Middle School students of French present their research during a cheese tasting.
“Comment voulez-vous gouverner un pays qui a deux cent quarante-six variétés de fromage?” "How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?"
– Charles de Gaulle, Les Mots du Général, Ernest Mignon, 1962
Clearly, Charles de Gaulle did not know his French cheeses nearly well enough. At the most recent count, according to research by GDS 7th grade students of French, there are approximately 400 varieties of cheeses in France—a different cheese for every day of the year, as the saying goes.
The French cheese project is a cultural immersion research collaboration at the end of the 7th grade French food unit.
“Why cheese?” French teacher Aicha Kacem asks rhetorically. “Cheese is a big part of French culture. The French say, ‘There is always room for cheese in your stomach,’ and many French eat cheese at every meal.”
Students learn about les huit familles de fromage, les techniques de fabrication, et le vocabulaire nécessaire pour décrire les fromages.* Students use French sources to explore the region of origin as well as the qualities of their chosen cheese.
One pair of students presented on Le Livarot, a pungent cheese from Normandy. They explained, “Quelques sources croient que les livarots ont un saveur comme de paille et de foin. Les autres pensent des arômes de cuir, des arômes floraux, et ou bien que le fromage a un goût comme la charcuterie fumée.**”
While the presentation was deeply informative “et bien détaillé”—complete with several photos of the students themselves conducting hands-on “research” with the cheese itself—many students still approached the Livarot with trepidation after learning about its more odiferous qualities.
When the cheese tasting began in earnest, several Middle School teachers from various disciplines joined the festivities, congratulating the students on their work. Middle School principal Debby Previna, who grew up speaking Haitian creole and learning French in school in Haiti before immigrating to the US, took her visit to the next level: she spoke with each student in turn—in French—and asked about the qualities and fabrication of their cheeses. By the time she left with a modest, mixed sampling plate (complete with baguette slices and grapes), she had given each student a chance to use their French and show off just how much they had learned.
*the eight families of cheese, the fabrication techniques, and the vocabulary necessary for describing cheeses **Some believe that Les Livarots have a flavor like straw and hay. Others think of leather aromas, floral aromas, or that the cheese tastes like smoked meats.
Georgetown Day School is a coed, preK-12, non-sectarian private school in Washington, DC with small class sizes and a diverse school community. Our comprehensive, innovative curriculum includes hands-on learning, honors and AP classes, as well as advanced-level math and STEM courses. An education is not just college prep and SAT scores. GDS teachers focus on providing the best education for each child, from elementary grades through high school. The school performing arts program includes theater, dance, and music. The athletics program offers competitive sports for student athletes, including cross-country, track, soccer, lacrosse, and crew/rowing. With our strong commitment to financial aid, an independent school tuition is affordable.