We have been living in France for quite a few years by now, but the British inside of me still struggles at times with French customs and gastronomy (this includes dunking in coffee, which is the point of this article). My kids, however, have embraced the way of life and all it entails. What it is to be young!
The reason why I mention this is because my stomach can just about cope with watching my children dunking their breakfast bread into their milk, then pouring their cereal into the milk and finally drinking the milk (I am reassured that THIS is the French way).
It seems this dunking habit is firmly ingrained into the French culture, which is something I would never have suspected.
Last week I was invited by a French friend to have coffee. I arrived with several other women, (all French, so I was honoured) and we were served coffee and fresh cake. The woman to my right took her cake, broke off a small portion and dunked this deliciously fresh cake into her coffee. Would our host be offended by this? Was this woman insinuating that the cake was stale? I looked at the hostess and she was doing exactly the same thing! Dunking in coffee is obviously an acceptable and very French thing to do.
Sunday, we were invited to lunch with a French family. After a deliciously slow lunch, coffee was served at about 4.30pm. The remains of the cheese remained on the table. Isabelle, another guest, took a slice of Camembert and dunked it into her coffee, I looked around the table, and her husband was dunking a hand made truffle into his coffee: was anyone else shocked? No, everyone was smiling at me for being shocked.
I must admit, my children dunking bread or biscuits into their bowl of milk is just about as far as I can cope with. But cheese? No, this is a completely different thing and I draw the line here. Having said that, I have never tried. Perhaps there is a reason why this is such a popular custom in France. After all, sweet and savoury can mix very nicely. Perhaps one day, I will be brave enough and give it a try… not just yet though.
I remember going to the cinema a few years ago with my husband to watch the very popular French comedy Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis (Welcome to the Sticks). If you don’t speak French fluently, you probably miss quite a lot of the humour (which is our case) but it’s still incredibly funny and entertaining. In a few words, it’s the story of a post office worker from Provence who is (to his great despair) transferred to the North of France and discovers a completely new way of life, including… the breakfast-time custom of dunking the very famous local cheese, Maroilles, spread on a piece of French toast (biscotte) or French baguette (tartine)… into a bowl of coffee! This definitely isn’t a breakfast delight suited to everyone’s taste, but it makes for a hilarious scene in the movie, and it certainly is a habit that seems very popular in the North of France!
It would be interesting to find out how “French southerners” or indeed people from other regions of France feel about it. We know that people from Normandie dunk camembert in their morning coffee: you just need to take a look at the picture above. But what about Brie? Its shape seems to lend itself to this particular exercise! Seriously, what about people from the Cantal? Or people from the Aveyron in the region of Occitanie with their local Roquefort? Delight or disaster? The jury’s out.