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French food ‘critic’ fined €7,500 for fake review

A person who left a negative review of a Michelin starred restaurant has been fined €7,500 after it emerged the restaurant hadn't even opened.

French food 'critic' fined €7,500 for fake review
The Loiseau Des Ducs in Dijon was targeted by the critic. Photo: Loiseau Des Ducs
“Very over-rated, it was all show, there was very little on the plate, and the only thing that was well loaded was the bill.”
 
It's a harsh review for any restaurant, let alone for the Michelin starred Loiseau Des Ducs in Dijon, central France. 
 
But that's exactly what was posted on Pages Jeunes, a business directory site in France which also features TripAdvisor-style reviews.
 
Fake reviews are often hard to spot but in this case it was made easy due to the fact that online criticism was left five days before the restaurant had officially opened for the season, revealed local newspaper Bien Public.
 
Deeming the words to be detrimental to their business and “potential dissuasive for customers”, restaurant owners paid out €5,000 to track down the phony reviewer.
 

(A dish from The Loiseau Des Ducs in Dijon. Photo: Loiseau Des Ducs)
 
When they were tracked down and hauled before a court judges decided that the fake reviewer should pay €2,500 in damages as well as the restaurants costs for tracking them down. 
 
It remains unclear exactly why the critic chose to single out the restaurant for the scathing review. 
 
Restaurant reviewers have been hit hard in the wallet in the past in France. Last year, a blogger was fined €2,500 after her review was deemed to have crossed the line from criticism to insult. 
 
She had called the waitress a “harpy”, wrote that the owner “took herself for a diva”, and that the restaurant was the one place in the town to avoid. 
 

 
 

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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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