Apr 30, 2014

Wednesday Politics: Mimolette


When Pippa comes home and proclaims, "I don't like President Hollande. I'm against him. My whole class is against him!," it is her first independent expression of political outrage, as opposed to simply repeating my own political outrage.

What on Earth could the French government have done to inspire this sort of unified opposition from a bunch of kids with loose teeth? It re-introduced school on Wednesday mornings, where there had been a day off. The day is used by most French kids with a stay-at-home parent or nanny for a little lie in, extended pajama time, and day of extracurricular activities.

But it's not just the elementary school students and parents that are opposed (middle and high school students already have school on Wednesday mornings, at least, so are not affected). Public school teachers in Paris went on strike many times last school year to protest the proposed change -- which increased neither the number of hours of class time nor the amount of teacher's pay.


That bears re-stating, because it's highly counter-intuitive. In accordance with the Hollande-led plan, the Paris government took away 1½ hours from the end of Tues and Fri, then makes up those three hours by forcing everybody to come in on Wed morning. The schools provide day care for the Tues and Friday afternoons, but this is not as enticing as it sounds when you realize that Parisian recess yards are essentially poorly-supervised, overcrowded, paved courtyards, and that they aren't willing to pay teachers but rather import minimum-wage, unlicensed, untrained monitors.

Teachers, therefore, are now paid the same amount, but have to come in on Wed mornings, and vacate and clean up their classrooms for the 3-4:30 use on Tues and Fri. If I had to work on my former day off to make the same amount of pay I used to have, I'd go on strike, too.

As Gigi is now in middle school, the change didn't affect her. And as the private schools were allowed to opt out, it turns out it doesn't affect Pippa either. The two of us can still lounge around doing homework and English-language projects on Wednesday mornings. If the strikers had wanted to be more effective in preventing the change, they should have brought in the serious heat for their marches: what would've scared the government instead of a bunch of teachers and parents? How about a mob of angry eight-year olds.

THE CHEESE: Mimolette

Mimolette is a big, hard, orange ball of pasteurized cow's milk cheese that many describe as looking like a cantaloupe. It's made near Lille, in the north of France. This leads to another name used for it: Boule de Lille. The cheese is made, purposely, in the style of the Dutch cheese, Edam, which leads to yet another name for it: Vieux Hollande.

The Vieux (old) part of the name may or may not well-earned. Some say the cheese was created by the request of Louix XIV in the 17th century, looking to make a French product that could take the place of Edam. The annatto is added to turn it orange and differentiate it from the original. Other sources say this French cheese did not appear until the early 20th century, before World War I.

Ironically, it's most common name -- Mimolette -- comes from the French word "mi-molle" meaning "half-soft". Which this cheese is not. It may be half soft during the fabrication process, but that's hardly a great basis for a name. Once you actually buy it in the store, it is generally as hard as the rock it appears to be, after having been aged between 6 months and 2 years. As for the size of a whole Mimolette: Think bowling ball. The ruts on the outside of the ball are caused by mites, which some might find a mite gross. But you really shouldn't, whatever mites they are (or might have been) they've been safely eaten in this cheese for centuries.

People say it has a hazelnut-like flavor, but in fact it's less sweet and nutty than other cheeses, including Parmigiano (to which is it sometimes, inexplicably, compared), Comté, or an aged Gouda. Despite the fact that Americans in Paris often use Mimolette for mac & cheese because of the color, I'm not a Mimolette mac & cheese fan. The flavor just seems slightly off to me. In general, that's my feeling about Mimolette, frankly. I love Goudas and Edams, hard cheeses, and nuttiness, yet somehow I just don't love a Mimolette.


This change comes about under Francois Hollande, a man who, as comedian Stephen Colbert points out, can't even decide which country to be named after. I myself have a hard time deciding which cheese to use for this posting, and am tempted by Edam Français, a cheese that is both Dutch (Edam) and French (français) in honor of President Hollande. However, I've already decided to use that cheese for the posting on 4 Star School Lunches. I consider changing the cheese on that posting to Mimolette, since it also appears on some of the school lunch menus. But when I research Mimolette, I discover its other name -- Vieux Hollande -- and that seems perfect for this story after all. So it seems I could swap out theses two cheese with these two stories, and it would make sense either way.

I have to tell you, I'm tempted to find an alternative and keep Mimolette for at least three other stories I have in mind. Apparently, Mimolette is a cheese that just lends itself to story connections and fits into many slots.


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