Thursday, March 22, 2012

Bits of reverse culture shock: The price of cheese and bread

Long story short, I recently returned from a little over a month in the South of France.  After a bit more than three years away, I am now back in Boise, Idaho, and the reverse culture shock is hitting home.

While I spent the last three years adjusting to Russian cuisine and groceries, then to Korean cuisine and groceries, and briefly to French cuisine and groceries, my decision to return to Boise has lead to a lot of balking by my taste buds.  And their complaints don’t have much to do with the things I left behind in Korea or Russia.

Would you like some cheese with that whine?

A bit of kimchi or a pirozhki every once in a while never hurt anyone, and I’m sure, eventually, I will have the desire to make something Russian again. But the main problem I have with the groceries in Boise is the simple cost of bread and cheese. I am no longer in Korea where it was expected to pay an arm, a leg, and half your first born child for a bit of decent cheese. Rather, I’m in a country that has plenty of space to grow the wheat needed to make baguette, and a plethora of dairy cows that can make perfectly decent cheese. I half expected French cheeses – made in France, mind you – to be more expensive than domestic cheeses. Yet, what I have found is there are plenty of imported French cheeses that cost the same amount as domestic cheeses. Why, I ask myself, does that make any sense?

Of course, even though, I half expected it, most shocking of all is the price of well-known, imported, French cheeses.  For example, in Marseille St. Albray, a fairly mild, creamy, delicious cheese made from cow’s milk, costs a total of 2 Euros (approximately $2.60) for 200 grams (close to half a pound). While in the States, this same cheese costs $20 per pound, nearly four times as much! Now, tell me how that makes sense? Are people seriously willing to pay this? Apparently they are, but because of the price difference, I cannot bring myself to pay $20 per pound for St. Albray. It simply isn’t that rare or exotic! I’m sure many people feel this way about paying $5 for 200 grams of any cheese (domestic or foreign), but there’s something to be said about the pleasure of sitting down and eating some good cheese.

Now, if you think I’m overreacting when it comes to cheese and should just settle for the typical 2 pound baby loaf of Tillamook cheddar, perhaps you are right. Or perhaps you are missing out on one of the great joys of life. My challenge to you: break down and spend $5 on some good, creamy, aged goat cheese, and enjoy it with a bit of bread and some of your favorite wine after your next home-cooked meal of steak, potatoes, and fresh green beans. Precede the meal with an aperitif (this could also be your favorite wine) and follow the cheese portion with a bit of chocolate and a nice cup of good espresso. Then tell me the French are wrong, and I should quit complaining.

Let them eat McDo

My first stop in Boise once I returned? The Boise Coop. This haven of all things delicious promised to provide me with the cheese I desired, the wine I craved, and the baguette that rounded everything out. I quickly accepted the price of the wine, which stood around the same price as others ($10). I balked a bit at the price of cheese, but when it came to the price of baguette, I stood stunned, interrupting the flow of foot traffic from the cheese/bread section to the produce. I stopped, physically shook my head, and started muttering to myself. I could not believe it. Who, in their right mind, would pay $3-4 dollars on up for a baguette?! It wasn’t even warm! As I have searched around, I've realized that the problem is not isolated to the "pricey" Boise Coop, rather all around town baguette stands at around $3 for a fresh (that day, not that hour) loaf.

Now, I’m no baker, but I know flour, water, and yeast for a loaf the size of a normal baguette is nowhere near $3. Baguette is something bought daily and fresh and is a requirement for every meal in France, so I would image if the price of baguette rose to $3 a loaf (most families take 2 for dinner), it would be the beginning of the next French Revolution. Women would once again march down the street demanding a lower price for this daily staple. Bricks would be thrown into the windows of bakeries and bread would be stolen and horded (though it would only last a day without getting too stale or chewy). So, what does it mean for America, when a hamburger at McDonald’s is cheaper than bread? Why are we not up in arms?

For those that are scratching their heads about my obsession with baguette. First, I’m surprised to see you have read this far. Second, the French baguette has a very unique characteristic, and if these $3 loaves in the States even compared to the quality and freshness of a true baguette, I might consider paying $3 for an occasional indulgence. But! The problem I’ve found is that not only are these baguettes $3 a piece, they are not nearly as delicious.

So, what does it mean for me and adjusting?

Constant cravings.

1 comment:

  1. I will fedex you a baguette from Nice. Ha ha.I think I will experience the same when I head back home.