Confessions of a Cheese Smuggler

Elaine has done me a favor. A huge favor. As the public relations account executive for a major European hotel chain, she’s managed to arrange several nights accommodation for my wife and me at a very swanky establishment in Paris, the Hôtel Lutétia. During the high season, mind you.

“Darling”—that’s Elaine talking, not my wife; Elaine is very continental and always calls me darling—“Darling, you’re a very lucky man. The Lutétia is très chic.”

Elaine is from Los Angeles but she can get away with nonsense like this because she’s married to a Parisian, though I doubt if her husband has ever said “très chic” in his life.

Anyway, I’m indebted. “Sweetheart,” I say to her (these silly endearments are a game we play), “what can I bring you back from the City of Light? Foie gras from Fauchon? A lacquered tray from Palladio? Tell me, mon petit écureuil, what do you desire?”

Elaine does a little trilling laugh over the phone that she knows drives me crazy. “Rien, rien, rien,” she says. And then she pauses. “Unless….”

Ah hah! I think. Payback time. “Yes?”

“No, nothing. It would be an inconvenience.”

“Tell me, my little ferret. What do you desire?”

“Well, I was just thinking….Perhaps some cheese?” she replies, phrasing it as a question.

That’s it? I’m going to Paris and she wants a wedge of fromage? Meaning to be generous, I suggest something special. “Pepper roll, perhaps? Cranberry-flavored Neufchâtel?”

Epoisses,” she growls. Of course, this is before I know what it is, so to me it sounds like she’s just said “I pass” with a Brooklyn accent.

I ask her to repeat herself. “Ay-pwoss,” she cries, and I have to admit it is the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard her say.

“But of course,” I say, having no idea what she’s just asked for. “A little Ay-pwoss.”