The word "glance" in French
Winner announced + the French word "marcotter"

The word for cheese + a giveaway!


Enter to win a copy of the excellent Mastering the Art of French Eating: simply name your favorite cheese, right here in the comments box. Bonne chance!

le fromage (froh-mazh)

    : cheese


en faire tout un fromage = to make a big fuss out of nothing, to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the example sentence from Wikipedia:
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Le terme français « fromage » dérive de l’ancien français « formage » ... (et) signifie : « ce qui est fait dans une forme ». The French word "cheese" comes from ancient French "formage" and means "that which is made into a shape."


We're in for a treat today as my good friend Ann Mah is here to talk to us about le fromage! After reading Ann's delicious memoir, I know we can trust this endearing guide to enlighten us in all things French culinary. Now let's hear what Ann has to say about a less charming host, one that lives and thrives on cheese...

Les Artisons

I learned the word "artison" while eating cheese in St-Etienne, France. Near the end of a lavish lunch, my host offered a groaning board of local fromages. He selected one, tapped some powder off its surface into a small glass bowl, and handed me a magnifying glass. I saw a bunch of crumbs moving constantly, tiny specks that sometimes jumped. “Ce sont des artisons,” — cheese mites — he told me. “Small spiders that live in the cheese.” It was completely absorbing and also a little repulsive.

Ever since that meal, my fascination with cheese mites has only grown. And so, on a recent visit to Paris, I visited one of my favorite fromagers — Michel Fouchereau at La Fromagerie d’Auteuil — to find out more about these microscopic creatures — also called cirons, in French — what they do, and why they’re (sometimes) dangerous.

Fouchereau who, as a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (best craftsman of France) is one of the most informative sources on fromage, thinks of cheese as an animal. “We raise it, age it, and sell it so it’s consumed at its peak,” he said.

Cheese mites, he explained, are microorganisms that exist everywhere — “even in a draft of air” — but they especially love the damp, cool atmosphere found in the cave d’affinage, or cheese-aging chamber. They flock to cooked, pressed cheeses like Comté, or Cantal, boring into the crust, moving steadily towards the softer center, leaving behind a floral, sweet flavor. If left to their own devices, the artisons will take over a cheese until it becomes inedible. Many hard cheeses are, in fact, treated to deter cirons — the rind of Parmesan, for example, is oiled; cheddar is traditionally wrapped in cloth.

There is one French cheese, however, that welcomes these microscopic creatures as part of its aging process: Mimolette. Produced in Lille, near the Belgian border, it’s a hard, orange cheese with a thick crust riddled with holes. Mimolette starts out like any old pressed cheese, but at one or two months old, it’s taken to a special chamber and inoculated with artisons. The microscopic creatures nibble relentlessly, burrowing into the crust, aerating the cheese, and dramatically reducing the mimolette’s bulk. The result is a dense, salty cheese, with earthy, sweet, almost caramel, undertones. Unfortunately, the excess of mites on Mimolette's surface is considered an allergen and health hazard by the FDA; in 2013 they banned the cheese from the United States. Happily, small imports are once again being discreetly allowed.
        The brique fermier is the infamous St-Etienne cheese

Because fromagers keep a large assortment of cheeses in their cave — soft cheeses (like Roquefort, Camembert, or goat), as well as hard cheeses (Comté, Cantal, Beaufort) — they never allow the mites to linger and proliferate. In fact, they wage a constant battle against the artisons, cleaning the floors and shelves of the cave of their dust-like presence, continuously wiping, turning, and brushing the cheeses. “They never stop nibbling,” Fouchereau said. “We tolerate them, allow them to gather and do their work. And then, we eliminate them.”

                                                               *    *    *
Author picAnn Mah is a journalist and the author of the novel Kitchen Chinese. Awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship in 2005 , Ann's articles have appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, the International Herald Tribune and the South China Morning Post among other publications. The wife of a U.S. diplomat, Mah currently splits her time between New York City and Paris. Visit Author photo by Katia Grimmer-Laversanne. 

Did you enjoy Ann's story? If so, be sure to share with her your favorite cheese, here in the comments--and so enter to win a copy of her Mastering the Art of French eating. Now out in paperback!

Smokey and cheese

The label reads: Indication Geographic Protégée. Hmmm. Smokey wonders if this is why a heavy window separates him from his favorite snack.

Enter to Win The Book!
And you? What is your favorite cheese? Tell me here, in the comments section, and automatically enter to win a copy of Ann's Mastering the Art of French Eating. Click here to enter.

Laguiole knife
Looking for a super gift--around $30--for a Francophile? These Laguiole cheese knives dress up any cheese platter. We received ours as a wedding present 20 years ago and it is always a pleasure to add them to the plateau de fromage. Only three sets left for this colorful Provencal theme, shown above, but you'll find many more Laguiole serving knives here.

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety