Monday, December 4, 2017

Cheese – A tale of three countries

A rose is a rose is rose but cheese is not fromage, which is not גבינה  [gvina]. While the translation is correct, the meaning is fundamentally different in the United States, France and Israel.

All types of food, including cheese are available, in most places in the United States.  However, the word cheese on a menu generally brings up the yellow flat pieces known as American cheese, although fancier places will use cheddar. Supposedly, there is some milk-based material in American cheese but I have to take that on faith.  Instead, it is used as a taste element, albeit rather high caloric, to supplement various dishes, including omelets and hamburgers. In Israel, people use powdered chicken broth for the same purpose. Regarding it as a cheese and not a texture-element, I wonder how many people eat slices of American cheese au natural, without bread or some other accompaniment. Other cheeses are considered foreign and exotic, either attracting or turning off Americans according to their food bents and budget.  So, in America, for many people, the term cheese brings up an image of a flat, yellow slice.

By contrast, cheese in France is not food item but instead a world into itself. A visit to a French cheese shop is a voyage through France with all its smells, colors and tastes. Experts can identify a brie or camembert by area or even village. The more striking the cheese is, whether in smell or taste or both, the better.  Mild cheese is for wimps or certain cooked dishes. That Anglo-Saxon adventurous choice, cheddar, is an also-ran in the competitive arena of a fromagerie. Even less sophisticated French appreciate a good chèvre (goat cheese). So, in France, le fromage is a microcosm of the country.

Israel is developing country in terms of cheese.  Once upon a time, for economic reason, the only cheese available were two types of גבנ"צ [gavnatz], yellow cheese. Since the opening of the country and arrival of millions of Russian immigrants, the sky is the limits.  Countless types of cheese are not easily attainable, albeit for a pretty penny.  Still, for everyday use, people use the standard yellow cheese. I have to say that the Israeli standard is significantly higher than the American standard cheese and quite tasty in itself.

When in Rome do like the Roman but don’t go too far and do something stupid.  In France, visit a fromagerie. You may like it (or may run away for that matter). In the United States, unless you like it, do not order cheese unless they tell you which cheese.  To be fair, there is nothing wrong with a good cheddar. In Israel, you won’t be disappointed by the standard cheese but go to a Russian supermarket and enjoy the wide choice of tastes, if not smells. Say cheese!

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