Widow fined for drink at husband’s graveside

A French widow, who says she was simply honouring her husband's dying wish by sharing a few glasses of champagne with family and friends at his graveside for his birthday, was fined by unsympathetic police for disturbing the peace, according to reports on Monday.

Widow fined for drink at husband's graveside
A case in France shows bubbly and cemeteries may not mix. Photo: Xavier68/Gaby Av/Flickr

The small gathering at a Frenchman’s grave on his birthday was supposed to be a poignant occasion but it was too much of a "ruckus" for police in a tiny village in south-western France.

Josiane Couston brought together four friends, one of her sons and her three-year-old grandson for her deceased husband’s birthday on July 17th, 2013 in a cemetery in Les Angles. The emotional meet-up had been one of the last wishes of 61-year-old Jean-Luc Couston as he lay dying in September 2011, French paper La Provence reported.

So the group gathered, with a glasses of champagne in hand, to share stories and reminisce about their loved one on his birthday. But someone at the cemetery that day didn’t approve of the "commotion" created by the gathering and called the police.

Three local police officers turned up at the cemetery, and instead of simply warning the group or asking them to move on, they informed Josiane it was illegal to drink there and issued her with a fine for disturbing the peace.

Though the fine is just €38 Josiane’s lawyer said she has refused  to accept it.

“Josiana is fighting the ticket because, beyond the fine, it’s a question of principle for a woman, who with no bad intentions, honoured the last wish of her husband,” the woman’s lawyer Emilie Chapuis told La Provence.

SEE ALSO: French woman wins right to marry dead fiancé

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Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!