Paris Grocery, 1418 Western Avenue
It certainly wasn’t the promise of charcuterie. Based on Anthony Bourdain’s books, I vaguely associate charcuterie with–well, not to put too fine a point on it–guts. And it wasn’t the selection of French wines either, as I happily leave all wine decisions to my uber-wine merchant Larry, proprietor of The North City Bistro & Wine Shop. If Larry sells me a bottle of French wine, then I drink French wine.
No, what caught my attention in the Seattle Weekly notice about the opening of Paris Grocery, was this phrase: “35 varieties of French cheese, including seven types of French blue.” O cheese, how do I love thee? Let me count the 35 ways…
At my first opportunity, I headed downtown. Paris Grocery is right next door to The Spanish Table, and owned by the same people. The new store still has the barren look of a new venture—plenty of open space inside, with wines in the middle, a few shelves of preserves, mustards, etc at the back, and a couple of cold cases.
I perused the meat selection, and found no guts on display (maybe they keep them in the back for their French customers) but lots of scrumptious-looking varieties of sausages, many made with duck meat, richly red and unabashedly plump.
Then I made a first pass by the cheese case–casually, even coyly circling by, with just a glance before returning to the wall of jams to collect myself. I wandered back to the cheese case, and the young woman behind the counter asked, “Would you like to try any of the cheeses?” “Yes, I would!” I replied, “All of them!” She smiled nervously and said, “Well, that would take a while!”
And she was so right! The case was chock-full, stacked with fat wheels of creamy cheeses with delightfully chewy-looking rinds and little cards describing their attributes. After some judicious sampling, I settled on two cheeses.
The Fleur de Marquis, made from the milk of “Corsican/Lucaune ewes, encrusted with thyme, fennel seeds, juniper berries and rosemary…” had a classic sheep’s milk texture, dense, slightly tart, and infused with the aroma of the herb crust.
And the Abbaye de Belloc. “Basque manchec sheep milk aged 4-10 months…” an entirely inadequate description of this traditional, firm unpasteurized cheese, first made by Benedictine monks, clearly under divine inspiration. The Abbaye de Belloc was rich, flavorful, and as complex as a glass of good wine—the flavor changed from the initial inhalation to the first burst of flavor on my tongue, then developed as I chewed, leaving a final hint of lanolin aroma in the back of my mouth. Oh mercy!
I added a mini-baguette to my purchase of two modest quarter-pound wedges of heaven, and wandered next door to pick up a few cans of fava beans. I love The Spanish Table, a store as crowded as the Paris Grocery is empty—Spanish food, cookbooks, tableware, paella pans, and another cheese case…but my cheese needs having been amply met, at least for the time being, I was able to escape with just the fava beans in hand, although it was a close call, a very close call.