Fromagerie or Monoprix for cheese?
I'm trying to convince my roommate (we're both living together in Paris for the summer), that it's better to go to a fromagerie (preferably a top quality one), than to the monoprix to get cheese. He argues that many of these cheeses are only made by one or a few places any way, and that these particular cheeses will therefore be the same at the monoprix as at a cheese store (for sure, the monoprix has an impressive amount of cheese for a supermarket, says the american!)
Still, it feels like the cheese store must be better... but why? I'd love to hear as many arguments as possible. Especially because our french is not that great, we might not be able to talk to a shopkeeper (though we probably could)--- but are there any other reasons to favor the cheese store? And any reasons not to go to the monoprix?
phil is right about how the cheeses are matured being most important for many cheeses. without knowing for certain about the production sources i would say that i strongly suspect that your roommate is wrong. the difference in quality is so great that it is highly unlikely that only the affinage makes the difference.
imo john is right that alleosse and cantin are great shops. there may be others as good but they are where i shop for special stuff. for everyday you can get accepatble cheese at most shops in paris and probably save some bucks - oops euros.
go to alleosse and give them some general guidance and let them pick their suggestion. they are rightfully proud of what they do and will go out of their way to please you.
Thanks for all the advice! We ended up doing a blind taste test for fun, a Camembert au calvados from monoprix vs. one from Quatrehomme (on rue de l'esperance, just a few blocks away, how fortunate). Unfortunately, this might have been the wrong cheese to blind-test; in the end the Quatrehomme was indeed much different, more intense and exciting, in fact a little strange, whereas the monoprix was much more like an OK, non-calvados, Camembert.
In any case, our stay in Paris being just for a month, and the Quatrehomme being such a cute shop, we've made our minds up. But still, I'd like to continue to explore the question. People have raised the points that the shop might age their own cheese (obviously a clear source of difference, probably in favor of the fromagerie), they will store them more properly, and they will offer them up when ripe. Further, you can get personal advice from the cheese-monger.
I suppose my question was, do they also get "better" cheeses right from the beginning? Or are the initial sources actually of comparable quality (monoprix vs. quatrehomme, say).
The sources will be different. Monoprix is a large supermarket chain which will buy from suppliers who can deliver volume (i.e. to stock all stores), specialist shops will not require volume so will be able to stock cheese from smaller producers. Monoprix probably have a blended supply chain with the bulk of their produce coming from large industrial producers who deliver constancy and volume at a competitive price, they will augment this with some specialist produce from local/small producers for promotional campaigns or to add some local flavour. This is a pretty standard supermarket chain model and from my experience of shopping at Monoprrix it is the one they use.
But which is the "better" source? From a supermarkets perspective better probably means consistent with a long self life. For a specialist shop it will mean lots of character (variation) and a degree of unique differentiation, so small production runs. So the answer is "different" and better depends on your perspective. For me, it is the small individual producer every time, but for others they may prefer the industrialised, uniform taste and texture.
This article on Camembert illustrates the industrial (supermarket) versus artisan (small shop) issue: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/wor...
For day-to-day cheese, I'd go to monoprix (probably cheaper? for example, when i was there, we could find good Rocamadour there); and splurge once or twice a week on a good cheese from a good cheesemonger.
If your goal is to taste a much as possible the cheeses of France (and to get them at the proper "done-ness" then, heck yeah, go to your cheese guy and be friend with him, pick one or two shops and one or two at the market.
It isn't a case of a choice between small shops and supermarkets. It is a choice of small shops that age the cheese themselves, small shops that don't and the supermarkets. The latter two are quite similar, the first though is quite different.
A shop which ages its cheese (an affineur) works with a living un-pasteurised product in order to sell it when it is in perfect condition, often their cheeses need to be eaten with in a day or two, and a good shop will ask specifically when you want to eat it in order to sell it in peak condition (and I mean this evening versus tomorrow evening).
A "common" cheese shop and many market stalls won't age their cheeses themselves, and thus the cheese may be less than perfect for eating, maybe mass produced. As a rule of thumb, and broad generalisation, rural markets will have cheese producers selling their own cheese, but big city/Paris markets have mobile cheese shops fronting wholesalers. Supermarkets do vary, but a large proportion of their cheese is pasteurised and thus not as good. They prefer the pasteurised cheese as it has a longer shelf life and is easier to handle along he supply chain. Some blame the supermarkets for the loss of small producers as they push for uniform production and they are rumoured to be behind moves to change the standards for certain cheese to allow pasteurised milk or even ban pasteurised milk.
Oh boy a room-mate squabble; excellent.
For me, I buy from my local Quatrehomme unless I feel guilty about not supporting my local Mauriciens at Barthelmy in which case I buy a hard cheese which they cannot screw up. But when time-pressed, I have fooled food snobs by bringing home brebis from Monoprix and putting it on a Villeroy & Boch platter. If I really want to go upscale however I do do Alleosse or Cantin.
I agree that we should support our local x-mongers be they of whatever stripe; look we give Monoprix, Franprix, etc our hard-earned dough everyday for coffee and toilet paper, let's keep the few independents we have left in business (my precious cremerie and bakery have closed to be replaced with eyeglasses and undies, stores of which we have enuf already.
Also I don't buy the "are only made by one or a few places any way" argument; not when the monger buys and affinates the cheese him or herself.
re: John Talbott
Hear,hear. Support independent business! And get coffee at the coffee monger, John! Among the best in Paris is a little elderly lady in an alley off the Place de la Bastille. I believe the alley is Cour Damoye but I don't know the name of the shop. Can't mis it though. It's a throwback place, and the coffee there is wonderful!
Edit: The name of the place is Brulerie Daval. Great coffee store!!
re: John Talbott
I try to buy at small, independent shops if for no other reason than that they are increasingly beihng squeezed out of the marketplace, vis a vis rues Mouffetard and Montorguiel. There are now more chain boutiques on these streets than artisan shops.
And espefcially with cheese, the affinage or way that the cheese has been handled since birth is almost as important as its fabrication. One would hope that the small specialist would understasnd and respect his product and have more control over it than the large chain supermarket.
Several fromageries store their cheese is specially designed caves, which I would imagine is not the case at supermarkets. Compare a vieux comte from Dubois from Cantin, and the difference is notable. Same with other varieties. Shopping at the Monoprix does have its place, but not for exceptional cheese, in my opinion. (Here in NYC, I am a big fan of a diner-style grilled cheese, and prefer good old American cheese for that, but in Paris, I shop at Dubois and Cantin.)
Many of the good cheeses are made by relatively small farms. Monoprix only carries biggish brands. For most of the cheese I like, I can only get them in specific fromageries, never in supermarkets. O how I have looked. No dice."
"He argues that many of these cheeses are only made by one or a few places any way, and that these particular cheeses will therefore be the same at the monoprix as at a cheese store"
Could you or he run it by me again? I don't get the reasoning.
On the other hand, some people are careless about what they eat and live happily. It does not make them inferior human beings. No use trying to change them into what they are not.