Jan 11, 2014

Math - the Universal Language: Fourme de Montbrison


Isn't math supposed to be the universal language? And shouldn't it transcend boundaries? Yet doesn't this look like gibberish to you? Let me just say that it can be tough when Gigi asks us for help with her homework. And it's not just the usual new math vs. old math battle. This is French math vs. American math.

Here's what Gigi's fifth grade homework looks like:

Now to translate that into American math:

1) Calculate 45 ÷ 8 and 32.12 ÷ 4
A pointer to help you interpret the French method: A comma in French numbers means the same thing as our decimal point. So when I write out "1,325" it means 1.325 and not one thousand three hundred twenty-five. Long numbers from the millions on, such as 198,325,410, are written 198 325 410. This is not your phone number, which would be written (01) For numbers from the "milliards" -- which means not "thousands" ("milles") or "millions" ("millions") but, confusingly, "billions" -- this requires a lot of counting of places.

The division process, of course, involves subtraction (which the girls can no longer properly pronounce, since the word in French is "soustraction"). The French don't "borrow" from the tens or hundreds column on the top number when they have to "substract" larger digits below as in
Instead, they add to the column to the left on the bottom number. Gigi and I don't understand each other's methods, and I have to calculate on my own scrap of paper to see if she's done it correctly.

And this is elementary school. In middle school, Gigi has started with geometry, and as fun as that was the first time around, it's that much more fun in French, with points marked off for spelling errors. I can only imagine what will happen if she's still in the French system for high school.

So, math. Not so much the language that unites us; more like one that divides.

THE CHEESE: Fourme de Montbrison

Despite what it says in my encyclopedia, and despite the common belief that Fourme de Montbrison and Fourme d'Ambert are two different names for the same cheese, Fourme de Montbrison is actually its own cheese, with AOC status combined with d'Ambert since 1972, then its own AOC status since 2002 and AOP status since 2010. Specifically the apellation of Fourme d'Ambert et de Montbrison, which lasted for thirty years, was cut into two separate cheeses by decree on February 22, 2002.

It certainly shares similarities with Fourme d'Ambert, but is generally more of a golden color and milder taste. In fact, it's one of the mildest, blandest blue cheeses that exists. It's missing that blue cheese tang I love, frankly, and is a little dry, bland, and crumbly.

It's produced in 28 communes in the north of the Massif Central, between Clermont-Ferrand et Saint-Étiennein, from raw or pasteurized cow's milk.
Fourme de Montbrison (blue plate) and, for the sake of comparison, Fourme d'Ambert (red plate):
The diameter of this cheese -- which is so neatly highlighted by a blue streak -- is roughly 6" (or 15cm), and the height is 1" (or 2.5cm). That makes the volume of a full disc roughly 28 cubic inches (442 cubic cm). The cylinder it was cut from was about 6" long, for a total volume of 2652 cubic cm. Yes, I know I'm mixing Imperial and Metric. Welcome to my brain.

You can figure out the circumference for yourself, if you'd like.

Thank you Mom and Mr. Clark, my middle school math teacher (and the online volume calculator), for giving me the tools to figure that out -- and I guess you were right when you said this skill might just come in handy someday.


  1. you might well have called this the 'life of pi'

  2. Ha! That would've been a good title, too...


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