Friday, July 13, 2007

Viva la France!

Saturday is Bastille Day, which is a French national holiday commemorating the Fête de la Fédération and the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789. I’d thought I’d blog about traditional dishes served in honor of Bastille Day, but in doing some research I found that Bastille Day doesn’t have any big traditional dishes like turkey for Thanksgiving or latkes for Passover.

From what I read, Bastille Day is celebrated in France with simple foods for the outdoors. Since the holiday falls in the summer, most French nationals celebrate with a picnic, drinking Champagne and munching on cheese and fruits. So who am I to argue with the French?

I went to my nearby Whole Foods in Berkeley and checked out its cheese counter to see what French cheese would make a nice platter for Bastille Day. (Keep in mind that each Whole Foods store has its own buyer, so not every store carries the same cheese products. Other places to shop for a nice variety of French cheeses include: The Cheeseboard in Berkeley, The Pasta Shop on Fourth Street in Berkeley and Market Hall in Rockridge, Andronico’s, and Rainbow Grocery and Cheese Plus in San Francisco.)

Here’s a look at what I would recommend:

This is the Fourme D’Ambert from France. It’s a smooth, creamy blue cheese. People either hate or love blue cheese, and I think it provides a mark contrast to other cheeses you might have on your platter. It’s also probably the smelliest.

You can’t have a French cheese platter without brie?! This is the Bonhomme Normand (from Normandy) and I was just attracted to it because it had the words “double cream” in its description. You can pair it with fresh figs and toasted walnuts. Another trick I’ve seen some restaurants do with soft cheese is to drizzle honey on top. Mmmmm.

This is the Petite Basque, which is an Istara cheese. That’s a semi-hard cheese made from sheep’s milk. It’s one of the more famous cheeses from the Basque region of France.

Another hard cheese, this is the Chaubier Soignon. And what’s exciting about this is it’s a blend of goat and cow milk. It’s one of my new favorite cheeses to just slice and eat as is.

To pair with the above cheese platter, you can have some Champagne that will fit in nicely with the festive mood, or if you want something more subdued, you can try a French Chardonnay (a stronger white is better than a light white wine for cheese) or if you prefer red (which contains more of the tannins to help counteract all the fat you’re consuming) then try a Cote du Rhone, which is a milder, more middle-of-the-road red French wine.

Crazy about French cheese? Then you might want to save the date, Aug. 18, 2007. That’s when this importer called Made in France/Village Imports has a big warehouse event where the public is invited to buy tons of French cheese and other products at discounted prices. I’ve never been to these events (the warehouse is in Brisbane south of San Francisco) but it sounds interesting. (The Web site says you need an invitation, so you might want to sign up for its newsletter and maybe that’s your invitation.) To find out more, click here.

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