May 15, 2014

Magic of the Loire: Petit Lochois

Upon arrival in Blois, in the Loire Valley, we know we should go and tour the Chateau de Blois, home of seven kings and ten queens of France, monument to the nation's former glory, constructed between the middle ages and the 17th century.

Instead, we turn our backs on it, and go across the courtyard to the Musee de la Magie Robert-Houdin, the Magic Museum.

This building has a different sort of historical significance -- the home of Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin, who lived from 1805-1871, changed the face of magic and inspired the stage name of the most celebrated magician in history, Harry Houdini.

He is often called the father of conjuring, and the statue outside his former home, now the museum, reads: prestidigitator, clockmaker, mechanic, inventor, savant, ambassador, and man of letters. The legacy he left is really wonderful for a family visit, starting with the outside of the building and its regular fire-breathing dragon shows.


Inside, there are bizarre things to look at, and do, and some of hands-on creations of the great Robert-Houdin, including automatons (and if you've ever seen the movie Hugo, you'll know what those are). One of our favorites was the simple illusion trick of mirrored glasses that cut off your view of the floor and instead show you the ceiling, which is decorated with things that play tricks on your mind. So you know, intellectually, that you are walking on flat, safe ground, but it looks like you're stepping on sharp tools, gaping holes, or rickety ladders and such.


I don't think this would be worth coming across the world for, but once you're in the Loire Valley, and the family is castled out (or, in our case, predicting Castle Fatigue), it's a very fun diversion.

THE CHEESE: Petit Lochois

This raw sheep's cheese from Loche, in the Loire Valley's Touraine, is well disguised; it looks and feels and -- almost -- tastes like a goat cheese. This makes perfect sense for a cheese that only suddenly appeared in the heart of goat and goat-cheese country.

In fact, hang on to your hats, this is about to get confusing: Petit Lochois is often the name of a tube-shaped goat cheese, basically the cylindrical version of the goaty Couronne Lochoise. But here, this is a sheep's version of Petit Lochois (she explains sheepishly).

Like a goat cheese, the texture is crumbly and creamy, with a layer just inside the crust that melts into a fine ooze. The taste is a lovely, mild, salty-buttery flavor with just a hint of sheep. It's a big hit on the cheese platter with all ages and seems particularly easy to like.


First of all, Petit Lochois' hometown of Touraine is very close to the Magic Museum. And also, this cheese is so delicious, it simply disappears. Poof!


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