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A Très French "Nose"

What do stinky cheeses, adorable bon bons, French roast coffee, and lavender from Provence have in common? The answer lies in the gourmet culture of France and its emphasis on intensity and the senses.  All of the above are quintessential smells of the French life:  rich cheeses, coffee, elegant chocolates, and lavender sachets.  And they all convey the French appreciation for handmade, artisanal products with intense aromatic qualities.

Remember your first taste of a pungent French cheese or dark chocolate? That first sip of espresso? I certainly remember the pleasures of discovering the richness of French tastes on my first trip to France. I felt like Meg Ryan in my favorite French-American love story, the film French Kiss--do you remember the cheese scene?  I  had my moments of overindulgence too!

According to Hot Chocolate author Fred Thompson, French chocolatiers have long preferred “bittersweet or semisweet or even unsweetened chocolates to the milk chocolates that many of us have grown up with in America.” Similarly, French coffees, cheeses, and other items are often stronger and more intense than their American equivalents.

The taste for richness is a French cultural trait going back to the 17th-century. According to historian Joan DeJean’s The Essence of Style, French chefs like La Varenne were already introducing simple, yet intensely flavored cuisine a la française to Europe in the 1670s, including Roquefort and chocolate ice cream.

In France, being a gourmet means having a full appreciation of food with all your senses—taste, presentation, and smell. Recently, an article in The Week revealed that our appreciation of various foods stems from the interaction of our taste buds and our nose. When we eat cheese, for example, the pungency is softened before it reaches our nose; with coffee, the aromatic smell is always stronger than the actual taste.

Even before it was verified by modern science, the French were known for their appreciation of “le nez.”   In fact, the people who scents perfume scents are called "Nez" or "noses".  (Another one of my favorite French comedies is I Do, the story of a Luis, a forty-something bachelor who works as a Nez.  His mother and five sisters keep harrassing him to get married, so he hires a woman to pose as his fiancée and leave him at the alter, rendering him disconsolate, and giving him an excuse not to marry.  The movie works in plenty of funny references to his delicate sense of smell.)

At South’nFrance, we have married the unabashed “Frenchiness” of our semi-sweet chocolate with creamy, sweet Southern-inspired centers. As a result, when you bite into our bon bons, you get the best of both worlds: the sharpness of true chocolate, yielding to the creamy flavors of peanut butter, pistachio, coffee and our other delectable bon bon fillings.

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