Non, it’s not about having your picture taken (even if I couldn’t quite resist), it’s about fulfilling your consuming desire for French cheese. And — the better to relish your camembert, comté and fourme d’ambert, among others — for French cheese expertise, too.
Charles Duque, French Cheese Board founding managing director and long-time specialty foods marketer, introduced to media folks the Board’s U.S. flagship venue on the very day I returned to New York from several months in France. But I needn’t have obsessed about missing the occasion. The French Cheese Board “pop up” is long-term (in New York, not much is forever) and an active, convenient locale right around the corner from specialty store Lord & Taylor. Would any true francofolle stay away? Non. Especially since, at French Cheese Board events their gourmet goodies are purveyed at “discovery” prices a gourmand can afford. A gourmand, fyi, has no qualms about going back for seconds, or thirds.
Gourmets or gourmands, either way, U.S. consumers are more into “specialty foods” — a category that includes cheese — than I’d supposed. A Specialty Food Association survey reports that almost 60 percent of U.S. food shoppers are specialty food shoppers, and that such consumers currently spend one in four of their food dollars on specialty food — up from one in five in 2013. Among specialty foods, the survey notes, most purchased are chocolate, olive oil and . . . cheese.
Our love affair with French cheese is not new, said Charles, who first got serious about French in high school, and is fluent. So when the French Cheese Board (FCB) opened to the New York public with a two-day event, and two thousand of his new best friends showed up to sample 20 different fromage varieties, Charles was pleased but unfazed. And there’s never any shortage of expertise for Charles’s guests: tv Top Chefs share their fromage inspiration on the affiliated website, CheesesofEurope.
FCB feeds French cheese habits like mine, thanks to sponsorship by the French Dairy Board, supported in turn by dairy farmers and producers of a variety of milk products in the hexagon (the French nickname for their country is a reference to the map shape of France). Another support source is the European Union, since the Union wants to bolster its member countries’ export economies.
In many U.S. cities, Whole Foods and other retailers’ events will celebrate French cheeses. In Gotham, at 26 West 39th Street, you can cultivate your fromage habit at French Cheese Board events October 31, November 21, and December 12. Charles Duque can coach you on correctly pronouncing any French cheese name, and let you in on French cheese cultural secrets — which variety is aged in the vast cellars of what originally was a fort, built by Napoleon in the 19th century? New Yorkers will get fromage answers galore, not to mention samples, at the French Cheese Board this fall/winter tasting season. gf