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Jun 13, 2014

Gallic and Phallic: Chabichou du Poitou

THE STORY: Chabichou du Poitou

These seemingly innocuous posts at the side of the road that you see all around Paris are barriers to protect pedestrians. Each one is called, familiarly, "une bitte" (pronounced like "beet"), which translates as barricade, for the obvious reason. It's also a slang word, and a fairly course one, with a meaning that's also pretty obvious: penis. And yes, I know: Don't even get me started on the fact that the word is feminine.


Une bitte is related in function to une borne, the chunkier and clunkier traffic barriers that have been around for, at least, a couple hundred years (as David Downie mentions in his most excellent book Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light, they appear even in a daguerreotype of Paris dated 1838). Une borne is less phallic, but despite the fact that it, too, is a feminine word, it has a definite, shall we say, masculine presence.

 
In the springtime, the markets are filled with asparagus, both green and the more elusive, more expensive, frankly more suggestive white. Not only do they look phallic, they are traditionally considered an aphrodisiac, and especially for men (and yes, because of the appearance, though it turns out they have a lot of great nutrients, too). In fact, none other than King Louis XIV called asparagus "The King of Vegetables". And I feel like when it comes to royalty, he would know. In those days, the French tried to eat asparagus at three meals the day before a wedding in order to increase their libido.
 
 

But frankly, I think this baba au rhum at a local café puts the asparagus to shame. And it doesn't make your pee stink. It is not known for its aphrodisiac qualities, but it's still good for lifting the spirits, because it cracks those of us at the dinner table up till we are crying.

 
And yes, I am this juvenile sometimes:
 

It is possible for the notoriously sexual French to go too far, even for French taste. Last year, there was an uproar in France that the posters for the film Les Infidèles (The Unfaithful), starring Jean DuJardin, went too far. This one was deemed too misogynistic and was pulled from the kiosks and bus stops around the country. The tagline : "Je rentre en réunion" means "I'm going into a meeting."

 

It was replaced by posters such as these. Why, they're so "prudish," they're downright American!

 

The posters may be down, but there's no avoiding the fact that very Gallic and Phallic nature of Paris is up. And so, I leave you with the following photo to ponder. I mean, really.


THE CHEESE: Chabichou du Poitou

Chabichou du Poitou is a raw milk goat's cheese from the Poitou-Charentes region in western France -- home of many of the country's best goat cheeses. It's can be a farmhouse cheese, whose mold develops naturally in a cellar, or an industrial cheese with Penicillium injected into the cheese as a jump-starter. Either way, it is then aged around three weeks, by which point a nice white mold has developed. On the other hand, for a different look, sometimes it comes ashed.

 
It is, of course, strongly related to the Chabis, derived from the word "cheblie" which, I am told, means goat in Arabic. Like a Chabis, the Chabichou du Poitou is another wonderful goat cheese whose origins date back to the Arabs arrival in France in the 8th century. They powered into French territory, then in 732 AD suffered a defeat at Poitiers and were banished outside the city walls. It was lucky for them, and us, that they had their goats with them, so they could get fresh milk and make cheese for the winters. Unlike the Chabis, this cheese has its AOC status, since 1990.
 
 
In 1782, author Charles de Cherge wrote that the Chabichou "enjoy a justifiably merited reputation in the culinary world." The name of the cheese was later used in a sonnet by Emile Bergerat in 1910. The lyrics include:

One can pick up the scent from as far away as Louvain.
The chabichou.
 
THE CONNECTION:

This cheese couldn't look more like une borne if you stuck it on the side of the road (though it would do remarkably little in the way of protecting the pedestrians). And, like the asparagus, the Chabichou du Poitou really starts popping up in the markets in the spring.



Here, just for fun, and because it's so lovely, is Eglise Notre Dame des Champs, which is where the particular bornes from the photo above can be found. The bittes, colorfully painted on top for the fun of it, are from a road in the 20th arrondissement. Together, they can be found all over Paris, protecting pedestrians.



 

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