Cheese, a staple of the French diet, and an absolute “must-eat” item when visiting France. We made a point of always having a healthy amount of cheese on hand whenever the urge to indulge in the golden goo hit us. Our supplier was a small fromagerie called Barthélemy tucked away at 51 Rue de Grenelle.
Never, in my life, have I seen a cheese shop as amazing as this. I literally smelled the shop before I saw it. I would venture to guess that you could not find most of these cheeses in America (due to pasteurization laws), save for a few high end French restaurants. Up until my visit to Barthélemy, I was unaware that this many varieties of cheese even existed. Of the myriads of smelly delights “Nicole” had on display, we sampled Morbier, Pont L’eveque, Roquefort, Reblochon, real Camembert, and many types of Chevre (I’m sure I’m forgetting a few). As you can see, the consumption of these cheeses, along with a glass or two of red wine, Saucisson a L’ail (garlic sausage), and a fresh baguette, was a daily ritual. Even a small block of Foie Gras de Canard snuck in one day. The cheeses were incredibly smelly (a great thing!) and began to melt the second we removed them from their wrapping. Each had a distinct personality, some subtle, some kicked you straight in the back of your jaw with such a tang. The Reblochon and Morbier were stand outs of the group.
Every cheese was above and beyond anything I’ve had in the States. However there was one that stood above all the others as the single finest cheese I have ever tasted. Mont d’Or, or the Mountain of Gold, was an absolute revelation. When my father signaled for the Mont d’Or, the shop keeper seemed to give us a slight nod of approval and raised his eyebrows a bit as if to say, “my friends, you have found the cheese of cheeses”, like he knew what we were in for. He even went out of his way to run to the door and hold it open, thanking us profusely on our way out. Contained in a small wooden circle to keep it from oozing away too soon, the Mont d’Or was something of an experience for us. We all looked at each other in unison, and it was understood that this was something special. It had the consistency of melted mozzarella, except it was at room temperature. There really is no good way to describe what it tasted like aside from extremely creamy, and smooth with a little bite at the finish. All I can say is that I wish there had been no bottom to it because I could have eaten myself into a coma on Mont d’Or alone. I would put this cheese on the level of Foie Gras and truffles as one of the most luxuriant foods available.
Now I won’t suggest to anyone to try to seek out these cheeses at their local Whole Foods or independent grocer as I wouldn’t want people being driven to frustration. But if you ever find yourself in Paris, make it a goal to find yourself a nice little fromagerie, or even head to Barthélemy. I promise you, cheese will never be the same again.