An Orchestra of Cheeses

Les Halles

The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola is an astonishing book set in and around the Les Halles food market in Paris. The food imagery is truly wonderful, if not always flattering, especially when we consider that the plot has nothing to do with food.

Here are three quotes from the section now colloquially known as ‘the orchestra of cheeses. At the end of this I promise you will be either hungry, in search of some excellent orchestral music or both:

“A silence fell at the mention of Gavard. They all looked at each other cautiously. As they were all rather short of breath by this time, it was the camembert they could smell. This cheese, with its gamy odour, had overpowered the milder smells of the marolles and the limbourg; its power was remarkable. Every now and then, however, a slight whiff, a flute-like note, came from the parmesan, while the bries came into play with their soft, musty smell, the gentle sound, so to speak, of a damp tambourine. The livarot launched into an overwhelming reprise, and the géromé kept up the symphony with a sustained high note.” ….

‘From the cantal, Cheshire, and goat’s milk came the sound of a bassoon, punctuated by the sudden, sharp notes of the neufchâtels, the troyes, and the mont-d’ors.  Then the smells went wild and became completely jumbled, the port-salut, limbourg, géromé, marolles, livarot, and pont-l’évèque combining into a great explosion of smells.’ ….

‘….then the violins cut in densely, like a crisp Beaufort d’Alpage, the cellos and viols supporting them like well-aged Tomme de Savoie or perhaps a complex Comté from the Jura. Suddenly great gusts of brass, like racks of tart, freshly-unveiled chèvre, blasted out over the strings, while a glutinous bass note, like Epoisses poured over the thick, fractured slice of Vielle Mimolette kept up by the percussion section, anchored the brighter notes now curdling from a thin fromage blanc into something that would need a rind, or at least a few dried feuilles de marron, to stand on its own.’

Cheese List

These quotes come from a scene that isn’t even about cheese at all but does take place in a cheese shop. These cheeses certainly make their presence felt. I have decided that I should make these into a list of cheeses to try before my next important birthday. I’ve managed 11 so far, has anyone tried all of these?

Featured Image Credit: Wayne Thiebaud – Delicatessen Counter 1963