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FOOD & DRINK

The French chef launching a war against Dry January

Thinking about having a Dry January? Star French chef Alain Ducasse wants you to think again.

The French chef launching a war against Dry January
Alain Ducasse. Photo: AFP

An outspoken opponent of the post-holiday abstinence challenge Ducasse on Tuesday launched an initiative to entice patrons of his restaurants to drink more, not less.

“I like swimming against the tide,” he told AFP, announcing plans to propose top bottles of Burgundy and Bordeaux at knockdown prices to encourage diners to order wine by the bottle rather than by the glass.”

READ ALSO MAP: Where in France do people drink the most?

“I'm obsessed with selling wine,” Ducasse said, adding that he was horrified to see customers in New York order iced tea with their lunch instead of wine.

In France too, wine is becoming less of a staple during business lunches, prompting some restaurants to offer food-tea pairings.

“I've noted that trend but I don't want to see or hear of it, I am opposed to it,” Ducasse, who has a string of award-winning restaurants across the world, said, vowing to “rid consumers of their inhibitions” with regard to drinking wine.

Dry January – or le mois sans alcool as it is known in France – has also run into opposition from the country's winemakers.

In November, the government quietly abandoned a campaign urging people to give up alcohol in January after the wine industry pushed President Emmanuel Macron to drop the plan.

READ ALSO Government abandons efforts to persuade the French not to drink in January

Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said a campaign is still being considered, but not for this year. The minister has backed several intiatives to try and limit drinking in France – which is responsible for 41,000 deaths a year.

She also wants to lower the country's drink drive limit, reduce guidelines for drinking alcohol while pregnant to zero and stop the sale of alcohol on the terraces of sports grounds.

And in a move that appears to have shocked some of her colleagues, she has even banned wine from being served at lunchtime in the Ministry of Health.

France has the third-highest per capita consumption of alcohol among the 36 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to a report from the club of wealthy nations this month.

 

 

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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!

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