Ben McPartland, from the local in Paris recently tried to buy cheese for a fondue. Being in France, he went to his local fromagerie (so lucky!) and asked for a combination of Comté, Beaufort and Appenzel. Here’s what happened when he tried to get Beaufort:
Monsieur: “No it’s too good for a fondue. It’s so tasty. It would pain me (faire mal au coeur) to see it melted.”
Me: “Ha ha, OK that sounds amazing. I’ll have 400 grams please.”
Monsieur: “No, no. It would be a waste. This is a 2015 Beaufort. And at €39 a kilo. It’s too expensive for a fondue.”
Me: “Ah that’s OK I don’t mind paying.”
Monsieur: “No, No. I’ll give you some Abondance. It’s a similar cheese and cheaper.”
Me: Errrr. OK, but can I have some Beaufort too.”
Monsieur: “Are you going to put it in the fondue?
Me: “Errrrrr (I can’t lie), oui.”
Monsieur eventually relented but not before making his customer promise that the Beaufort won’t be grated or melted. The fun part is this saga got twitter’s attention and most of the responses were on the side of Monsieur Fromage.
For an aged beaufort he s right. A regular young Beaufort is great for fondue
— Sebastien Plisson (@splisson) December 20, 2017
It totally makes sense. He refuses out of respect for the cheesemaker, whose intent was for someone to enjoy the nuances of this specific 2015 Beaufort, not so it gets melted with other cheeses, white wine and garlic. You wouldn’t make sangria with a rare Bordeaux, would you? 😉
— Antoine Bancharel (@TweetsAntoine) December 20, 2017
Even France’s Ambassador to Sweden got involved:
I have sympathy for both protagonists. Pains me to admit as a diplomat but sometimes 2 legitimate positions just cannot be reconciled. https://t.co/kmzuoUNmlB
— David Cvach (@david_cvach) December 20, 2017
The commenters on mefi, where I spotted this initially, had more diverse opinions. The ones supporting the fromager:
I agree with the cheese monger, if you go to speciality shops part of the experience is getting to lean on their expertise.
I’m on team cheesemonger here, in that truly good cheese is a magical thing and doesn’t deserve to be wasted in fondues.
The cheesemonger indicated that he would rather sell that particular cheese to someone with less money but more appreciation.
and the ones who are more on the “the customer is always right” train:
If I know how I like something because I like it that way, then anyone who tells me I am wrong is not, in fact, correct. They are wrong and stupid.
I don’t have a lot of patience for gatekeeping. I do like that he took the time to explain why though. But honestly if I want to scrub my floors with champagne or feed foie gras to a spoiled cat then I’m going to do so, and there will always be someone else willing to take my money.
The customer is always right, even when they are dead wrong. Be sure to smile and nod when you take their money. You are there to relieve them of their excess cash, not to educate them.
And more quotes, one from an American living in France that sums up the cultural difference:
Being a customer in France means you are asking someone to help you, and so you have to deal with them as a person, not a service robot…This cheesemaker is a perfectly normal Frenchman who thinks that being respected in his work is more important to him than making more money or always having to be “nice”.
French food has been seen in recent years as snobbish and over-complicated. But for every unfashionable roast saddle of rabbit wedged between crisp layers of rösti potatoes and a thin disc of Parmesan there is the delightfully simple fougasse that you buy at a street market and tear off a scrumptious piece as you walk around.
One of the differences between food shopping in a place like France and countries like the US, is that there are specialist shops that sell cheese, meat, bread, wine where most people usually buy their food. Supermarkets exist in France, but are for mass produced goods like tissues and bottled water. Provenance and quality matter a lot. Even McPartland, the Beaufort criminal, admits that he respects the fromager and reiterates that the French are generally more knowledgeable and passionate about their craft. I can understand his frustration though, and may be irritated if I were in his shoes, although I’d like to think I have better sense than to put a €39/kg Beaufort into a fondue. I did some reading and Beaufort is probably the most difficult of the Gruyère-style cheeses to produce, and the 24-month and 36-month ages are especially rare. I’d grudgingly do as the fromager says, make a solemn promise and then go home to try that 2015 Beaufort to see what the fuss is all about.
Of course people can do whatever they want with their food and other purchases, but some common sense should prevail, n’est-ce pas? Other examples that cropped up in various discussions of this #fonduegate: well-done steak, cheese with seafood pasta, mixing a 21-year old whisky with coke, using $100 notes to light a cigar, entering a rare antique car into a demolition derby, buying a Stradivarus to smash it to pieces. Yikes. Shiver. I’ll stop here before my head explodes.