The time came in my vie francofolle (French-crazy life) when trying to distract U.S. Customs officers’ attention from my edible souvenirs began to seem less rewarding. Goat cheese (among others) began to be more commonly exported from France to sophisticated U.S. cities. No question I still was delighted to be able to savor at my own New York table, cheeses personally imported by moi — for instance Ossau Iraty, made from sheep’s milk — but maybe I wasn’t so thrilled to share that uniquely piquant semi-soft delicacy with any nose-y New Yorker who happened to sniff out on her own this Bearnais specialty at a Broadway groceries mecca. I also craved gourmet exclusivity; I must confess that my francofolie can have a curdled side.
In my defense, I couldn’t wait to share with fellow New Yorkers the new presence in my Gotham hometown of the French Cheese Board (fall, 2014 debut). So maybe my francofolie was smoothing out. Like, well, like fromage blanc aka fromage frais, a smooth fresh cheese with a texture akin to that of yogurt but a cheese that really does not travel, at least not from France, and has not to my knowledge been attempted by U.S. artisanal cheese makers. If I’m wrong, tell me, please! I can’t wait to get my spoon back into a tub of the seductively tangy (just mildly tangy) stuff. Even if it’s made (to a high standard) in the U.S.A.
No sooner had I described my nostalgia for the fromage blanc I’d consumed in Paris throughout the warmer months of 2014 than my email archives unearthed a publicity missive about a new product from a well known New Hampshire organic dairy. Since ‘fromage blanc’ would mean little to most consumers hereabouts, Stonyfield had chosen a more accessible Frenchie name: Petite Crème. Even so, advertising copy had some explaining to do about what the product is not (not yogurt, not Greek, etc.) Anyway, we can’t wait to locate and taste this news. REPORT: Petite Crème located at upscale supermarket and does not disappoint. As dessert with fresh raspberries, flavor is mild and texture, smooth. Compared to a (good, domestic) Greek yogurt with raspberries from the same pack, Petite Crème allowed the fresh raspberry experience to emerge and made a much tastier dessert. Sadly, comparison with French fromage blanc will have to wait.
A pal returned from a Paris vacation some years ago, with a carefully chosen gift for the francofolle. Indulgently, he’d selected a purely vegetal provencal soap in a pressed tin gift box — only to find out he could’ve bought the savon in Manhattan. The famed L’Occitane en Provence French fragrance and cosmetics brand just had opened its first NYC doors. My friend had wanted to give me something available only over there, not right here — to satisfy my francolfollie. (I already had the malady, but didn’t yet call it by its name.) The idea was for me to be able to enjoy a real slice of a real French place. I could stash the gift in my lingerie drawer for the warm fragrance of the midi (south of France). Or even wash my hands with the solid square of olive-y soap.
But the soap in its tin box remains in its niche of honor in my bathroom cabinet; after all, when your friends understand the depth of your yearnings — well, what better gift!
Now that we’re closing in on French presence no. 4 of 12, credit for the useful dozen is overdue to “12 things I can’t live without” on Broadside blog. Superjourno Caitlin Kelly’s well chosen number turns out to be just the right frame to collage some of the many French things I miss when I’m somewhere other than France. And occasionally even manage to find ways to enjoy when far from the mother lode.
Shortly before this writing, I listened to novelist Mary Gordon tell NPR radio host Leonard Lopate that Rome is the place where she feels “more alive.” At last I know what to say when someone asks why I spend months at a time in Paris. (My compulsive Francofolie does begin to loosen its grip as I take off for L’Aeroport Charles de Gaulle.)