Cheese Carnage: How an American’s cheese cutting divided a community

This week we shared a photo on social media of an apparent cheese massacre at a Parisian dinner party. The victim? A delicious 12-month Comté slice. The culprit? A newly-arrived foreigner in France.

The Earful Tower Podcast Episode

On this week’s podcast episode, host Oliver Gee gets into detail about a two-second slice of an evening at a recent Parisian dinner. With a special guest – the cutter himself – they discuss life as a foreigner, awkward cultural moments, and how to tackle them. Local cheesemongers also chime in with thoughts on the massacre and tips for how to avoid it.

Listen to the episode below. And please note: You can also find this podcast episode on Spotify, iTunes, Android… and everywhere else you find podcasts.

The full story

Let’s rewind a bit. If you’re not following The Earful Tower on social media (Facebook and Instagram), you’ve been missing a big discussion. We asked if the Comté slice (the cheese on the right, below) was: a big deal, a forgivable act, or an atrocity to all of France? The responses came in by the hundreds. (And that’s not even mentioning the comments about the Brie on the left of the picture.)

You have to remember, of course, that cheese is almost sacred in France.

“Off with his head!”

Some of the comments were from outraged followers, here’s a taste:

“There are things in this world that are just wrong. This is a perfect example.”
“I’m glad he doesn’t practise surgery.”
“Some people go to jail for less than that.”
“This is an insult to cheese.”
“It’s an atrocity everywhere. Seriously.”
“Is this the result of trying to hold his knife with his foot?”
“Hopefully he has been sufficiently shamed out of making that mistake again!”

One Frenchman even said it was “war being declared on France!”

“A teachable moment”

Others took the side of our Texan friend Will, explaining this was a chance to learn, and a forgivable mistake. Some correctly pointed out my own cheese failings in France that I documented in Paris On Air.

To see the rest of the comments, head over to The Earful Tower Facebook page or Instagram post @theearfultower

What would a French cheesemonger say?

With comments coming in from both sides, I decided to head to a fromagerie in search of a professional opinion. Needless to say Elodie, Marine and Lou at Griffon Fromagerie were not prepared for the photo I was about to show them. I recorded their reaction in the podcast, you can really hear their distaste.

“Un carnage! A mass murder!” said one.

Once the shock had worn off they kindly explained the proper cheese etiquette at a party.

“If you’re invited, you just look at the person next to you and ask them how to do it first,” she said.

“Don’t be afraid. The French love to explain.”

How does the culprit defend himself?

Now we’ve heard from everyone but the guilty party himself. Let me introduce you to Will Weaver, an American basketball coach who moved to Paris three months ago to coach Paris Basket. Will and I caught up again in the bar of Le Bristol Paris (very fancy, worth a visit for a special occasion), and he shared his side of the story.

“As a Texan, we’ve done abominable things to cheese for generations,” he explained with a laugh, adding that he had only recently begun to “appreciate where cheese fits into the pantheon of deities here in France”.

We took the chance to compare notes as strangers in a strange land. He ended by saying he had “a real gratitude for the chance to get to be exposed to novel things and to be around people that can help you learn”.

What’s the moral of this story? 

So what can we take away from this story? Mostly the fact that you will make mistakes as a foreigner in a new country, it’s inevitable. Especially in France where cheese and wine etiquette are so important. But also: if you don’t take to take a big ugly chunk out of the cheese that is life, then how are you going to learn anything, or let alone gather any fun stories to share! Dare to try!

Anyway, that’s it for now!

If you enjoyed this story, especially this podcast episode, the transcript is available in the form of The Earful Gazette, just for Patreon members. Here’s a sneak peek below.

Or, of course, you can buy one of our books or guides below, or from our online shop here.

One thought on “Cheese Carnage: How an American’s cheese cutting divided a community

  1. Oliver, I have listened to your podcasts from almost the very begining and I have to tell you this one is hands down my favorite! I will pull it out any time someone asks the difference between Americans and French!

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