catch up with associates. We bounce from appointment to appointment: discussing packaging options for a new large-format Epoisses, for instance, then meeting with a cheesemaker from the Pyrénées to taste sheep cheese and learn about the new co-operative dairy they are building to support area shepherds.
Admittedly, it is rare that we see brand new cheeses from our French producers and suppliers. The country has been producing a huge variety of cheeses for centuries so innovation is not the focus as much as preserving tradition.
Yet we know that our work to find the best cheeses in the world is never done, even when it comes to the classics. And this year’s Salon du Fromage certainly validated that mantra — we returned to Boston most excited about Tomme de Savoie, arguably one of the most un-unusual cheeses we sell!
At the Salon, we met a new affineur from Savoie, Joseph Paccard, who ages and sells farmhouse versions of Tomme de Savoie, Tome des Bauges and a luscious, peppery Abondance. Our first shipment of his wonderful, small-production cheeses recently arrived at our shop, and are now available through our online store.
Of course a bonus highlight of any trip to Europe is, for us American mongers, the opportunity to taste the soft raw milk cheeses that are impossible to import to the United States. This cheesemonger in particular was not ashamed to stuff in as much Brie de Melun as possible!
But our trip was also a reassurance that French cheese, even the pasteurized or older, classic varieties, do continue to delight us. Whether we find entirely new cheeses, forge new relationships, or simply enjoy a new perspective on an old favorite, our visits are always full of good food and good fun.