Dec 5, 2013

High on the Hog: Pigouille


The Musée des Arts Forains near Bercy park in Paris is a museum dedicated to the old-timey carnival, as  "forain" means itinerant or peddler. So how come you've never heard of it? It's only open sometimes, during holidays or weekends, and usually only with reservations. Despite this, I'm still shocked it's not on more lists of great things to do with kids in Paris. It is one of the most magical places for children that I've seen, and doubly so at Christmas, and triply so when we're invited as part of the over-the-top family Christmas party that Ubisoft throws each year.

While Christmas lights make it feel extra other-worldly, I think the really special part of this place is how it brings you back in time. There's a hundred-year-old carousel and, even better, a people-powered bike carousel that I call the "bikousel". Other than making me a wee bit woozy, it is actually quite fun and very, very fast. Pippa's not quite tall enough to man a pedal, but just give her one more year...
Beautiful whizzing photo of Pippa above,taken by my husband, Anthony 

There are slower pleasures, like the swinging boats, the owl being walked around, the petting zoo, the strolling magician (Pippa's take is that he honestly is magic, since the tricks he performs are impossible, including one he does with my own wedding ring, so it's not based on trick equipment).


Of course there are treats, like waffles, crêpes, cotton candy, brownies, cookies, and patisseries. And our girls never met an arts-and-crafts table they didn't like.

The treats, gifts, and crafts are special for this party, but our favorite part is the museum itself and its old-fashioned carnival games: throwing beanbags to knock down figures, skeet-ball-ish games, shooting suction cup guns at cartoon character crotches (I'm particularly gifted at this one), that sort of thing.


The game pictured below, La Course des Garçons de Café (Café Waiters Race) strikes me as both old-fashioned and très français: we roll a ball and depending on which color slot it drops into, our waiter advances zero, one, two, or three steps, balancing his glasses of wine on his tray. Last year, we were lucky to get a single win. But this year, Gigi, Pippa, and I (and especially the girls) dominate the table. It's harder -- and more addictive -- than it looks. We play round after round of this and Japanese balls, and we are nearly the first people to arrive and the very last to leave, five hours later.
Santa brings them each some presents early, when he drops by the Ubisoft party, and he always knows just what to get them (amazing...): roller blades and gear last year; lip gloss making kit, science experiment kit, and box of magic card tricks this year.

Indeed, we feel like the girls -- and we -- are really living high on the hog. Right up until the moment when the guy comes by with the "Ne Pas Monter, Merci" ("Don't Climb on This, Thank You") sign.

THE CHEESE: Pigouille

This wet-creamy sheep cheese the size of a music CD (remember those ancient things?) comes from Charente-Maritime, in the middle of the Atlantic Coast. It's supposed to be a mild cheese, and it looks like it would be nearly cream-like, but actually the flavor is stronger than expected with a slight acidic tang. It has a good stink, like somebody you love coming home from a day at work, but not coming home from running a semi-marathon.

It's a young cheese with a natural rind, which means it's not rubbed with anything during the short maturing process. It's unusual to have a sheep cheese from this region and, in fact, used to be made from cow or goat milk when it was first created on the Ile d'Oléron. It gets its name from huge paddles, called pigouilles, used to propel local boats in the marshland.


Hog, Pig...ouille. It's pretty tenuous, I know, but we're feeling high on the hog in pig heaven, and that's the connection.


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