The French government is throwing a cocktail party. Is your place available? It'll be on June 4th, for an event called Apéritif à la Française, aimed at showing the world that French food and culture and especially its economically important exports, wine and cheese, are not elitist. The event will take place in 37 cities simultaneously, sort of like an Earth Hour, but with electricity, and cocktails, and will involve a number of events. In the United States, this includes 1,000 evening parties held in private homes. You sign up in advance, and if you are selected, you will receive:
a full Apéritif kit (with balloons, decorations, a corkscrew, an apron, a cheese tray, an "Acoustic France" music CD, decorative magnets and gift certificates for French food products that can be used on the two partner e-commerce sites) and the "How to host your own French Cocktail Hour" booklet.
This according to Sopexa, the company hired by the French government to run the event. You'll then have to blog about your party, take photos and answer questions about the products you sampled. (The other catch is that the music CD includes tunes crooned by Carla Bruni.) I learned about this via a Wall Street Journal article by Max Colchester, which contains further helpful info:
-This is costing the French about $2.1 million, the government is kicking in 60%, with private corporate dollars funding the rest.
-"Some people are terrorized by French gastronomy, especially French wine," says Marie-Noëlle Guerin, head of external relations at Sopexa,
-- The organizers chose some of France's less-expensive sparkling white wines, instead of Champagne, and ruled out pungent cheeses as being "too scary" for Americans. Their choices include goat's cheese and comté.
I'm puzzled by this idea of an American consumer that is afraid -- even terrified -- by French cheese and wine, and even more amused by this idea that the American palate is uniformly bland. Yes, sure,we have more than our share of flavorless frozen dinners here, and, having just returned from two weeks in Europe, I would agree that delicious, high quality food is more widespread in Europe than it is here -- we have a lot of crappy food, and an undisputed emphasis on quantity over quality. But we also have a lot of really great food too, you just need to wade through a lot of McKingFriedKitchen to get to it. In fact, I'd say given the country's growing diversity, our palate is more used to spicy, hot, bold flavors than what you'd typically find across the pond.
So if France is really going to spend $2 million (in these economic times!) trying to convince Americans to buy imported French cheese and wine, then why not go for broke and let this sample of people (clearly intended to be ambassadors of a kind) have the really good stuff, the really big flavors of France? It's not like we don't have homegrown sparkling wine and mild cheese. In fact, we have our own big robust wines and stinky cheese! And the people who like it, and more importantly, may wish to buy it, really aren't afraid of cheese. Or of France. In fact, if they have any anxiety about it, it will probably be because they're buying something from far away when there are more carbon-footprint friendly local alternatives.
So my unsolicited advice to France (a country that I love, and its foodstuffs that I love even more): it's really time to update your impression of the American palate. Give us the good stuff. We are not afraid.