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What the ‘great Nutella riots’ of 2018 tell us about the French

What do the viral images of shoppers in France battling to get their hands on pots of Nutella tell us? Not only that the French are nuts for the spread but also that they can still surprise us...and even themselves.

What the 'great Nutella riots' of 2018 tell us about the French
Photo: AFP
France's love affair with the Italian chocolate hazelnut spread Nutella is well-known and if anyone was in any doubt the so-called “riots”, as described by some French newspapers, seen at supermarkets across the country on Thursday proved it. 
 
And even though in reality it was more like a feeding frenzy than a riot, France's passion is in no doubt. 
 
In fact, according to some figures 26 percent of the world consumption of Nutella is done by the French even though the brand is Italian.
 
This means that around a whopping 75,000 tonnes of Nutella are consumed every year in France.
 
France's long love affair with the chocolate spread starts, for many, at childhood when it is the sweet and some say sickly breakfast of choice for many French school children.
 
And according to Paris food writer and author of the blog Chocolate & Zucchini Clotilde Dusoulier it could be this childhood link which is partly behind the France's love for Nutella. 
 

 
“French people eat it by the spoonful. I had it on toast for breakfast as a child,” Dusoulier told The Local. “And like with candy, grownups continue to eat it to connect with their inner child.”
 
The food writer also explained that the French have a tendency to turn to sweets in times of uncertainty. 
 
“Things are a bit better in France now but there's still a huge enthusiasm for pastry chefs” and “giving away this sweet childhood memory nearly for free is likely to bring up memories of sharing it with school friends, treats and other positive links,” she said.
 
Whatever the reason, the scenes at Intermarche supermarkets in France on Thursday were reminiscent of Black Friday bonanzas in the US with customers jostling, scuffling and battling each other to get their hands on the chocolate.
 
“They are like animals. A woman had her hair pulled, an elderly lady took a box on her head, another had a bloody hand. It was horrible,” one customer at the Rive-de-Gier supermarket in central France told Le Progres newspaper. 
 
And many people took to Twitter to show surprise about where this frenzy was happening. 
 
Indeed one Twitter user dubbed it “Brown Thursday” (see below). 
 
 
Sophie Chevalier, a French anthropologist and specialist in customer behaviour, said the scenes were out of the ordinary.
 
“These are unusual in France, except when there’s a particularly exceptional sale, and more what we see in developing countries or where there’s a regular shortage of essential products,” Chevalier told Le Parisien.
 
“Would there be the same reaction to jars of pickles? Certainly not. It’s a question of the kind of product that explains this. Nutella is pure pleasure for children and to offer it at a bargain price obviously attracts lots of customers.”
 
Still, although it may seem bizarre to many, it's nice to know the French can still surprise us from time to time. 
 
Let's leave the final word with French President Emmanuel Macron:
 
 
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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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