France election 2012: Nicolas Sarkozy bans cheese from Elysée Palace
It is an admission that is verging on sacrilegious for a French president. But Nicolas Sarkozy's top chef has revealed that the French head of state has banned cheese from the table at the Elysée Palace.
Charles de Gaulle once famously declared: "How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?"
The fitness mad Mr Sarkozy has chosen to remove the source of De Gaulle's angst from his sight, according to presidential chef Bernard Vaussion, who is cooking for his fifth French head of state.
The French were famously dubbed "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" by irate US Republicans when they failed to support the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But Mr Sarkozy has done away with the high-fat stuff altogether after meals, his chef explained, as "it was too much" for him.
His cheese aversion even threatened to spark a diplomatic incident last October, when he offended Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, by telling another EU leader that over dinner "she says she is on a diet and then helps herself to a second helping of cheese".
The health-conscious leader opts instead for "light, balanced meals and poultry to red meat", his chef said, in a clear break with his predecessors who were not afraid of heartier fare, even at lunchtime.
The French had already found it hard to swallow the fact that their leader drinks no wine, a source of great national pride. The latest revelation risks striking another symbolic blow to the leader's credentials as a flag-bearer of French gastronomy.
On the advice of his former supermodel wife, Carla, 13 years his junior, the one-time chocoholic president has been on a draconian fitness and nutrition programme for most of his presidency, served a frugal diet of fish, vegetables, salads and sorbets. Cottage cheese, it is believed, still makes the grade.
Some blamed the low-calorie diet on Mr Sarkozy collapsing in 2009 during one of his gruelling daily jogs
However, with presidential elections just three weeks away, Mr Sarkozy has chosen to throw his normal dietary rules out of the window if it can help him win an uphill battle to secure a second five-year term.
In a sign he is prepared to go the extra political mile, he kicked off his re-election campaign with a visit to a cheese-making factory in the Alpine city of Annecy, also stoically accepting chocolate, crepes and sausages from shopkeepers.
"I'll put on three kilos and it's only the first day," he joked before going on to enjoy a fondue lunch with a group of supporters.
He then spent four hours at Paris's annual agricultural fair accepting offerings of langoustine, chocolate and Reblochon cheese in a bid to stave off the National Front, whose leader Marine Le Pen claimed to be the "champion" of rural France.
If, as the polls predict, the Socialist François Hollande wins power next month, the Elysée chef may be asked to bring back the gooey stuff.
However, Mr Hollande has also been on a strict diet in a bid to shed his unfortunate nickname of Flanby – a wobbly caramel custard dessert.
"There is always uncertainty. We will see, it will be up to him to decide," said Mr Vaussion wistfully.