Feb 16, 2014

Flip & Kip: Rigotte de Condrieu


Three times a week, the girls and I go 25 minutes door to door by metro to get to gymnastics in the Montparnasse neighborhood. Practice lasts for two or three hours, but a round-trip home isn't worth it, so I warm the benches with my friend Mei. She happens to be American, but believe me when I say that it's not just Americans who are flipping out about their kids' after-school activities. Most of our kids' French friends have similar schedules, making finding time for playdates nearly impossible.

From the picture below -- taken at a regional meet for 6 and 7 year old girls, you can see how many families are driving their daughters to gymnastics. Of those pictured, only half a dozen are not French. Our particular gym has a higher concentration of anglophones (Americans in particular) -- in fact it's probably one of the most international gyms in the country -- but still only one or two (if any) non-French kids in a class. So it's also the French parents bringing their children two, three, or four times per week to the gym. Some parents have two or more kids in classes that meet at different times or days; I know of French parents making round-trips to our gym as many as eight times per week.

However, what I find most interesting -- and what sets it apart from American-style extracurriculars -- is that I would say that virtually none of these girls dream of competing nationally or at the Olympics. And they don't do it -- this or any other extracurricular activity -- to look good on a college resume. In France, the only thing that matters for getting into university is test scores; extracurriculars are even discouraged for older kids, who "should" be spending their time buckling down to homework and studies. Overall, this definitely makes the tone of after-school activities mellower and less competitive here (with the exception of trying to get your kids into the music conservatories, for which you might need to start standing on line at 3am on the sign-up day).

Often the regional gymnastics competitions are held, to our dismay, in far-away Noisy-le-Sec. This is pronounced "Nwa-ZEE-le-SECK" and translates as Noisy-the-Dry. In the regionals pictured below, Pippa's team gets 3rd place.

Her team won 1st place in Paris to get there.

I would say "Oh, how the mighty have fallen," except that in this case, getting any medal at all in regionals is a huge accomplishment. Normally, the Paris-based teams don't even place. Gigi's team, for example, placed 13th in her first regionals. Out of 13. The second year, her team placed 9th. Out of 9. Because if you think us city-folk are neurotic about our after-school activities, just take a gander at the suburbanites. They practice more frequently, and longer, and it shows. One nine-year old suburban competitor tells us she practices 20 hours. Bewildered, I ask, "Per month?" "No, per week." Three hours per full school day (Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri) plus four on Wed and Sat. Well, our urban hipster kids are too busy taking in operas and appreciating masterpieces at world-class museums for that.
Plus, we console ourselves that those suburbanites train in regular, modern gyms. Noisy-the-Dry-and-Stinky is more like it. Whereas our girls train in a designated historical building, over 130 years old: sunny (from a huge skylight), centrally-located, and lovely. So there.
Perhaps the most interesting life lesson for the girls is that being older does not guarantee you will be better. Both girls have surpassed anything I could do when I did gymnastics as a kid. But Pippa is extremely passionate and has even surpassed her big sister. It certainly doesn't help Gigi's cause that she missed about 75% of this fall's practices due to small injuries, minor illnesses, and her theatrical production at the Palais de Tokyo.


We're very proud of what Pippa can do -- her skills, performance, effort, and good sportsmanship. She finally got her kip, after about a year of trying, and finally added a back tuck to her back handsprings.


After (with me making a ridiculous cheering noise at the end, trying not to shake the camera):
After (not the greatest angle of the video, but you get the idea):

Regardless of the color of her medals, we're proud of Gigi, who's no slouch either. In fact, we're extra proud of her for being supportive of her sister and for not quitting the minute her little sister could do something she couldn't. We think that shows some real integrity.

Photos on the left side of Gigi; right side of Pippa:


Pippa is not, by the way, the star of her team. Her best friend and teammate (holding the big individual performance trophy in the photo below) should be in some pre-Olympic training camp, except that a) her parents are not obsessed enough to send her to one and b) she wants to be an astronaut someday. We have already established that as an astronaut with gymnastics training, she will be able to beam back by satellite some exceptional zero-gravity moves.

So for now, we continue the punishing after-school schedule. But at least we're not alone.

THE CHEESE: Rigotte de Condrieu

Production of Rigotte de Condrieu is roughly centered on Condrieu (near Lyon), as you might expect from the name. It's a small, raw milk goat's cheese aged for a minimum of eight days. At that point, it still has a tender, creamy center with hints of hazelnuts. The longer it sits, however, the saltier it gets, and while the hazelnut hints are still there, the tender and creamy is long gone. In fact, the cheese is  often sold older and harder. Much, much harder. You might even say brittle. I know I do. I am surprised the first time I crunch and crackle into it.


Before this, I would have said to you that I prefer my goat cheese soft and creamy, and I would never purposely buy one sec, or dry. But after this, I must say I've changed my tune, and I purposely start choosing the (occasional) cheese that is sec and dur (dry and hard). The shards actually melt in my mouth, and I rather like it. Only on occasion, though, because I am still a sucker for creamy and tender.

Though this cheese got its AOC status in 2009 (and is still waiting for its AOP designation), it's an old cheese that's been made on the slopes since at least the 19th century. The other part of its name, "Rigotte", is assumed to come from the slightly archaic/regional term "rigot", a variation of "rigole" which means rivulet/channel. Yes, those of you who speak French may also know the word "rigole" as meaning "joke" or "amuse", but this is a different usage, and I'm not joking. It comes from the fact that there are channels and rivulets going down the local hills toward the valley where you find Condrieu, which was the region's main market town in the 19th century.

Some of the AOC conditions are that it can only be made in 48 communes (villages, essentially) of the Loire-et-Rhone department from the milk of three kinds of goats: Alpine Chamoisée, Saanen, and Massif Central. These goats can only eat herbs, hay, and grains that come from the same areas and must be pastured at least 120 days per year and have 1.5m² sleeping area per goat if pastured less than 180 days per year. Need I add that GMI (genetically modified organisms, called OGM in French) are taboo?

This cheese was awarded a medal at the "Fête de la Chèvre de La Valla" (Goat Festival of La Valla) in Gier, on August 25, 2013.
It's so hard, it may indeed be "Noisy" if you shake it in the jar. And it is undisputably Sec -- dry, that is. And not only is it dry, it's also a very solid, silvery, little round disc almost exactly the same size as the girls' gymnastics awards. You could literally drill a hole in this award-winning cheese, hang it off a ribbon, and it would make a great, durable 2nd place medal for an Olympic, or after-school, gymnast (well, for one who likes stinky cheese).


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