Nov 20, 2013

Singin' the Welcome Blues: Bleu de Lacqueuille

Parisian elevator motto: Only Ride With People You Love. Let's just say that this photo of the four of us in our elevator with our backs pressed against the four walls is practically life-sized.

Or, to put it another way, the elevator is barely bigger than the picture. And all stereotypes of Americans notwithstanding, we are not big people, so when we're smushed, you know it's bad.

The most memorable part of one our very first days living in the country involves Gigi (age 8 at the time) and Pippa (then age 6) spending breakfast clean-up time running up and down the stairs and playing with the elevator, until Pippa comes back up alone and solemnly informs us, "Gigi is stuck in the elevator." Stuck between floors, Gigi finally gets to fulfill every child's fantasy of pushing the emergency call button. She is remarkably calm and cheerful, and speaks with the call-button lady in French, nice as can be (pat on the back to her French-immersion school in San Francisco).

We are staying in a small, residential apartment we found through vrbo, and I am waiting at the bottom for the repair guy when Anthony comes down and tells me an elderly lady on the 4ème étage (that's 5th floor to you and me) is waiting for the elevator. Since Anthony doesn't speak much French but I speak fluently, I run up to apologize to the old lady, only to find out she is not waiting to descend, but rather to chew out a French-speaker for letting our children play in the elevator, which is a no-no. For obvious reasons. Well, sure. We know that now.

In mid-scolding, she looks down and says in shock, "Mais Madame! Vous avez les pieds nus!" "But Madame! You are bare-footed!" I point to my outfit and say, "Well, that's because I'm still in my pajamas. I haven't dressed yet." She shakes her head in disgust, then turns around and heads back into her apartment. I had felt pretty guilty about my children breaking the elevator, so I'm quite pleased to find out that it is actually a minor offense when compared to slovenly dressing.           

The elevator is still broken later in the afternoon, when we have to move ten large pieces of luggage from our 6th floor apartment (that's 5ème étage to the French) to a friend's office on the opposite side of the city. Why? Because it's the only place we could find to store it while we go off for a two week vacation to Croatia before we move into our temporary corporate housing from which we can look for our real apartment. Still feeling jealous about our move to Paris? So now that our own children broke the elevator, and we have to haul it down by hand, it's that old lady who gets the last laugh.

THE CHEESE: Bleu de Lacqueuille

Like getting stuck in an elevator, this cheese just plain stinks. It's an eight on the stinkometer. I generally love the smell of blue cheese, but this one does that thing where it goes up your nose and actually hurts, as if you'd suffered through mild chemical warfare. For weeks after, we have some leftover in the fridge in a tightly sealed container which I become increasingly afraid to open. It's a ticking time bomb of cheese, but I am tickled to report that I outlast my husband in the standoff of who will dispose of it. 

This blue cheese is best in the summer and autumn, in theory, though of course I think it might actually be best never. It is made from pasteurized cow milk in central France (originating in a town called Lacqueuille in Auvergne) and is from the same family as another blue called Fourme d'Ambert, which I find slightly more delicious. It dates back to 1850, when Antoine Roussel created it with mold grown on rye bread. Well, the cheese type dates back to 1850, not this particular chunk: the affinage (maturing/ripening process) is just three months. Bleu de Lacqueuille is not made lovingly in small batches but rather in industrial mass-production, and I don't feel bad disliking it. So there.

This entry comes to you thanks to the great tradition of French plays on words. The word in French for a welcome -- the reception one receives, warm or otherwise -- is "l'accueil", which is pronounced exactly the same as the town name "Lacqueuille": la-koy. If some snooty Parisian old lady gives you the once over for being uncouth, this is almost certainly the perfect cheese to offer as an apology gift for stranding her up 125 stairs. Like her, it's too salty, and it just plain stinks. 


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