Nine French eating habits you will probably find peculiar

The French diet is celebrated around the world for its high quality and health benefits. But some of the things they do with their food are enough to turn the stomach of many Anglos.

Nine French eating habits you will probably find peculiar
Photo: Bex Walton/Flickr

1. Chabrot

Photo: Public domain/Wikimedia Commons

It’s well-known that the French often enjoy a glass of wine with their meals, but you might be taken aback the first time you see someone tip it out of their glass into their soup bowl. Don't worry, they're not throwing a tantrum; it's an Occitanian custom still practised by some people in parts of rural southern France, called ‘chabrot’.

Traditionally, you would then drink the wine-soup mixture directly from the bowl in big gulps (the word 'chabrot' comes from a term meaning 'to drink like a goat') but these days it's more common to stick to using a spoon.

2. Eating pets and pests and horses

Photo: rawdonfox/Flickr

In the UK, there was outrage when it was discovered that some processed meat sold as beef had in fact come from horses. The French probably didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, and the distinction between animals to eat and animals to keep as pets is less clear, with horse and rabbit both commonly appearing on menus.

The French also tuck into animals which Brits might turn their noses up at, including pigeons and of course snails. 

3. Eating all parts of the animal

Most Brits won't be happy about replacing fish and chips with pig intestine and chips. Photo: LWYang/Flickr

The French attitude to meat is ‘waste not, want not’ and many organs or body parts that the French will quite happily eat for lunch would turn the stomach of squeamish foreigners. Every part of a pig from its snout to its trotters can find its way onto your plate, and each region seems to have its own specialty, for example lamb's testicles in Limousin and andouillette (pig's intestine and colon) in Lyon.

4. They love blood

Boudin noir mousse. Photo: Arnold Gatilao/Flickr

You might get a funny look if you ask for a ‘well done’ steak, as the French are happy for their meat to have a bit of blood in it. Or a lot of blood, in fact; it's a key ingredient in several French dishes, including canard à la presse, where duck is cooked in a sauce of its own blood mixed with cognac, lamproie à la bordelaise, where the lamprey fish are bled to death to make the blood and wine sauce, and of course, boudin noir (blood sausage).

5. Eggs on pizza

Photo: Nathan Yergler/Flickr

France and Italy's culinary rivalry has been going for centuries, so the French clearly couldn't resist taking a few liberties with this classic Italian dish. While there are strict rules among chefs in Italy as to what is and isn't allowed on a pizza (many of the best regarded pizzerias will only offer margherita or marinara – which is the same minus the mozzarella), egg is a bizarre but popular topping often added in France.

6. Women not pouring their own wine

Photo: Nan Palmero/Flickr

Whether you think it's charmingly chivalrous or outdated, French etiquette considers it a faux pas for a woman to pour her own wine. Instead, the man sitting nearest will pour her glass and top it up when needed.

7. They're obsessed about Burger King and McDo

Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP

Despite their reputation as culinary traditionalists, it turns out the French love cheap, no-fuss meals as much as the rest of the world and in recent years they have more than embraced the fast food trend. You won't have to go far to find a 'McDo', though naturally they have added a French twist so you can order a McCroque or choose from an array of pastries and even macarons in the McCafe. France is now McDonalds' second largest market, and rival fast food chain Burger King has swallowed up the one-time institution Quick.

8. Dunking croissants

Photo: Bex Walton/Flickr

Slathering a croissant with butter, as many foreigners tend to do, is baffling to many French people, since the croissant already consists of mostly butter. Instead, it's common for the French to dip their pastry in their morning tea or coffee. This can also be done with baguettes, to salvage yesterday's stale bread.

9. Trou normand

Photo: linmtheu/Flickr

This literally translates as “Norman gap” and is an old tradition from Normandy of drinking a small glass of strong apple liquor – the region is famous for its apples – between each course. Knocking back shots mid dinner might not seem like the best etiquette, but Norman recipes are generally quite rich, so taking a digestif between courses rather than at the end of the meal is supposed to aid digestion.


By Catherine Edwards

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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!