Nov 28, 2013

Primary Primer: Tomme Crayeuse

Tomme Crayeuse doesn't appear in any of my cheese encyclopedias, because it was only invented in 1997, by Max Schmidhauser in the Savoie region, near the Swiss border, as you might guess from his name. Like a Tomme de Savoie, on which it is based, it can be made from raw or pasteurized cow's milk, low- or full-fat, and it comes with a thick moldy crust of gray and white fuzz tinged with flecks of orange and yellow. It is aged at least two months, slightly longer than its Savoie cousin.

The word "crayeuse" means "chalky," and it is, indeed. I would argue that the crust is the chalkiest part, by far, but interestingly, the name is supposed to refer to the center of the wheel, which is chalkier than the outer edges (you can see this best in the picture of the whole wheel in the store). I wouldn't go so far as to call it chalky inside. Rather the inside is not quite creamy, but not quite rubbery, either. It's a texture that melts in your mouth, not on your plate. In terms of flavor and aroma, a Tomme Crayeuse has more oomph than a buttery camembert, but I still wouldn't put it on the stinky end of the spectrum.

So what does that make it? A mild yet strong, soft yet rubbery, creamy yet chalky, aged but new, brown/gray/yellow/orange/white specimen of pressed cow's milk.

THE STORY: Primary Primer
I have spent an inordinate amount of time researching schools, both in San Francisco and Paris. I don't think this is because I'm a hovering, overinvolved, helicopter parent so much as we've never lived someplace where we could just send the kids off to public school. Now, ironically, in Paris we could send them to public and not go too far wrong. But when we first moved here, we couldn't choose that route for the simple reason that we didn't have a permanent address at the time of la rentrée, in September.

And, frankly, French public schools do nothing to foster community. You drop your child off and pick them up at the end of the day. One expat we know at a public school said he had only been allowed inside the school twice all year. So we liked the idea of a small private school, especially at French tuitions.
While hunting for private schools, we eliminated anything in the Western half of the city, since Anthony's job requires him to commute to the very edge of the east side of Paris, by the Bois de Vincennes. If you know Paris, you'll quickly realize that most of the tonier neighborhoods are on the western side, closer to the Bois de Boulogne. This also means that virtually all of the high-end private and international schools are on that side. In the end, though, we decided that we want them to play in French, not gravitate just to other expats, and to become as fluent as possible. What better way than to send them to a regular French school?

So we hit upon a small private school in the 5th arrondissment, right near the Seine, pretty much in the geographic center of the city. The school is Catholic but not very religious. Also, it is sous contrat which means it is under contract with the French government, receiving funding from the state and required to be open to all. This also means the price for the school year is just over $1,000. Yes, you read that right: one thousand US dollars for the whole school year -- one-twentieth of what we were paying in San Francisco.

Though it is a local school, it is still quite international by virtue of being in the relatively academic/ professional/ high-end neighborhood of the 5th. There are of course many "pure" French families, but in Gigi and Pippa's classes, they have had classmates who are half-Moroccan, German, Thai, Colombian, Peruvian, Mexican, Canadian, etc. We are one of the rare families with two American parents (one of only two we know, in fact). Despite all stereotypes, we have found the families here to be exceptionally open, helpful, warm, and friendly and feel like we could seamlessly transport the entire community back to our international school in San Francisco.

Pippa is still in elementary school, and her private school opted not to change to the new schedule this year, so school starts at 8:45am and ends at 4:30, but only 4 days per week: Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri. No school on Wednesdays.  There's a 1 and 1/2 hr lunch/recess break when children can go home, and some do. But not mine! The lunch cost for the year is virtually the same price as the tuition. We happily pay it, since it allows the girls to try new foods and be with friends. Oh, and it saves me the drudgery of making two lunches, five times per week. (Like many schools in SF, the girls' didn't have any cafeteria, in case you were wondering.) This is one of the things I was most looking forward to in coming to Paris. Only other parents who make lunches every day will understand my profound level of joy at not packing anything every morning as we walk out the door.  Yippee! That's precious Mommy-doesn't-have-to-cook-for-anybody-else time.

Children in all of France are put into grades according to birth years: no red-shirting, not different for every school or school district, etc. Only the slightest fudging at the edges for the rare child who truly needs to be held-back or advanced (and they are much more willing to do both than American schools). Children start full-time public school in September of the year in which they will turn 3, so they start anywhere from 2 years 9 months old to 3 years 9 months old. For Americans that seems very young, but for the French it is state-funded, very high-quality child-care, so why object?

There are downsides, of course. Teachers are, as a general rule, less nurturing and stricter than in the States. And the curriculum is not at all creative or project based. It's heavily focused on grammar and math, and what little history or science there is comes straight from a textbook. Most of the work is drilling and memorization, and the kids in elementary school virtually never do any creative writing (total score so far: Gigi and Pippa, combined nine years of elementary school, one creative writing assignment).

But the grade-level naming system is just preposterous. How can a country that proudly uses the very logical and linear metric system and Celsius thermometer label the grades in such a confusing manner? Here's the conversion chart:

US system = French system

What we could call nursery school or preschool, plus Kindergarten (maternelle):
Children turning 3 by Dec 31 go into Petite Section
Children turning 4 by Dec 31 go into Moyenne Section
Kindergarten = Grande Section (age 5 by Dec 31)

Primary School (école primaire):
1st grade = CP (Cours Préparatoire)
2nd grade = CE1 (Cours Elémentaire 1)
3rd grade = CE2 (Cours Elémentaire 2)
4th grade = CM1 (Cours Moyenne 1)
5th grade = CM2 (Cours Moyenne 2)

Middle School (collège):
6th grade = 6ème
7th grade = 5ème
8th grade = 4ème

High School (lycée):
9th grade = 3ème
10th grade = 2ème
11th grade = 1er
12th grade = Terminale

Chalk, chalkboard, classroom.


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