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FOOD & DRINK

Calais migrants reject ‘bland’ food handout

French cuisine is definitely not known for being hot and on Thursday some migrants in Calais turned down food handouts from a charity because they claimed it wasn't spicy enough for their tastes.

Calais migrants reject 'bland' food handout
File photo of migrants queuing to receive food hand outs in Calais. Photo: Philippe Huguen/AFP

A charity for migrants in the French port city of Calais was forced to scrap a food handout after some refused the meal because it was not spicy enough, the group said on Tuesday.

Jean-Claude Lenoir, from aid association Salam, described Monday night's incident as "very disappointing".

"The leaders staged a small coup, and prevented the others from coming to eat," Lenoir said. He said the attitude was "unacceptable".

He admitted that the meal was "a lot less salty and not very spicy" compared with what was usually served but stressed that "personally, I think that spices are very expensive, and I find that they're a bit too pampered by now."

"As soon as 15 or 20 refused the meal, I stepped in to tell them if they didn't want the food we could put it away and that it was scandalous," he said.

He told them that "many people in France don't even have an evening meal" and that while they were "happy" to help the migrants, "there are limits with regards to what we can propose."

According to Lenoir, the incident passed off peacefully, and a few people sidled up afterwards to quietly apologize. Another meal distribution was to take place Tuesday evening.    

French authorities estimate that 1,400 to 1,500 illegal migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, are waiting in Calais to seek asylum in Britain.

In September, Britain agreed to help the French government cover the cost of the incoming migrants in Calais.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said London had agreed to contribute up to €15 million (£12 million, $19 million) after the Calais mayor threatened to close the busy cross-Channel port.

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FOOD & DRINK

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!

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