Jan 27, 2014

The Bilingual Curse: Bargkass


Now, does she look like she's got the foul-mouth of a sailor?

Today, we are playing school and, naturally, Pippa is the teacher, and I am the student. She smiles at me, and all I see are her freckles, and her loose teeth, and her sparkling eyes as she solemnly informs me that we go to school to learn how to say "fuck" and also how to spell it....P H O Q U E.  Aah, now I understand. The French word "phoque" means "seal" (as in the ones who live in the ocean). I am wondering how I managed to miss including this in my posting about My Husband's French Mistress or F*** That. Perhaps that helps explain why French parents seem less shocked by the word. All they're hearing is "Seal, seal, seal." 

I am reminded of a story when Gigi was younger, and we had just arrived at a playground in San Francisco. She was whining about wanting more tape (I should get stock in 3M the way the kids plow through what the French call "le scotch"), except she mixed up her languages and yelled out, "I want scotch!" It got me a few strange looks, I tell you. As proof, check out the tape ibex (bouquetin) she made for art class.


She received a perfect 20/20, and I'm proud, but now I have to go out and buy more tape.

Recently, Pippa comes home with some French library books. She reads one, a non-fiction book about animals, and when I ask what it's about, she starts telling me what she learned about the Baby Phoque and...you see what's come here....the Mother Phoque, too. I can't tell you what she learned about these animals, because it is all I can do to keep a straight face, as she repeatedly tells me about the Mother Phoque. When an 8-year old says that word, over and over, in such a sweet, happy voice, it is just too funny. I'm sure I should correct her, but I keep hoping she'll have more occasions to mention the Mother Phoque to me.
THE CHEESE: Bargkass
Bargkass is a raw cows' milk, farm-produced cheese that comes from a little village called le Thillot, in Lorraine, near the German and Swiss borders. That helps explain the name of the cheese, which certainly doesn't sound very French. It comes from the traditional local dialect, which is more closely related to German, in which "barg" means mountain and "kass" means cheese, and it's pronounced roughly "bark-ass". It's so Germanic, the locals recommend eating it with black sourdough bread instead of a white French baguette.
A wheel of Bargkass is about a foot across and a few inches high, and because it's aged between six and eight weeks, it has a fairly bold flavor, with a texture somewhere between dry and rubbery. It's salty, but also earthy tasting, and while not spectacular, it's certainly enjoyable. The ridges on the rind of the cheese are caused by the cloth used to press out the liquids during the aging process.

This is the kind of cheese name that children everywhere love to say, because it gives them the excuse to say a "bad word" without getting in trouble. Sort of like being bilingual. 


  1. Just got my hands on some, a small portion of it. Is it also made in Switzerland under the same name?


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