A knowledge and love of cheese seems to be in French genes. At dinner table I asked La Fille, who is not yet three, if she would like some cheese. She took a deep breath and said: "Some Camembert...some Brie...some Cantal." I asked: "Haven't you forgotten something?" She looked pensive for a couple of seconds and added: "Some Comté." Seeing my stern face she added: "Please." Hmmm, I thought. The Frenchman has been coaching her in cheeses if not in magic words and good manners (French dinner table etiquette rule 11: no more than three selections from the cheeseboard in a restaurant or polite society). So I set her a test. I cut a slice of Camembert and a slice of Comté and put them on her plate. "Which do you prefer?" To my astonishment she took a bite out of one, then the other, looked for all the world as if she was doing a tasting and waved the Camembert. "The Camembert," she said.
She won round one, but there is plenty of scope for a rematch. It was Charles de Gaulle who said: "How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese". The General is also said to have said: "One can't impose unity out of the blue on a country that has 265 different kinds of cheese." I have no idea in which order these were uttered but either 19 cheese were gained or lost in between, or de Gaulle was plucking figures out of the air on the assumption that nobody had actually bothered to count the number of cheeses in France. Whatever, there are far too many for La Fille to have memorised.
I have often wondered who in America decided "cheese eating" - as in the jibe "cheese-eating-surrender-monkeys" - was an insult and why? I mean why pick on cheese? "Snail-eating" or "frogs'-legs-eating", (a bit of a mouthful, I admit), even "garlic-eating" would have been more logical. I love garlic but it does linger, as indeed does a lot of French cheese. "Cheese-hating" would be more of an insult here or even "Perrier-sipping-surrender-monkeys". President Nicolas Sarkozy is said to prefer water to wine and this is regarded as at best odd and at worst suspicious. He will probably take a hit in the opinion polls for shunning the Louis Roederer and Dom Pérignon and toasting his recent nuptials with...orange juice (the man from Del Monté he say "yes"), but he could almost certainly wave goodbye to any hope of a second term if it turned out he was not a turophile.
I am looking forward to a repeat performance of La Fille's expertise this Saturday in the fromagère where one of the ladies has taken a shine to her. It will make a change from her usual routine of turning all doe-eyed and bleating: "Fromage, Mama?" in an unusually small voice. This one-act play, clearly intended to convey deprivation and starvation, would be more convincing if the cheese-eating-clever-monkey looked a little less well-fed. But still, it works every week.