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FOOD & DRINK

Daily dilemmas: Is it a pain au chocolat or a chocolatine?

The pastry with thin strips of chocolate running through it is a breakfast time staple in France - but what you call it has been the subject of fierce debate that even involved the French parliament.

Daily dilemmas: Is it a pain au chocolat or a chocolatine?
Whatever you call it, it's still delicious. Photo: AFP

The pain au chocolat v chocolatine battle has been raging for centuries and essentially comes down to a geographical divide.

In the south west of the country it's a chocolatine, in most of the rest of France it's a pain au chocolat – although there are some exceptions.

In the far north east France, on the border with Belgium, it is often known as a petit pain or petit pain au chocolat, while along the eastern border with Germany it can be either a petit pain au chocolat or a croissant au chocolat.

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This map created linguist Mathieu Avanzi shows the geogrpahical distribution of the term.

Exactly how the different names evolved over the centuries has been much disputed – with one theory blaming the English for it – but what is undoubted is that people is the south west are fiercely attached to the term.

In 2017 a group of schoolchildren from Montauban, near Toulouse, wrote to the president asking that he ensure the term was included in the French dictionary, while in 2018 the matter reached parliament.

A group of right wing Republican French MPs tabled an amendment to the new Food Industry and Farming bill aimed at recognising the term chocolatine.

“For example, this would be the case for the chocolate pastry whose name has historically been rooted in the Gascon region, and which is the pride of all of southern France: the chocolatine,” Aurélien Pradié, an MP from the south west Lot department who was backing the amendment said.

In some parts of south western France bakers particularly attached to the traditional name have even threatened to charge customers more who ask for pain au chocolat.

 

When we asked The Local's readers what they called it, the results roughly reflected the geographical split, with 82 percent of people on Facebook saying they would ask for a pain au chocolat when visiting their local boulangerie.

While on Twitter 78 percent used the term pain au chocolat.

 

 

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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.

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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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