Jan 8, 2014

The Crow and the Fox: Coeur de Neufchatel


Pippa has just recited "Le Corbeau et le Renard" (for the third year in a row) for a recitation grade at school. It's about a sly fox who tricks a crow into dropping a delicious cheese from his beak through flattery. Like the Aesop's fable "The Crow and the Fox", on which it was based, this one has been passed down through the generations. Since it's fresh in her mind, Pippa recites it -- often, anywhere, and for anybody, usually unsolicited -- in machine-gun-fire French. With a perfect accent, bien sûr.

Thanks to one of her many impromptu recitations, we've learned from a nearby Frenchman that during World War II, when they wanted to suss out spies pretending to be French, they would sometimes ask them to recite "Le Corbeau et le Renard" or the equally popular "La Cigale et La Fourmi" ("The Grasshopper and the Ant"). Not only do you know it like the back of your hand, if you are truly French, but you also recite in a certain, recognizable sing-song rhythm. Gigi can also recite it by heart, thanks to hearing Pippa learn, practice, and recite it so much. So if they ever need to, perhaps someday both of our girls could "pass." Me? Highly unlikely. Anthony? That one's American through and through.

Sidenote: my father says that he had heard during war time they would try to detect spies posing as Americans by asking them detailed questions about professional sports, teams, World Series, etc. My dad's not a sports guy, and he always had this fear that he wouldn't be able to prove himself a real American (though he could have named off lots of famous photographers, if only that would've gotten him off the hook).

Here, for your edification, is la poésie. If you're impressed that they learn this as 6, 7, and 8 year olds, starting from first grade, I have to say that I am, too. And this is one of the simpler ones she's had to memorize. Memorization is a much bigger part of education here than in the US: Gigi has to write biographical reports that are five minutes long and present them to the class without any notes. But it all starts with poetry recitals from a very young age, which they illustrate in their notebooks.

Here's a little tip to help you pass as a real Frenchman: When you get to the end, you must say the author's name out loud and proud -- "Jean de la Fontaine"!

Le Corbeau et le Renard

Maître Corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître Renard, par l'odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage :
"Hé ! bonjour, Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Se rapporte à votre plumage,
Vous êtes le Phénix des hôtes de ces bois."
A ces mots le Corbeau ne se sent pas de joie ;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le Renard s'en saisit, et dit : "Mon bon Monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux dépens de celui qui l'écoute :
Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute. "
Le Corbeau, honteux et confus,
Jura, mais un peu tard, qu'on ne l'y prendrait plus.
-Jean de la Fontaine

The Crow and the Fox

Master Crow perched on a tree,
Was holding a cheese in his beak.
Master Fox attracted by the smell
Said something like this:
"Well, Hello Mister Crow!
How beautiful you are! How handsome you seem to me!
Really, if your voice
Is like your plumage,
You are the phoenix of all the inhabitants of these woods."
At these words, the Crow is overjoyed.
And in order to show off his beautiful voice,
He opens his beak wide, lets his prey fall.
The Fox grabs it, and says: "My good man,
Learn that every flatterer
Lives at the expense of the one who listens to him.
This lesson, without doubt, is well worth a cheese."
The Crow, ashamed and embarrassed,
Swore, but a little late, that he would not be taken again.
-Jean de la Fontaine 

THE CHEESE: Coeur de Neufchatel

Coeur de Neufchatel, which means, "Heart of Neufchatel", is a raw or pasteurized cow's milk cheese from the Normandy coast. Neufchatel, which was given its AOC status in 1977, doesn't have to be shaped into a heart, though; it can also be a square or a log or a brick-shape. But let's face it, the heart is cuter and probably sells better.

The outside edge of the cheese, right inside the white mold crust, is a little rubbery and toothy. Then the inside layer is creamy. It's aged around three weeks and tastes somewhat akin to a Camembert (made with similar milk in similar territory): buttery, salty, a little moldy, and delicious.

As with all cheeses, the look, feel, and taste can change drastically with age. Just take a look at these older, dryer Coeurs de Neufchatel. Then they will be harder and saltier and cakier.


Each day, Pippa and her classmates copy down their homework assignment in a special "cahier" (notebook). They write down the page numbers and exercises; when they have to memorize something -- such as a poem -- they write a little heart symbol next to it, because the expression in French is the same as English: to memorize something, you learn it by heart ("par coeur").


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