Wouldn't it just be easier if things were all pre-cut and neatly wrapped with a price on so that you could just pick them up and put them in your shopping basket, avoiding all potential for awkward conversations with professionals? Well, yes obviously, but you already know why you shouldn’tbe buying cheese from a supermarket.
I’m not in a position to help you out with the French butcher or fishmonger, but having some experience in selling cheese, I reckon that I can provide some pointers to ease the process when visiting the cheesemonger.
Les Halles de Lyon (aka Halles Paul Bocuse) is not only the key weekly shopping location for the wealthier Lyonnais, it’s also a significant stop on the gastronomic tourist trail. This mélange of clientele brings a correspondingly diverse mix of needs and budgets, and a large part of the cheesemonger’s job is to separate these out. It’s a real knack (and I confess that I don’t get this right every time) to be able to give a client what they want, particularly when they struggle to articulate it (or articulate something different entirely. Ultimately that’s the goal though, if people leave with the thing they wanted, at the price they expected, they’re a whole lot more likely to come back.
This is just a guess, but I would hazard that as a reader of this blog, you are not one of our clients who breezes through the weekly cheese run every week with confidence and an ‘I’ve seen it all before’ glaze over their eyes. When one of these clients walks in, and asks for a slice of Comté, I know that I can hold the knife across the cheese and they will tell me when the slice looks big enough.
I’m going to be honest here, this is very convenient for us particularly when we’re in a rush - if we indicate the size of a slice of cheese and you agree to it, we don’t have to worry about how much it might weigh (or cost), as you‘ve already agreed to buy it.
But there is no shame in not being able to judge the value of a slice of Beaufort by eye, and if you aren’t confident in this, then it’s not in either of our interests for you to try. If we give you too little, we’ve lost out on the sale and you might not have as much cheese as you’d wanted. If we give you too much, you might feel stung and never come back again – which is the result that I worry about most. I’ve seen people wince when I’ve told them the price of a slice of cheese they asked for, and although I do my best to say that I can cut something smaller, I’m rarely taken up on it.
So, I’ve talked this over a bit with my colleagues at the shop and basically my advice to you as someone looking to buy cheese is this:
Let us know what you’re concerned about upfront and then we can make sure that you get what you’re after. Make us responsible for meeting your requirements.
For example, if you have a limited budget, tell the cheese monger that you have, for example, 10€ that you want to spend on local cheeses to make a cheese board. Then you’ll know that you won’t be paying more than that. We can find the right selection at the right price.
If you need to travel with your cheese, ask us which ones travel well, rather than trying to guess. That way you don't risk limiting your choices more than you need to, or ruining your best clothes with cheese goo from that over-ripe slice of brie.
If you’re having a fondue, tell us the style that you’re after and how many guests, then we can help you select the most suitable cheeses and make sure that you have enough to go around.
As I said above, we want you to leave happy with great cheese at the right price (and come back). We have no interest in you leaving with a bad taste in your mouth, quite the contrary in fact!