By Joel Benicourt
Having lived in Turkey from 2008 to 2016, I never had the chance to thoroughly experience the cultures of my parents’ countries—France and the United States. I grew up in a family environment in which both French and English were spoken, but I often missed a significant part of my national heritages: food. More specifically, French cuisine. My grandparents introduced me to French cheese when I visited them in Savoie (an area near the Swiss and Italian borders) during the early 2000s. I fondly remember sitting around “Papy and Mamie’s” antique kitchen table having lunch and enjoying a variety of cheeses such as Camembert, Tomme de Savoie, and Mimolette. While I used to associate these delicious dairy products with a cohesive group of other French foods, I never understood how truly diverse the nation’s culinary legacy is. Numerous people groups, cultures, and geographical regions have blended French food into what it is today. However, what I did not realize as a young boy was that Camembert, Tomme de Savoie, and Mimolette cheese all derive themselves from different areas of the country. Camembert is a creamy, aromatic cheese produced in Normandie. Tomme de Savoie is a deliciously pungent Alpine cheese with a hard brown crust. Mimolette is an orange-colored cheese originating from Northern France and parts of what are now the “Benelux” countries. Here are the inescapable differences between cheeses!
Although I could not make an educated assessment of French cooking, my understanding of this topic changed when I first travelled to Paris in 2014. The voyage northwest from the French Alps to the concrete jungle of the French Capital revealed a fascinating change in geography. Long stretches of golden-brown fields punctuated the six-hour-long highway road-trip between the mountains and the metropolis. While moving about France, a similarly surprising change occurs with the foods of different regions. For instance, one can easily find sauerkraut (as shown in the photo below), beer, and pretzels in Alsace, France (an area known for its Germanic influence). Bretagne, a region on the country’s westernmost Atlantic Peninsula, famously serves sweetened crepes, salty galettes (as shown on the photo above), seafood, and hard cider. In Île-de-France (also known as the Parisian Region), a remarkably wide array of foods from nations like Morocco, Turkey, Lebanon, India, and Vietnam can be found.
Thinking of my life as a missionary kid, I cannot help but smile at the wonderful ethnic mixture that makes French Cuisine, French. Since I have been living in France starting from 2017, I hope to discover more about the tradition and art invested in the country’s food. From its position on the south side of the English Channel to its Mediterranean Coast, France’s culinary culture is undoubtedly unique. As much as I now have an appreciation for these cheeses and dishes, I still cannot comprehend how the French harmonize these gastronomical wonders into a single national cuisine!