Feb 3, 2014

Holy Cow!: Tomme Pur Vache


A festive dinner in Normandy is almost a guarantee of an enormous seafood platter: visiting our good friends near the Normandy coast, this takes the shape of a boat with crab, shrimp, and bulot, a whelk that tastes "ulot like snal" according to something Pippa wrote at age 6, when she first tasted it. Gigi voluntarily eats another bulot tonight, not because she likes it but because she's up for the adventure and wants to see if she likes it better the second time. She doesn't. 

When Anthony sees the enormous seafood boat our hosts serve us, he exclaims "Oh my God!" and it is then our French friends teach us the phrase "Oh la vache!" This literally means, "Oh the cow!" but is used just as "Oh My God!" or "Holy Cow!" would be used. Why they exclaim over a cow is just as much a mystery as why we do (or did...Does anybody say "Holy Cow" anymore?).

But it's appropriate here, in Normandy, which is cow country. This is the home of Camembert, so of course when we enjoy some of the yummy, gooey cheese we like to think of it as educational rather than gluttonous. Normandy is famous for butter; we like the demi-sel (semi-salted) with crystals of big sea salt in it, spread over some good bread. Salted butter caramel is therefore also a local specialty. And they're famous for apples, too, hence the Calvados and bowls of hard cider. And various apple tartes, which go of course, very well with salted butter caramel sauce. And a glass of milk. Even our hosts' puppy, who has been humping my leg all week, is named Caramel. You can see how this all ties in. But it's not just in cow country that one speaks of cows:
  • In French, one way to emphasize something is with the adverb "vachement" as in, "le film était vachement bien!" This means "the film was really good!" but literally translates as "the film was cow-ly good!"
  • Not to be confused with "c'est vache!" which means something akin to "that's crazy!" or "that's mean!"
  • Is it raining cats and dogs? In France, "il pleut comme vache qui pisse." "It's raining like a pissing cow."
  • A lesser known saying: "Cela te va comme des bretelles à une vache." "That suits you like lace on a cow." I guess that's like the American expression about putting lipstick on a pig.
If this is just too much to take in, you might speak French like my husband does: "comme une vache espagnole" -- "like a Spanish cow."

Gigi has a cow joke to share. It requires some French to make sense, but let's try anyway:

A  little boy names Pierre is in class.  His teacher asks him, "What is the female of the bull?" 

While he is thinking, the little girl behind him leans forward and whispers, "Pierre!  I'm looking out the window and somebody is stealing your bike!" 

He cries out, "Oh la vache!" and the teacher says, "Very good!"

Then the teacher asks, "What is the female of the owl (hibou)?"

While he is thinking, the little girl leans forward and whispers, "Pierre!  He's returning your bike!"

Pierre cries out, "Chouette!"  (Chouette means both "female owl" and is slang for "Great!")

THE CHEESE: Tomme Pur Vache

The name pretty much says it all: Tomme Pur Vache -- Big Cheese Wheel of Pure Cow. I suppose Pure Cow's Milk would be more accurate. And in some ways, it's not a specific cheese, either. Really, the name tells me that it can't be called any of the other mountain tomme cow cheese names -- not Savoie, Pyrénées, or the like. So in all fairness, anything I say about this particular Tomme Pur Vache I taste won't necessarily be true for the Tomme Pur Vache you buy.

But in general, you can expect a hard or nearly-hard, probably raw cow's milk cheese with a strong, aged flavor. This one is crumbly with holes, and a salty, nutty flavor.


Both the cheese and the story are as pure cow as it gets.


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