Hollande treats Obama to three-star French cuisine

The French president François Hollande spoiled his US counterpart Barack Obama on Monday night by treating him to a fancy meal at a famous Michelin three star restaurant in the heart of the Marais.

Hollande treats Obama to three-star French cuisine
Obama, Hollande and several ministers enjoy some posh French nosh. Photos:AFP

President Francois Hollande chose to entertain Obama not in the gilt splendour of the Elysee Palace, but at L'Ambroisie, a restaurant with three Michelin stars in the swanky Place des Vosges square.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and US Secretary of State John Kerry were among the 12 people who sat down to dinner at the exclusive eatery.

The restaurant is normally closed on a Monday but opened especially for the esteemed guests.

The Michelin three-star restaurant, where the diners will pay up to €360 ($381) a head, is run by the chefs Mathieu and Bernard Pacaud.

Needless to say security was tight with the whole of the Place de Vosges sealed off to traffic and helicopters buzzing overhead and armed guards standing by.

But all that didn’t seem to affect the convivial atmosphere with Obama, a huge fan of traditional French gastronomy, allowing Hollande to choose his meal.

“I will follow the advice of the president,” Obama told Hollande when asked what he would be ordering.

It may have been a wise move from the US president who would probably have had no idea what he was ordering, without the help of a translation.

Obama ended up tucking into some wild fish from Brittany before a cheese board featuring matured comet, Roquefort, Brie de Meaux and Poitou goat’s cheese, which was followed by chocolate cake.

All of the posh nosh was washed down with white Burgundy, a red Bordeaux and wine from Banyuls.

The two-hour meal was brought to a close at 10:10pm, with Hollande or at least a member of staff picking up the hefty bill.

Earlier in the day France pulled out its culinary big guns Monday for one of the greatest kitchen challenges ever: cooking lunch for the largest one-day gathering of world leaders in history.  Here's a look at the menu

The L'Ambroisie restaurant has mixed reviews on travel website Tripadvisor, earning four out of a possible five stars on the site's own review scale.
While the majority of diners ranked the eatery as an “excellent” place for a meal, there are no less than 27 reviews saying the experience was “terrible”
As a result, the restaurant doesn't even rank in TripAdvisor's top 2,500 restaurants in the French capital. 

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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!