Jun 11, 2014

Every Square Centimeter: Abondance


As Versailles gets more and more (and more) crowded, you may want to rethink your plans. I remember touring Versailles twenty-ish years ago, and what I remember is...Versailles. Whereas anybody who's seen it in the past couple years remembers...the crowds. But fear not, if you're longing to see some Louis XIV Hall of Mirrors-style opulence, you can get the same feeling -- with fewer crowds and less traveling -- at the Opéra.

The grand staircase may be about the least ornate thing here.
When Anthony and I were renovating our house in San Francisco, our architect advised us to ask the city for EFSI -- Every F*ing Square Inch. Though we were talking about square footage, that phrase runs through my head over and over again while I'm here, because I feel like the decorators lived by the same philosophy. If there was a square inch, they were damn well going to paint it, carve it, tile it, or gild it -- and often all of the above at the same time.

This is the Opéra, after all, not an institution usually known for its restraint. Their exhibits reflect this. Here, a diorama of an Act II set for a Wagner opera, called in French Les Maîtres- Chanteurs de Nuremberg (Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg or The Master-Singers of Nuremberg) which premiered here in 1897, with sumptuous costumes by Bianchini.


And, while we're at it, if you ever get the chance to go into the belly of the Hotel de Ville -- and I mean the parts normally off-limits to the public -- by all means take it. I am allowed in thanks to a conference on education co-organized by Princeton University and the Fung Foundation. During breaks, I spend much of my time staring at and photographing the EFSI decorations.

This ceiling medallion is dedicated to the arts including sculpture. I wish I had an art historian or at least a decent docent here with me.

Other parts that may be open on more occasions but are still hard to access include the library and debating chambers, both of which are less ornate than the grand halls but still much more beautiful than they need to be.


Every bit as ridiculous and gorgeous and over-the-top as Versailles, but without the crowds.

I've recently told you about the palace of Vaux-le-Vicomte -- EFSI, of course. But also a day trip away. The Hotel Lauzun, on the other hand, is right around the corner from me. It is currently being renovated and is not a hotel, in the English sense, but rather a mansion. Frankly, it already looks pretty good to me. It's normally closed to the public, but we luck into a special open day tour. EFSI all the way.


THE CHEESE: Abondance

Not to be confused with Tomme de Chevre du Pays d'Abondance which hails from the same place (the Abondance valley, naturally, in the department of Haute-Savoie in the Rhône-Alpes region), Abondance is a hard, raw cow's milk cheese with AOP status since 1990. Even the cow breed from which it is mostly made is called...Abondance, which has been the main cow of the area for over 15 centuries. Also authorized breeds are the Taurine and the Montbéliarde. (Yes, I know this paragraph has an overabundance of Abondances.)

It's part of the family of mountain cow cheese with a cooked, pressed paste that also includes Comté, Emmental de Savoie, Gruyère, and Beaufort. This does not mean the milk is pasteurized but rather that the mixture is heated after being molded and pressed as part of the cheese-making process, curdling gradually at a temperature of 27°C. Then it is aged 4-6 months and periodically washed. That also means it shares certain characteristics with those cheeses; for example, it's nutty, sweet & tangy with hints of the summer grasses and winter hays upon which the cattle feed, and it tastes fantastic melted on bread or potatoes.

The Abondance is in the upper right corner of this photo of part of the hard and semi-hard cheese section at Quatrehomme. Though the Abondance comes in a heavy, hard wheel, it's considered only semi-hard and is more creamy than crumbly.

Thank goodness I can get a sliver to taste, because on this particular day, I'm already loaded down with too many cheeses, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to taste it. It's actually rather difficult to find it nowadays. In its early days, as far at least as the 12th century, it was made by monks in the area. In 1381, it was known to be on the table when the conclave convened in Avignon for the election of the Pope, thereby elevating Abondance to a noble cheese. Now, it is an artisanal cheese hand-crafted only by about 60 farms and a few co-ops.


Sure, I should've found a cheese called Opulence, but one that's practically Abundance will do.



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