Spending a few days in Reims, France, I took advantage of the opportunity to try foods that are sometimes unavailable in Oak Park.
Though I have enjoyed some deliciously funky French raw milk cheese from the Marion Street Cheese Market, we're frequently able to get only pasteurized milk versions in this country. In Reims, I was able to enjoy the much more multi-dimensional raw milk versions of cheeses that cannot be sold in this country owing to FDA regulations barring the sale of raw milk cheese aged less than 60 days.
Whenever I could, I ordered Reims ham, a kind of pate of ham chunks composed in a crust that I've never seen in this country, as well as a still red from the Champagne region that's produced in such small volume it never leaves the region. This red still wine, made of Pinot Noir (along with Chardonnay and Pinot Meuniere, one of the three major grape varieties used in bubbly) is spectacular, and yet it rarely ever makes it out of the Champagne region.
Last weekend in South Carolina, I chatted with a journalist who was very interested in travel to France but was concerned because, as she said, "the French don't like Americans." I don't believe this is true, not for a second, though it's not like we didn't give the French multiple opportunities to hold us in contempt.
During the disastrous Bush administration, U.S. relations with the French hit a new low (remember "Freedom Fries," a particularly moronic and superficial jab at a country that has long been our ally and that, in centuries past, has provided the intellectual foundation for our constitution and, not incidentally, the gold standard for fine dining).
Remarkably, the French still seem to like us. In Reims, for instance, it was mentioned to me by several locals that it was John D. Rockefeller who helped restore the gorgeous and bombed-out Reims cathedral after World War I – a profoundly affecting act of philanthropy warmly remembered, a century later, by people in this region.
Andrew Carnegie, in turn, contributed a library in the Art Deco style that remains a functioning research center and exhibition space.
The cathedral and the library remain vibrant monuments to Franco-American friendship.
Looking through the card catalog at Carnegie Library, we came upon a collection of Ernest Hemingway's works. Hemingway, an expat, is still beloved in France, not only because Paris became his adopted hometown, but his style translates so easily into other languages. Perhaps the French admire even his Midwestern spirit. But the Carnegie doesn't simply stock only the usual classics of this former Oak Parker; rather, it maintains an inventory of works by and about the author's younger days as a journalist, reflecting a deep and abiding interest in the details of his life and art.
Traveling through Reims, I was reminded of our village's contribution to world culture …and I couldn't help thinking it would be nice if the Marion Street Cheese Market, in addition to stocking French cheeses, could stock red wine from the Champagne region. A small market like theirs, which does not require dozens of cases but perhaps just two or three, would be an excellent venue for a wine that's virtually unknown in this country.