‘I survived the war, I’m not giving up saucisson’

The World Health Organisation has labelled classic Gallic grub like saucisson, jambon and of course “viande rouge” (red meat) as carcinogenic, but are the French ready to give it all up?

'I survived the war, I'm not giving up saucisson'
Would you give up your saucisson? Photo: AFP

France is world renowned for its cuisine, much of which – as lovers of French gastronomie will know – contains red meat.

And products like saucisson, rillettes, jambon sec, and various other types of charcuterie are the mainstays of the sacred aperitif.

The problem is that the World Health Association has declared war on processed meats by putting them in the same category as smoking and alcohol for their risk in causing cancer.

As you can imagine the news has not gone down well in France, not least among the country’s meat-eating hordes who are understandably reluctant to give up their hearty habit.

Maxime, a 21-year-old student in Paris, seems to think that what the WHO is saying is absolutely nonsense.

“What are they going to say next? That water can also give you cancer?” he told The Local.

Lena, a 36-year-old woman from Paris, was also unwilling to say ‘non’ to saucisson.

“If it gives you cancer then so be it. I could never live without it,” she said.

An 83-year-old Frenchman told The Local that he had survived far worse than an overdose of charcuterie so he wasn’t going to stop eating meat just because the health boffins at the WHO say so.

“I survived World War Two and that didn’t kill me, so to hell with what they say,” said the veteran who asked not to be named.

Another French woman looked positively disgusted at the thought of never buying a saucisson again.

“Today it’s red meat and tomorrow it’ll be something else. If I listen to what they say I’ll end up starving myself to death,” the mother-of-three told The Local.

According to the figures the average Frenchman eats about 86.7kg a year of red meat which is 2.5 kg more than what meat lovers in the UK consume.

Regarded as the prince of all sausages, the French saucisson sec is arguably a patriotic symbol of France – and French people tend to be patriotic, so it's no surprise how much they get through each year.

Apparently 2.2 kilos of saucisson are munched each second in France, which adds up to a total of 70,000 tonnes a year.

Critics of the WHO insist there are benefits to eating red meat, mainly that it introduces protein, iron zinc and vitamin B into your diet.   

Those in the French meat industry have also been defending their produce and stressed there was no need to give up saucisson, sausages or the likes of andouilette (pig's intestines) if eaten in moderation.

A butcher in the 19th arrondissement told The Local he was confident sales of red meat and charcuterie would remain buoyant despite the health warnings.

“This report doesn't worry me at all. I haven't seen a decline in customers coming in,” the meat seller said.

And if his customers are like him, then he should be fine.

“I'll stop drinking alcohol and smoking if needs be, but I could never give up meat as it's essential to my diet,” he said.

The FNSEA, the leading farmers' union, reveals that even if “the excessive consumption of meat is certainly not to be promoted”, it is still possible to “indulge and have a nutritional diet” when eating both meat and vegetables.

“Living in the 21st century is carcinogenic. It’s the excess that makes everything go awry. People need to know how to control good things and consume in a sensible manner,” butcher Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec told France TV Info.

Even if the local butchers are still sharpening their knives in frustration, the general French public seem to be taking no notice of what the WHO is telling them. 

By Adam Jones

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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!