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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Nine ways to compliment your French host’s cooking

From orgasmic-sounding noises to sophisticated phrasings - there are plenty of different French ways to show that you like what you are eating.

Nine ways to compliment your French host’s cooking
If a fondant au chocolat is made right (as it usually is in France) breaking the cake with the spook will it cause a small, slow flood of hot chocolate paste to fall out. Photo: Kristiana Pinne on Uns

The French don't play around with their food. 

In fact, the legendary quote “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” was first said by the Frenchman Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, lawyer and politician who gained fame as a gastronome, back in 1825.

Brillat-Savarin was not talking about the link between junk food and an expanding waistline, he was talking about the art of eating – a pleasure that according to him could only be maximised in company of others.

Eating remains a highly social activity in France today (gulping down a baguette in front of your computer to save time during lunch is seen as a quite barbaric, Anglo-Saxon thing), and one of the best ways to make new French friends is to join them for dinner.

But, before you do, it might be worth learning a few ways to compliment your host's cooking. The French language, of course, has many alternatives for that. Here's a few.

1. C’est excellent 

C'est excellent means 'it's excellent' and is a surefire way to reassure your host that their cooking skills are top-notch. Use it in any setting, formal or colloquial, with French in-laws or colleagues. There's really no getting it wrong with this one. Vous ne trouvez pas que c'est trop cuit ? Ah, non, c'est excellent ! -You don't find it overcooked? Oh, no, it's excellent! 

When the meat is just the right kind of tender.. Photo: Tim Toomey on Unsplash

2. C’est fameux.

Literally translated to 'it's famous', c'est fameux means 'it's excellent' or 'remarkable' when used about food. It's a somewhat old fashioned expression so you could be gently mocked for using this at the local bar while nibbling fries surrounded by close mates. If you are heading to a more formal dinner party with white table cloths and potentially snobbish attitudes, this could however be a good way to linguistically blend in: Comment trouvez-vous les canelés ? Ils sont fameux. – How do you like the canelé cakes? They are remarkable. 

3. C’est délicieux / c’est un délice

'It's delicious' or 'it's a delight' is two different ways to say the same thing: Ce gâteau est un délice – 'that cake is delightful' or 'delicious'. Use it on anything, it's not just for sweets, although it does ring well when talking about dessert. Oh-là-là, cette tarte au citron est vraiment délicieuse ! – Oh my, this lemon tart is really delicious. 

Or when a chocolate cake is just the right kind of moist.. Photo: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

4. Je me régale ! 

 Je me régale ! – I am loving this (dish)! – is the linguistic version of rubbing your belly. Se régaler means 'taking pleasure' and the expression says something about how you yourself feel about the meal in front of you, rather than pointing out that it is objectively exquisite. Imagine a child eating ice cream: eyes transfixed by the bowl, chocolate sauce spread wide around their cheeks, complete silence except for the spoon that is moving mechanically and efficiently back and forth.. Having achieved that state of someone qui se régale – who's enjoying themselves – is a massive compliment for the chef.

5. Mmmmm..

Contrary to in some countries, orgasmic-sounding noises such as mmmm and are not off the table in France. If a dinner party is full of mmm-ing guests, it means the food is so good that it merits vocal appreciation even before you're finished chewing and swallowing. If you want to show that you are enjoying the taste of a dish, mmmmm is a good way to go (just don't overdo them), by itself or as a supplement to any other expressions on the list.

Or when the pain au chocolat is just out of the oven.. Photo: Mink Mingle on Unsplash

6. C’est vraiment bon / très bon

Both of these mean 'it's really good' and either is a safe bet in any setting when you want to be complimentary, but not seem like you're overdoing it. Say a course is just average – definitely not Michelin star material – a relaxed c'est très bon, je trouve – 'oh no, I find it very good' – is a decent way to express gratitude. However, if you're the one cooking and someone says it's très bon, do not take it as an insult. Saying something is très bon is absolutely a compliment, it's just a slightly less enthusiastic way to go if you worry about going overboard.

7. C’est trop bon / super bon / ultra bon 

When you’re in an informal crowd and loving the dish, you can say wow, ce plat est ULTRA bon – 'wow, this dish is SO good'. This is quite a youthful way to say you're liking what you're eating, so save it for the younger crowds. 

Or when the tarte de citron (a lemon tart) is just the right kind of sour. Photo:  Alex Loup on Unsplash

8. C’est une tuerie !

C'est une tuerie literally translates to 'it's a killer' and it's a way do express that something is really good, like your tastebuds died and arrived in heaven. Ce pain au chocolat est une vrai tuerie – 'This chocolate pastry is a real killer'. This is quite colloquial so don't use it in very formal settings, save it for dinners with friends.

9. Miam !  

'Yum!' There's not much explaining needed for this one. Use it like mmmm and feel free to combine it with other expressions on the list.

This list is of course not exhaustive. What's your best tip for complimenting someone on their cooking? Send along your suggestions to [email protected]

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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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