Jan 18, 2014

Where the Streets Have Old Names: Le Crémeux


Paris is so old that some of the streets were named before they were even, well, really streets. Especially in our section of the city, which is the oldest bit, many of the roads were named simply out of a tradition that grew from whatever distinguishing feature the locals noticed as long as a thousand years ago.

This one, for example, which is officially the narrowest street in Paris (you can touch both walls with your outstretched hands) could barely fit a person on horseback, let alone any sort of motorized vehicle.

It's called "Street of the Cat Who Fishes" because of the cat who fished in the Seine at the end of the block, back when there were still lots of fish in the Seine, when access to the river was a gentle shore and not a fall off a 10m stone wall, and before there was a busy four lane road to cross.

Or this one:


"Street of the Mule's Footseps" is in the Marais, where nowadays one sees boutiques, tourists, Bobo-chic Parisians, and plenty of cars, but no mules.

I like this one not only for being a name that's evocative of years gone by, but also because it's just so long. Imagine trying to fit that into the squares of an official document.

It translates as "Street of the Market of the White Coats." I wonder if the market sold only white coats? That seems rather limited.

In modern times, there are of course some streets named for famous people. But in France, these wouldn't just be generals and presidents, but also philosophers, artists, writers, and composers. My personal favorite is the 4th arrondissement's Rue de Nicolas Flamel -- not just a character in the Harry Potter series, but an honest-to-goodness Parisian alchemist and philanthropist who lived from 1330-1418 (unless, of course, he really did create the immortality-inducing Philosopher's Stone, as legend claims, in which case his end date is in dispute).

But perhaps my favorite street name in all of Paris:

This means, literally, "Street of the Bad Boys" -- you know, the kind of boys who would put stickers on a street sign and graffiti the wall.
THE CHEESE: Le Crémeux
The tag line on the box, "Ce serait vache de ne pas l'aimer," means "It would be crazy not to love it." But the word used for "crazy" is "cow", making it a play on words in French since it's a cow's milk cheese.
Le Crémeux, which means "The Creamy" (and not to be confused with the completely-different Le Crémeux de Puy), is an industrial cheese somewhat related to a Camembert and made specially as an in-house cheese for Monoprix, one of the country's big grocery store chains. Even at room temperature, however, this oval cheese doesn't actually get as creamy as a Camembert. It has that thick white mold crust of industrial cow cheeses that is edible but a bit furry, like an intensely fuzzy peach. So it's not exactly a draw.
Still, the interior is buttery, with a pleasantly creamy, salty taste, and it's completely acceptable, if not the most elegant or unusual thing on the cheese platter.
Ever since I stumbled upon this adorable, colorful street in the 12th arrondissement, I knew it would be part of A Year in Fromage.

The name has nothing to do with cream, creaminess, or cheese. In fact, the street is named after a lawyer/politician whose real name was Isaac Moïse, but who was known as Adolphe Crémieux. He lived from 1796-1880 and is best known for being the author of a famous decree in 1870 that gave French nationality to Algerian Jews. This just makes me like this street all the more. Despite the absolute lack of any relation to cream, the similarity in name makes this story-cheese connection too irresistible.


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