How I became an international French cheese smuggler

13 Mar

Now here is a very funny real life foodie adventure story.

We’ve all been there. Stranded at customs or airport security begging the security agent to let you though with you your so-called ‘prohibited or dangerous’ goods- usually an expensive hand cream, alcohol, perfume or gourmet gift that you put in your hand luggage, not knowing of, or forgetting the crazy cabin baggage policies of today. Bring back memories? I bet it does. I’m still laughing to myself about the journey I went through with my precious French cheeses went last night when taking a short EU flight between Marseille and Malta, and since it’s quite a laugh, I just had to share it.

– Printed board pass and passport in handbag? Check

– 15 kilos suitcase pre-paid check in luggage. Check

– Bag of edible goodies and gifts for expat friends ? (Check-in bag already at 15kg so will have to go in hand-luggage). Check

– Hand cream, lip gloss, nail polish and hairspray: All under 100 mls and sealed in plastic zip-lock bag? Check

And so, there I was. Bag checked in and ready to go through security to board my flight.

It started with the usual procedure. Laptop out, boots off, jacket off, liquids separated and in plastic bag, handbag in tray and on the conveyor belt. I then pulled out my shopping bag of goodies intended as gifts for friends and family in Malta and put it in the tray.

I had spent a good 45 minutes in the local fromagerie yesterday deliberating over which of the finest, stinkiest French cheeses to take with me and bring delight to those eagerly awaiting at the other end for their foodie fix.

Aside from a top French sauccisson and a block of fine dark chocolate, I had 750 grams ‘quota’ to fill with cheese After much indecision, I ended up choosing three of my favourites, just imagining the look of pure delight as they were received by their cheese deprived recipients.

A 250 gram Tête de Moine (my new favourite). Usually served as an appetizer, it’s a firm cow’s milk cheese that’s loads of fun to serve using it’s special ‘shaving handle’ implement which shaves it into cute little ‘chanterelle-shaped morsels.

Tête de Moine cheese

Tête de Moine shaved into chanterelle morsels

An 350 gram round wooden box of divine Mont d’Or. For those of you not familiar with this cheese, all I can say is: this is the stuff dreams (and round hips) are made of. An unpasteurised ‘cru’ cows milk cheese which has an exquisitely creamy oozing centre and washed rind. The best way to eat Mont d’Or is heated in the oven in it’s own round wooden box, mixed with white wine till it’s an oozing and melting pot of liquid heaven.

Mont d'Or cheese

Mont d'Or: a melting pot of liquid heaven

And finally- I couldn’t go past 250 grams of the irresistible and classic Blue d’Auvergne. Another one of my personal favourites (especially with a walnut and endive salad) it was also a special request anxiously awaited by my friend Dennis at the other end.

Now… I got a little carried anyway there describing those cheeses- let’s get back to the story.

The dialogue from this point went a little something like this:

Security checkpoint officer woman: “What’s in the plastic bag?”

“Oh… just cheeses.”

“What type of cheeses? As some kinds of cheeses are not allowed”.

And then it occurred to me: Maybe you actually can’t take unpasteurized cheeses outside of France? So, knowing that 2 of the cheeses were ‘cru’ and one was not- I responded sheepishly with “Tête de Moine” (the pasteurised cheese). Hoping that would get me out of the red. After-all, the x-ray machine can’t tell the difference….right?

So, I proceed to go through the scanner gate. No beeps. All clear. I wait anxiously at the other end for my bag, laptop, jacket, shoes and- cheeses.

The woman at the other end opens the goodie bag and goes through it piece by piece.

Saucisson- fine. Chocolate- fine. Tete de moine- fine.

Just when I think it’s all good, she starts poking at the slab of blue cheese, shakes her head, and then puts it aside.

Then she picks up the round box of Mont d’Or…. and … puts it aside.

“Sorry- you can’t take these two cheeses- the other things are fine”

My panic begins to set in. Stay calm, don’t look stressed.

“But why? They don’t say that the milk is unpasteurised? And it’s the EU?!

She glares back at me, shaking her head and says:

“No no no it’s not that- that doesn’t matter. You are carrying too much LIQUID”.

Now I’m getting confused. I respond:

“You mean, it’s ok that the milk is unpasteurised, but I can’t take it because it’s a LIQUID?!”

She calls over Mr French Security Officer to further explain.

He lifts up the two offending cheeses and starts squeezing and poking them, shaking his head in dismay.

I respond “Mais… je ne comprends pas” C’est incroyable… This is not liquid- It’s CHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSE!!!”

“Yes, madame, but these cheeses are too soft so they are classified as liquid, and you can only take 100 mls of liquid on board.”

