Feb 19, 2014

Playing Handball: Trèfle du Perche

I am living in Paris during the summer Olympics 2012 in London, and I would like to tell you what the coverage of Olympic gymnastics is like in France, but I can't, because they keep choosing to show only handball. And more handball. At least, whenever I'm looking. We interrupt our regularly-schedule programming to tell you that our regularly-scheduled programming is not what we want it to be.
Is it better now that we're in the winter Olympics and there's no handball? Not really. Headlines recently cheered about "the Blues" making the Europe finals in Herning, Denmark, having beaten world-champion-title holder Spain 30-27 in the last minutes of a hotly contested match. But will they beat the winner of the Denmark-Croatia semi-finals? I don't know; the suspense is killing me (and will probably kill me for the rest of my life, as I will likely forget to follow up with the results). And instead of showing the figure skating that I really want to see, French prime time TV is showing American crime dramas dubbed into French. Surfing the channels, I manage to find only one sport: handball. It's a tournament between BAR and ADE, which may (or may not) be Barcelona vs. Adelaide.
Blast those Frenchwomen and men and their handball prowess! Instead of Olympic gymnastics and figure skating, I am forced to watch BAR vs. ADE or the quarterfinals of women's handball -- France vs. Montenegro, cities -- and whole countries -- I have basically never heard of competing in a sport I had basically never heard of.

To be more precise, I thought I had heard of handball, because my parents, their siblings and cousins, who all grew up in New York City, have talked about playing handball when they were children. However, it turns out that that NYC handball is not the same game as Olympic handball, a revelation that stunned my mother who, since she lives in the US, has not been forced to watch any Olympic handball. If she had, she would realize that while NYC handball is like squash played against a wall with one's hands, Olympic handball is like soccer, played indoors with one's hands.

Who ultimately won the London 2012 Olympic handball competition? Or the 2014 European World Championship? Who knows? Who cares? I'll tell you who cares: the French people, or at least the French media. Oh, NBC, all you American sportscasters with your inane commentary and spotlights on the athletes, I actually miss you.

THE CHEESE: Trèfle du Perche

Trèfle du Perche is an unusually four-leaf-clover shaped raw goat's milk cheese and, in fact, "trèfle" means clover. It's ashed and looks bluish-gray, with brainy wrinkles. The inside is clean white, with a center that's a thick cream-cheese texture. But as it warms up, a perfectly ripe Trèfle du Perche will melt and ooze into a lightly golden, liquidy, buttery mess. I mean mass. Well, both work.

The flavor is firmly goaty, but not the kind that makes timid cheese eaters run for the hills. It's a cheese that's relatively easy to find, given that it's a new cheese that's only been in production since 2005. Still, it appears regularly in fine cheese shops. It's worth trying and makes a lovely addition to a cheese platter, both for the taste and the pretty shape.

It's aged for a minimum of 10 days on the farms where it's made, in Perche, which is a tiny spot on the map not too far west of Paris in northern, central France. It's firmly in cow country -- on the edge of Normandy, and so a goat cheese from this region is a rarity.


Though Perche here is the name of the place from which the cheese hails, the word "perche" means "pole". And "saut à la perche" means "pole-vaulting", another slightly oddball (but not handball) Olympic sport. Watching the Olympics here, I always feel just seconds away from having to watch curling. It's a longshot connection, I know, but then again, when it comes to handball -- and the Olympics -- what isn't a longshot?


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