Jun 8, 2014

School Pool: La Briquette Les Paulinetoises

Sometimes I chaperone Pippa's class to the pool for their weekly swim lesson at the Piscine Pontoise. I take this photo simply because I think it's such a lovely art-deco building, and because I love the turquoise color so much. I don't realize till I've done further research just how interesting this place really is.

One of the grandmothers who is also chaperoning tells me that she learned to swim in this pool, and so did her mother, and so did her grandmother. That makes at least five generations learning to swim in this same stunning pool. The fact that it was built in 1934, at the height of the art deco craze, does not surprise me at all. Just look at it. It turns out this pool is famous as the pool in the Kieslowski film Bleu where Juliette Binoche swims, so I'm not the only who notices how visually striking it is. It's even been listed as a historic monument since 1998.

I love the fact that school children throughout the country generally learn to swim as part of their regular curriculum, during school hours. There are some schools in very remote places without access to pools, but for the most part, children in elementary and middle schools swim once a week either for the whole school year or for at least a trimester or two throughout the country. Naturally, bathing caps and goggles are de rigeur, as are tiny manokinis for the boys (called caleçons-- no loose swim shorts allowed).

Because swimming education is important here, another of our local pools, Piscine Jean Taris (named after a former French champion swimmer, Olympian, and world-record holder) throws an annual pool party for kids.

This being France, we drop the kids off -- do NOT sign any sort of waiver or leave any emergency information about ourselves -- and head out to run errands, go home, or sit at a café. In the meantime, the kids are playing games, having races, and bouncing around on various fun equipment. Yes, diving headfirst is not just allowed but encouraged.
If it looks hazy, that's because they super-heat the room. The parents are sweating bullets, but the children are comfortable and happy.
This still being France, the children are rewarded after their healthy swim with a full sugar-and-chemical snack, in this case a skewer of marshmallow candies.

THE CHEESE: La Briquette Les Paulinetoises
La Briquette Les Paulinetoises (pronounce Po-leen-twaz) come from the town of Paulinet, called simply Paulin until 1897, in the Tarn department of the Midi-Pyrénées region. At the Paulinetoises farm, they make a series of raw farmhouse cheeses in a variety of shapes. The largest round version of their lactic cheeses is called a Paulintois, and the smaller round version a Petit Paulintois. Here, in the rectangular version, it's La Briquette Les Paulintoises.
What is a lactic cheese? Well, that will certainly be a Cheeseday (Tuesday, that is) posting at some point in more detail. For now, suffice it to say that it's a cheese that thickens and coagulates thanks to lactic acid, as opposed to rennet or some other additive.
This is cheese made the old-fashioned way. Their herd of 660 sheep graze freely over 80 hectacres about 8 months of the year, and in the winter are fed mostly dried hay and grains from the farm. The result is a cheese with herby, grassy, floral notes, and a really wonderful flavor that's lightly salty and savory yet sweet and creamy at the same time.
I know, the name of the cheese is Paulinetoise, and the name of the pool is Pontoise, but when pronounced in French, they sound very much alike. It's not much of a connection, but at least the cheese is rectangular and pool shaped and, here, served on my pool-colored platter.


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