My jaw drops. I try to imagine possible ways of hijacking the plane armed with my Tête de Moine and Blue d’Auvergne. My imagination did not take me very far. Now I’m just annoyed at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.

“But I HAVE to take the cheeses with me- they are important GIFTS!”

“I’m sorry, but that’s the rule. Can you put them in your check-in baggage or give them to a friend?”

“I have already checked in my bag, and there is no-one here who can take them from me.”

“Then, I’m sorry Madame, but there is no other option.”

Now my determination takes over. I respond, evidently flustered, in clumsy French:

“I cannot leave the country, and arrive empty-handed, without the cheeses- everyone waiting for them will be soooooo disappointed!”

He looks mildly apologetic, shrugs his shoulders and again, apologises. Now I am even more determined- I refuse to abandon my beautiful cheeses at the border.

That’s when it occurred to me. A flash of inspiration. A wise, authoritative voice in my head says:

“Pull out the Grandma story.”

So that’s exactly what I did.

Holding a piercing gaze with Mr French Security Officer, I respond with full conviction and my best possible French:

“You don’t understand. My Grandma is going to CRY if I don’t bring this cheese”

His face instantly starts to melt, kind of like the gooey Mont D’or. Now that I know I have struck a chord, I come in for a second strike.

“She has rung me twice this week, just to remind me not to forget her cheese”

His bottom lip begins to quiver.

“She has been waiting SIX MONTHS for me to come, with this cheese, and if turn up, empty handed, she will be DEV-A-STAT-ED.”

The Grandma guilt trip is working. Mr French security officer is clearly disturbed by the thought of my sweet little 87 year old ‘Mamie’ missing out on her long-awaited cheeses.

He takes a deep breath, lowers his voice and pulls me aside.

“OK. There is one thing you can do. Are you listening?

Yes.

“Go back out of Security with your belongings, and the soft cheeses. Go over to the café, and buy two baguettes. Cut each of the cheeses in half.

“O…..K……”

“Put one half of each of the cheeses inside a baguette, and wrap up the other half separately.”

“OK…”

He continues: “ This way, technically, the cheese between the baguette will not be classified as a liquid substance anymore, and the other half will be closer to 100 mls.”

Again, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. First the cheese is a liquid, now a baguette is a liquid defying agent. Craziness.

“You mean, if I put the cheese in a baguette, It’s not a liquid anymore?”

Mr French Security Officer whispers with a very serious face:
“Yes… It’s not really ‘by the book’ but it’s the only way.”

And so off I went. Back out through security, passers-by watching and wondering why I am going in the wrong direction.

I go to the café and alors- there is only one baguette left for sale- and of course it’s filled with ham.

I buy it anyway. It’s better than nothing. Out goes the ham, I take a plastic knife and begin chopping the blue d’Auverge in half, much to the baffled looks of the other café patrons at my table. I then proceed to stuff the empty baguette with massive slabs of blue cheese, and wrap the remaining half.

I then realise the sad reality. There is no solution to save the Mont d’Or. Quelle dommage. This beautiful cheese, and I’m going to have to throw it out. Even if there were baguettes, it’s too soft to remain edible once its been squashed inside a baguette.

In desperation, I do the only thing I can to make the most of the situation.

I crack open the Mont d’or. I tear away a piece of the baguette and I scoop a big morsel of cheese, then eat right there, on the spot.

I have to say, cheese has never tasted as good as that moment there. Time stopped for a precious 10 seconds as this ‘forbidden’ cheese, about to be abandoned at the border, slowly melts in my mouth.

A Final boarding call for my flight abruptly ends my moment of pleasure with the Mont d’or.

I wrap up the blue cheese baguette, painfully drop the box of Mont d’or in the bin then run back to security.

The security officers let me jump the queue. I go through the drill once again with my belongings on the conveyor belt where I meet once again with Mr and Ms Security Officer who are giggling at my determined efforts to save the cheese. Amused, they inspect my baguette and hacked slab of blue cheese as I explain that I did exactly as they had asked me, and how I had to make the agonizing decision to throw out the Mont d’Or.

“It’s better than nothing” says the security officers.
“At least your Mamie will have some good French bread to go with it!” Someone else adds.

I thank Mr Security Man on behalf of my Grandmother and run to the boarding gate where I just make my flight, short of breath, stinking of blue cheese and proudly satisfied with my success.

Once again, Grandma saves the day.

And so there you have it. 10 points to the French for this one I say. Who else but the French care enough about food and the family bond with food, to bother finding a solution in the pursuit of getting good cheese across the border?

My faith in the French is restored.

