in general, we Brits are not used to seeing food that has grown a skin since it was prepared for consumptionwrites Stephen Clarke.
I’m no scientist but I suspect that vast fortunes get spent by dairy companies on making sure that cartoned foods like yoghurt and rice pudding don’t grow skins. Similarly you don’t see cheeses with their rinds on in many British supermarkets, except for the lily-white perfection of the coating on a Camembert or Brie that looks more like icing on a cake. This is probably because we think it’s a bit of a rip-off to get sold a thick layer of inedible skin on such an expensive commodity, even if it doesn’t bother us when we peel mangoes.
Here in France, though, you can still buy lots of cheeses in their rinds, and there are a surprising number of small cheeses that you buy whole. Lots of people will also dig a cheese out of their fridge and scrape off the blue-green gunge that has accumulated as cheerfully if they were removing a bruise from an apple. Yesterday I was at a dinner where one of the cheeses on the board seemed to be in an advanced state of putrefaction. It had gone almost liquid and sunk in the middle like a rotten orange. But a woman squidged into it and smeared it on her plate as though she was serving caviar. It smelt like mature sock, but she pronounced it delicious. She was, I should add, a fairly posh 40-something Parisian, and there are plenty of French people out there, especially younger ones, who eat their cheese in neat metric cubes that have forgotten they ever had a skin. So i’m not sure that putrified Saint Marcelin has a great future, even here in France.
… All of which made me laugh when a friend sent me the link to a BBC report about American food officials declaring French cheese “filthy” and inedible. The funniest thing was that it was Mimolette, a hard Edam-like cheese that even I as a Brit find a bit bland. It’s usually sold in small semi-circular slices with a curve of rind, or the kind of rectangular rindless blocks that you would think the Americans might enjoy. It’s the last cheese you would expect to get an import ban. The US food officials apparently objected to the mites on the skin, which makes you wonder whether American cheeses are ever made with rind. Maybe they’re just poured into a metal mould. Perhaps they don’t even curdle the milk any more – after all curdling is a sort of decomposition.
The tragic thing for France is that this American hang-up about food mites probably goes back to the mid-19th century when America itself infected France with an epidemic of cute yellow bugs called Phylloxera.