In Praise Of Port Salut

In the summer of 1999, my new husband and I boarded a plane in Dallas the day after our wedding to meander our way toward our honeymoon on the isle of Martinique, part of the Lesser Antilles in the French Caribbean.

We eventually landed on the island of St. Lucia after an overnight stop in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We debarked, and I laughed happily at how familiar it felt to be back in the Caribbean of my youth as a couple of chickens and a goat meandered across the runway.

Looking back at my husband descending the steps of the plane, I noticed he was still looking a little green. It was hard to tell whether that stemmed from the puddle jumping sensation of small aircraft during his first overseas trip, the limelight of too many people with their attention on him at the wedding or the various animals on the tarmac.

NousDeux

We secured our rental car and careened up out of the capitol city of Fort-de-France with its cruise ship ports and bounced along island highways toward the smaller ville of Diamant on the southwest edge of Martinique. There, we checked into a tiny bungalow at the edge of the Caribbean Sea, virtually empty save for a few French couples.

As is often the case after seeming unending travel to a foreign place, we were virtually exhausted our first day, and so we left our little red Peugeot parked and wandered next door to a tiny combination market/gas station. We loaded up on fresh baguettes, island beer in nondescript green bottles and large, creamy wedges of Port Salut cheese.

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Tromping back over to our little villa, we pulled chaise lounges through the stubby lawn and secured them under leaning palm trees where the grass met the sand. We perched ourselves on the edge, cracked open our skunky, delicious beers and used a pocket knife to open the cheese and spread it on the bread… and there we sat, staring out across the waves at le rocher du Diamant (the diamond rock).

RocherDiamant

Over the next week, this became our comfort food… and in fact, our comfort ritual. We spent each day galavanting around the island – from the rum distilleries to the volcanic ash-covered remnants of Saint-Pierre, which still seemed unrecovered from the devastating 1902 eruption of Mont Pelée.

Each evening, we returned to sit at the edge of the sea. We chatted, read, sat in silence processing the solemnity of married life, taunted the little crabs with baguette crumbs, made plans for our lives, swore to return on our tenth anniversary, practiced our French on the bold little boy fishing nearby, slung back our beers and inhaled the smooth deliciousness of Port Salut as we watched the waves.

DiamantBeach

In the ensuing sixteen years, we have certainly run across our share of skunky beers and crispy French-style baguettes… but it’s far less common to encounter soft wedges of Port Salut cheese with its signature orange rind. This weekend, I spotted some at The Fresh Market and ferreted it into my basket along with some raspberries and oversized croissants.

PortSalut1

More importantly, I immediately started scheming appealing alternative options so that we wouldn’t have to share our favorite cheese with the two kids who have appeared in our lives and placed a major damper on our ability to pass our days eating baguettes and Port Salut while sipping skunky beer.

PortSalut3

While it’s certainly not a delicacy, Port Salut still feels like a special treat. Whenever I spy this delicious cow’s milk cheese hailing from Trappist monks in the Loire Valley of France, I scoop it up and we enjoy traipsing back through the memories of the first days of our marriage, when we were so young and our skin was golden and life was a giant adventure stretching out before us.

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