June 03, 2005

Better in Paris

by psu

For several years of my life, I have had a tag line attached to me that goes "Oh, those are better in Paris." While I believe that this tag is somewhat unfair, there are definitely a few things routinely available in France that seem to have no counterpart of comparable quality back here at home.


Every single time we are in Paris we visit the cheese shop. Two particular varieties of cheese stand out here. The first is Camembert, a soft ripened raw cow's milk cheese. I have not found anything like this cheese anywhere on the North American continent. Even in Canada, where it is legal, the stuff that you can get just isn't any good. The Camembert from Marie-Anne Cantin has a depth of flavor that is hard to put into words. Where soft cheese in the U.S. always tastes like some kind of white paste, the French Camembert has layers of flavor, saltiness, nuttiness, and sweetness all rolled into one. It's like comparing fresh ripe tomatoes to the pink California ones at Giant Eagle, or Maine wild blueberries to frozen ones, or a dry aged New York strip steak to Steakums.

The second cheese we always get is St. Marcellin. This is also a soft raw cow's milk cheese, but is runnier and milder in flavor compared to the Camembert. Like the Camembert, it shows that soft cheese in the U.S. has about as much character as a wet piece of toilet paper. There is nothing better than some of this cheese spread thick over a warm piece of bread.

A note: You may find yourself in Whole Foods or your local yuppy food emporium and spy a piece of cheese labeled "Camembert" or "St. Marcellin". Do not be fooled. If you try one of these items expecting something like the real thing, you will weep bitter tears of pain and sadness. You have been warned.

A second note: The reason these cheeses cannot be found in the U.S. in any decent form is because they are made from unpasteurized milk, and are not aged all that long before selling. The FDA bans such foods because they are "dangerous" but they allow you to risk sickness and death every day of your life at McDonalds, where you can eat ground-up cow meat taken from cows that were also eating ground-up cow meat.


I don't know why, but every crappy café in Paris has a little crock of this mustard at every table. It's mostly for the potatoes or salad that you might get with lunch or dinner, but it is better than any mustard I have ever had. It's strong, with a great wasabi-like kick. But it isn't overpowering, and tastes like something besides vinegar. In Paris, you can go to the equivalent of a Target and buy this stuff by the gallon. I've never found it in the States.

If you can find something like this for me, I'll be your friend for life.


The baguette here are just not right. I don't know what's wrong with them. Not crusty enough, too chewey, tasting too much like sourdough. Something is just not right. I find this confusing, since there are good croissant here.

That's really all I have. I'm sure my old acquaintances will be surprised.

Posted by psu at June 3, 2005 08:43 PM | Bookmark This

Les weblogs sont meilleurs Paris.

Posted by peterb at June 3, 2005 08:56 PM

Have you tried the baguettes at Chatellier's bakery in Millvale? (I'm just curious; I have no Parisian point of reference. However, I've addicted every member of my family to Chatellier's Breton shortbread.)

Posted by Christina Schulman at June 3, 2005 09:49 PM

Chatiellier has excellent croissant, but the baguette are not quite right. The inside is nice, but the crust is too thin and crumbly.

Posted by psu at June 3, 2005 09:57 PM

The quality of bread in the US has always made me cry. I don't know what it is, but even French expats get it wrong here. There's decent bread, but there just doesn't seem to be *good* bread like you can get in any podunk town in France.

Oh, and, somehow, in cities in the francophone parts of Canada. So it's not a North America thing. Must be the language.

Posted by Benoit at June 3, 2005 10:25 PM

So, since I have not been to Paris, I do not know this mustard you speak of.

However, Nat and I recently acquired some extremely sassy mustard at the May Market, from some chaps named Davis and Davis. They're apparently based in Glenshaw, and we like both their Farmhouse Mustard and the Hot Garlic Mustard, which is unholy good.

Even if it is not anything like Paris mustard, it is DAMN tasty.

Posted by Laura at June 4, 2005 12:30 AM

The mustard just sucks here. I don't know what it is, but I have to import mine from Estonia. The closest one is the chinese mustard, but it does not have a taste nearly as rich and it has a "weak" pale color. I just find it weird.

Bread? Don't get me started. Especially dark rye.
Y U C K.

Posted by Dan at June 4, 2005 12:52 AM

It turns out that the particular mustard of which I speak is the classic Dijon style. Unfortunately, in the U.S., Dijon mustard is all tasteless Grey Poupon-esque swill. If you get a taste of the real stuff you'll know what I mean.

Posted by psu at June 4, 2005 08:14 AM

When I was back home in Montreal a couple of weekends ago I had some incredible "kimmel bread" (rye with caraway seeds), and some black rye that was the colour of dark chocolate.

Had a discussion with my Toronto-bred aunt while I was there about why, after 50 years of trying, they still cannot make Montreal-style bagels in Toronto. I'd heard of a recent attempt, but my aunt assured me that it was a vain attempt, because it'll all in the water. This probably doesn't explain Benoit's observation, though.

Posted by Stewart Clamen at June 4, 2005 01:45 PM

One of my favorite memories from Paris was a last-minute trip "roommate reunion" with my husband & friends Joel and Steph.

One morning on the way to the Louvre, we stopped by the local bakery and picked up some baguettes and then when to a grocery and procured some soft cheese (yeah, unpasteurized!), jelly and red wine. I think the whole feast ran something like $12 US.

After spending some time viewing the exhibits we went outside and has a picnic on the steps of the building. It was wonderful: delicious food, good art, and talking about old times. Sure, the pigeons tried to attack us, but that's what mainland europe is all about.

Have you tried champagne biscuits while in France? They are divine and I don't know how to get them, other than my usual sneaking them past customs :)

Posted by Meredyth D at June 4, 2005 07:13 PM

They do carry big ceramic crocks of strong french dijon mustard at Nicholas's in downtown Pittsburgh.

Posted by Shelby at June 6, 2005 09:47 AM

"If you can find something like this for me, I'll be your friend for life."

I don't know what part of the country you are in, but you can get real Dijon or Dijon-style mustard in gourmet markets, particularly in more affluent areas (I live in Newport Beach, CA).

Recommended producers are Edmond Fallot (my favorite, actually from Beaune, near Dijon, not Dijon proper) who is the last, to my knowledge, to grind mustard the old-school way with silex stone, and then there is the widely available De Maille as well.

If you can't find the stuff near you, you can certainly order them online--do a search in google.com or someting. Watch out, though--sometimes they have different versions for domestic consumption and for export.


Posted by yada at August 4, 2005 03:32 PM

Also, regarding cheese--

One of the main reasons it's hard (not impossible, though) to get real cheese is that it's illegal to sell cheese made from unpasteurized milk that's been aged less than 60 days--that rules out real Camenbert, Epoisses, and even Brie de Meaux, I think. Pasteurized milk, especially when pasteurized in the slower, less expensive manner, lacks the character of the unpasteurized stuff.

However, that does not rule out th harder, aged cheeses--you can get real English or Vermont Chedder, Roquefort, etc.

Look for your local cheese shop and talk to an expert--they can help guide you.

The 'Cheese Shop of Beverlly Hills' near (relatively) me does ship though, give them a call. They are one of the top cheese shops in the nation.


Posted by yada at August 4, 2005 03:42 PM

Yeah, I know about the issues regarding cheese.

I have found local sources for Fallot mustard, but whatever it is they send to the States is, unfortunately, crap designed to taste like Dijon mustard made in the States. Therefore, it does not make me happy.

Posted by psu at August 4, 2005 03:45 PM

Please help support Tea Leaves by visiting our sponsors.

November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January

December November October September August July June May April March February January