When I found out I would be taking my first trip to Paris, I was excited and a bit nervous. Sure, there would be all the amazing cheese, bread, pastries, and chocolates to try, but Paris is big. REALLY big. For someone with crowd issues (which I have) this can be a terrifying experience. I talked with a few of my francophile friends and they assured me that, unlike New York or Chicago where the streets are jam-packed with people all the time, Paris feels busy, but not suffocating. This was a good thing since I enjoy exploring new places. Once I settled into my hotel, I set off with my list of fromageries from cheese connoisseur Susan Sturman, Rick Steve’s Paris 2014 guidebook & Streetwise Paris map in hand, and immediately got lost. Seriously. This was actually a good thing since my getting lost lead me to my first fromagerie, Cheese.
Located on a narrow side street called rue Desaix, Cheese has some of the most beautiful displays of cheeses, butter, olive oils, and jams I had ever seen. The fromager, Francois, spoke a bit of English and kindly described each cheese and even offered samples without my having to ask. His genuine delight when talking about cheese reminded me of the cheesemongers I was use to from home and not at all what I was expecting.This shop should be on everyone’s list of must-go fromageries in Paris. My first fromage purchases were an aged Picodon, a goat-milk cheese from the Rhône-Alpes that normally has pale rind and paste with a sweet-sour flavor when young and develops the blue rind and more intense almost lemony flavor as it ages. I also purchased an aged Rocamadour from the Midi-Pyrénées of France. These small discs were once commonly associated with Cabecou until receiving the AOC label in 1996. My aged sample had a beautiful yellow coloring and buttery flavor. Francois gave me directions to the next shop on my list and I was on my way.
Even with directions, a map, and street signs everywhere, I was still hopelessly lost. Becoming increasingly frustrated with myself more than anything else, I made a turn in the direction I hoped would be back to my hotel and found myself on the famous rue Cler. This market-alley-neighborhood is known as one of the best market streets in Paris. Locals purchase everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, specialty foods, baked goods, meats, and so much more while walking along the cobblestone pedestrian-only street. Of course there is also cheese to be found.
La Fromagerie is a popular place with a line out the door and fromagers bustling around the corner. The cheese is gorgeous and there is so much to look at, a person could get lost.
Tired and hungry I turned another corner and happened onto Marie Anne Cantin. A shop on my list.
Unfortunately, it was getting late and they were preparing to close. I did manage to get inside and take a few photos (see gallery above.) The couple manning the shop were sweet and gracious, yet spoke almost no English. The shop itself was small, yet beautiful, with dark wood and filled with spectacular cheeses including aged Gouda, Comte and goat cheeses of all shapes and sizes. I purchased a couple small items before they closed up shop for the night and grabbed a brochure for their tastings hoping I would be able to return the next day.
My stomach still empty, I decided to treat and dined at Le Petit Cler where they serve selections from Marie-Anne Cantin. It seemed only appropriate for my first meal in Paris.
The Special Cler included ham (prosciutto), saucisson (cured salumi), homemade country terrine, a triple creme brie and tomme cheese from Marie-Anne Cantin’s shop. Paired with a glass of 2011 Roqufort AOC Bordeaux, it was a pretty good way to say Bonjour to Paris.
Day two in Paris was to be the big day for exploration and also the day I visit the one shop I had heard wonderful things about over and over again; Laurent Dubois. After walking the cobblestone streets for hours, I finally arrived at the shop.
It may not look like much from the exterior, inside were some of the most beautiful cheeses I have ever seen.
Fromagers Melanie and Harold immediately came over and asked if I needed assistance. Harold spoke little English however was fluent in the language of fromage and offered suggestions and tastings along with backgrounds on each cheese we selected. Melanie, a new trainee spoke beautiful English, translated between Harold and myself while receiving a valuable education in the process. The shop was busy with customers, however Melanie and Harold did not try to hurry me along or appear irritated with my endless questions about each cheese. They were, quite frankly, the most agreeable, pleasant, and enjoyable fromagers in I had yet to encounter in Paris. I understand why this shop has earned such high praise and would recommend it to anyone traveling to Paris.
I left with a beautiful wheel of the coveted Mont d’Or, a washed rind cheese made with unpasteurized milk from either French Montbeliard or Simmental cows then moulded in spruce hoops (the Mont d’Or available in the USA is pasteurized) in a bit of Soumaintrain, an unpasteurized cows milk cheese made in the Burgundy region of France, and a small bag of aged Mimolette, which a more intensely sharp and pleasing flavor than the standard Mimolette I am use to. I think Melanie and Harold were happy with our visit as well.
Off to Versailles the next day where I did manage to visit couple more cheese shops, including Au Bon Gout, owned by a very enthusiastic fromager named Ouvert.
His may not have been one of the busiest shop in the market, however he was the nicest and most exuberant. It dawned on me that I had been in France for four days without a single bite of Valencay, so I knew just what to buy from Ouvert. This unpasteurized goat milk cheese has a layer of either wood or vegetable ash, depending on the type purchased (mine had vegetable) and has a fresh lemony, grassy flavor. The folklore behind the flat-top pyramid varies, however the most common has to do with Napoleon’s anger from being reminded of the failure during the Egyptian wars. Upon seeing the pointed pyramid cheese, he sliced off the tip, leaving the now-square Valencay shape as it is.
Paris really is big and can be completely amazing, yet it can also be totally overwhelming. There are so many places to go, things to see, food to taste, museums to explore that there is just no time to fit it all in. Asking friends and family for suggestions can be helpful but it can be a slippery slope since people mean well when they share their experiences. It is when that sharing turns into more exuberant “You HAVE GOT TO go to the Louvre!” or “MAKE SURE YOU go early to the Musee d’Orsay.” Now, what was once a vacation has suddenly morphed into a bit of a guilt trip. I take full ownership of the pressure I put upon myself to visit the places suggested by my well-meaning family and friends. It is completely on me that I chose to walk everywhere instead of facing my fears of enclosed spaces and riding the metro, thus extending my travel time by hours (I stayed near the Eiffel Tower and walked over eight miles to Notre Dame…one way) while getting lost and almost mugged.
Finally, it was my decision to not have the nerve to say “I honestly have no interest in seeing The Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay or most other common tourist sites. I’m more interested in seeing the Salon du Fromage Hisada or La Vache dans les Vignes and, if there is time, a visit to The Marais District and perhaps the Pere LeChaise Cemetery to say hi to Jim Morrison before we leave.” Sadly, I did not and I wasted precious time walking to destinations I really had no interest being at and squandering what may have been my one chance to see Paris.
While it sounds as though my Paris trip was a total bust, I am happy I went, I did learn a great deal, and am very grateful and appreciate all the kindness and generosity extended to me along the way. I love to travel and have been very, very fortunate to have been extended the opportunities of fantastic adventures and experiences with The Hubby and strangers alike. Should I every be lucky enough to find my way back to the most romantic city on Earth, I know where I want to go, what I want to see, and how best to spend the time I have. Oh, and one last lesson I learned while roaming around alone in Paris, the most romantic city on Earth. Being alone in Paris stinks like Epoisse.
Until next time,