May 17, 2014

The Da Vinci Abode: Pouligny St. Pierre


Among the castles, there's another gem: Leonardo Da Vinci's home. He died here in the Loire Valley in 1519, in the home in Amboise that was given to him by his patron, King Francis Ier. It was Francis Ier who brought Da Vinci (or Léonard De Vinci, as he is known here) to France from his native Italy, and I know this thanks to the factoid on the inside of a La Vache Qui Rit wrapper.

When Francis Ier ascended the throne, France's royal palaces had just a few big paintings, and not a single sculpture. Swept along by the Renaissance, he was a devoted patron of the arts, and it was he who started the great royal collection, much of which is now on display at the Louvre. The Joconde -- that's Mona Lisa to you and me -- came over with Da Vinci himself when he crossed the Alps by mule at age 64, along with two other paintings: Saint Jean Baptiste and La Vierge, L'Enfant, et Sainte Anne.

Francis Ier helped standardize the French language, earning him the nickname Père et Restaurateur des Lettres (the "Father and Restorer of Letters") and was also called le Grand Colas ("?"), le Roi-Chevalier (the "Knight-King"), and -- less flatteringly -- François au Grand Nez ("Francis of the Large Nose"). He gave De Vinci one of the castles where he had grown up, Clos Lucé. Meanwhile, he was living in the nearby Chateau d'Amboise and building Chambord, and asking Da Vinci along with other Italian artists to work on it. Da Vinci was named Premier Painter, Engineer, and Architect of the King. Legend has it that Francis Ier was so taken with Da Vinci that he thought of him as a surrogate father and even had a secret tunnel built between Amboise and Close Lucé (which has never been found). While in France, for three years until he died at Clos Lucé, Da Vinci did not paint but rather worked mostly on inventions, many of which have been realized (in small or large format) in the museum.

For example, this paddle boat that Da Vinci designed in the 16th century, wouldn't work at the time, because they didn't have enough energy and the proper materials at their disposal. It is, however, the exact same principal used later for the paddle steamers of the 19th century.

We don't even know what all his inventions were meant to be, but truly he was a man ahead of his time. Anthony is agog looking at all the advanced engineering involved in his designs. We have all agreed that Leonardo Da Vinci is probably the only person that you could take from his time period and bring to the 21st century who would not freak out by all the technology. Can you imagine? He'd be like a kid in a candy store.

Speaking of which, our own children love the visit to this particular castle -- so much that we go on two separate days. It has quite a well-engineered playground, which the girls (and our resident twelve-year-old-boy-trapped-inside-a-man's-body) thoroughly enjoy.


If you do find yourself at Clos Lucé -- and you should -- we highly recommend lunching at La Table du Moulin (The Table at the Windmill). It's a period lunch, with servers in costume and food choices that are derived from 16th century from 16th century menus.

There are concessions, of course. The wine, for example, is weak and flavored with honey and spices. However, it is, at least, drinkable, whereas the waitress explains to us that since corked glass bottles had not yet been invented yet for wine storage, most wine that was drunk was simply vinegar. And if you had to drink vinegar, you too would doctor it up with honey and spices.


THE CHEESE: Pouligny St. Pierre
This pyramid-shaped raw goat's milk cheese hails from Berry, the ancient region of France, now divided into many departments, mostly in the Loire Valley. This cheese can be eaten young, when it's flavor is mild and creamy, or more aged, at which point the flavor is nuttier, goatier, tangy-er, and with a little kick.
One thing that's very interesting about a Pouligny is that it can come in white (covered with Geotricum, or Toad's Skin, mold) or blue (covered in Penicillium album). Not only is this cheese mellower when it's young, it's also mellower when it's white. The white version is lightly salty and goaty, with delicate fruit and flower hints, and a creamy texture that melts in the mouth. The blue, on the other hand, is much firmer with a strong goat flavor with strong hints of nuts.
Cheese from nearby. And -- as cheeses go -- it seems very geometrically interesting and architectural to me, so I just feel like Da Vinci would approve. The shape looks rather like the roofline of the Clos-Lucé or the La Table du Moulin, in fact. So it seems to me that a Pouligny St. Pierre is the best possible candidate for the DaVinci Goat.


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