I arrive at my destination and present my friend with his much awaited blue cheese. It’s not pretty. It’s squashed inside a stale airport baguette. It’s been through a tough journey.

But damn did it taste good.

Thanks Nanna.

The end.

Got a similar story to share? What’s the craziest thing you’ve done for the love of food? If you enjoyed this story or have a good one to add, add your comments below.

Blue cheese in baguette

The 'non-liquid' Blue d'Auvergne arrives at it's destination

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25 Responses to “How I became an international French cheese smuggler”

  1. Celine December 23, 2015 at 7:00 am #

    Amazing story!
    I got a similar experience at the airport in Lyon. I went to the security check with kids and husband and two identical suitcases, one full of clothes and chocolate, the other full of cheese and meat. Of course, they stopped the one full of cheese and wanted us to throw away half of it or go and check it in for 75€😱.
    We tried to negociate for a while but got no luck. At a certain point, the guy we were talking with looked away and I use this time to swap the 2 identical suitcases, took the one with clothes with me and told the guard I was going back to check in the bag.
    Meanwhile, my husband took the bag full of cheese and went to the gate.
    I waited 10 minutes, changed my clothes, untight my hair, put my glasses on (Superman trick 😉) and went back to the safety check with the other bag.
    Hoppefuly they didn’t recognize me and I passed without any issue…
    Yes, a French could do anything for cheese…

  2. fer February 25, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    Where can I buy the Mont d’or in Paris?? Merci

  3. Alberta October 22, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    Hey there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this page to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Many thanks for sharing!

  4. Gking September 13, 2012 at 12:49 pm #

    Found this story looking for some help on how best to approach a little round box of Mont D’or, (having bought some in the local village). Ended up reading it to the whole family – who all fell about laughing. Cheese is great too. Fabulous writing.

  5. Margot Desira March 11, 2012 at 7:17 am #

    Dogged determination go Rach

  6. Sara July 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    I found the link to this story at Tasteologie on NotCot, and I am so glad I decided to read it! Like the other posters, I completely had the mental image of the whole ordeal! The pictures at the end sealed the deal, I’m bookmarking!

  7. Tony April 12, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    Rach, this is toooooo funny!

    Only you could find a way out of a situation like this 🙂

    The Blue Cheese looks like St Augar Cheese I’m currently addicted too.. Its wrong but yet it’s soooo right …

  8. Philippe March 25, 2011 at 9:06 pm #

    Tu racontes si bien cette histoire Rachel ! L’honneur de la France est sauf ! Tu aurais dû leur offrir le Mont d’Or, ils en rêvaient sûrement.

  9. dennis March 20, 2011 at 3:59 pm #

    As the recipient of the “Blue d’Auverge That Went Through Hell to Get to Malta”, I feel I must make some profound comment of undying gratitude to Rachel for taking it upon herself to flaunt international anti-terrorism protocols just so I could bask in the ecstasy of some stinky blue cheese. This is probably not the appropriate time to say that I would have been just as happy with a slab of gourmet chocolate or a real French croissant (an item that is amazingly absent from the culinary smorgasbord of Maltese cuisine). But since she did thumb her cute Aussie nose at convention and in an inspired moment of classic French guilt was able to run the security gamut with baguette in hand, I must admit a very guilty pleasure as I tear off portions of my contraband fromage and bask in its richness and succulent aroma. Heaven help me though if Rachel’s real Nannu gets wind of her granddaughter’s deceit and comes banging on my door to reclaim the cheese that she might believe is rightfully hers. It will not be pretty.

  10. Jean-Pierre March 15, 2011 at 10:10 am #

    Initially I thought it was a bad joke. It seems they do take their cheese quite seriously!!!

  11. Lily March 14, 2011 at 11:59 am #

    This is the best story ever – I just can’t believe you had to put the cheese in a baguette…this is insane! I can picture you at the airport with your 3 cheeses, just that makes me laugh

    You’re a funny woman miss Rach x
    I’d like to see more of this.

  12. Martin March 14, 2011 at 1:28 am #

    Rachel this is soooooooooooooo funny !!!!

  13. Linnea March 14, 2011 at 12:29 am #

    howdy, very good wordpress blog, and a good understand! definitely one for my bookmarking.

  14. Tereza March 13, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    oh Rachel you make me smile x

  15. Irena March 13, 2011 at 5:58 am #

    Loved the story! If it was me I would have eaten all of the Mont d’Or before boarding. Go grandma!

    • Catherine February 2, 2012 at 4:05 am #

      All this francophile Aussie girl can say is “Cheeses” !!

  16. Jacques Scott March 13, 2011 at 12:58 am #

    Great story, your blog is always a pleasure to read.

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