Quotes

Jul 21, 2014

Big Brother, Little Sisters: Jabron

THE STORY:
 
In English, we talk about the baby of the family, the eldest, and of course the ever-infamous middle child syndrome. But we've never thought to label and codify the birth order like the French. I have an older brother and sister; therefore, I am the benjamine of my family (and if I were a boy, I'd be the benjamin, even if my name was not Benjamin).
 

photo by my dad, 1970
 
The order is as follows: the oldest is the aîné (or aînée if a girl), then comes the cadet/ cadette, then benjamin/ benjamine. So, in my family (shown above, when I'm almost 2 years old) is the aîné, cadette, and benjamine. But what if your family has more than three kids? Or what about twins? This gets complicated even for French people, none of whom can seem to agree, not even official sources.
  • puîné / puînée = any child born after the oldest (aîné/ aînée). Could include -- or except -- the youngest child, who is specially named. Derived from the words "puis" and "" meaning "after" and "born".
  • le petit dernier/ la petite dernière = there is some debate about whether, in a family of four or more, you would call the 3rd child the benjamin/ benjamine and the 4th the le petit dernier/ la petite dernière, or whether you would call the 3rd child a "puîné / puînée" and the 4th would remain the benjamin/ benjamine (and also le petit dernier/ la petite dernière).
Now that French families normally only have one, two, or three children, the position names of other children seem to be in confusion and/or simply lost, even among native French speakers. One very interesting place holder still remains, however: sixtine. This normally means a daughter born as the sixth child in a family, thought I know of two young girls actually named Sixtine -- one just because it's a pretty name and the other because she is the 4th child and therefore 6th member of the family (and yes, they know they cheated a little).
 
This used to be a big deal, of course, because the droit d'aînésse was important for succession of titles and inheritance, though this was suppressed during the Revolution, making it ever so much easier for people who had twins to choose whichever one they wanted to be the aîné (but not aînée, since inheritance and title rights still went through the eldest son, never daughter). Nowadays, there's even some debate about twins. Most commonly, people call whichever twin was born first as the aîné/ aînée, but some argue that the twin born last is actually the aîné/ aînée because they were presumably conceived and/or implanted first (theory being, first in, last out). Since it doesn't matter for legal purposes anymore, people can simply choose as they will.
 
Each year, when we register the girls for gymnastics, we have to figure out what our own aînée and cadette will be. While their gymnastics runs by the school year, nearly every activity in France -- including school itself -- places the children in categories based on their calendar year of birth. Their level of skill has almost nothing to do with it. And there is little leeway for judgment: if you are born on December 31, you are one level or grade, and if January 1st, then you're the next level down.
 
In gymnastics (and most after-school sports), children who will be 7, 8, or 9 in the calendar year are called poussins / poussines. So, in the school year of 2014-2015, that would be children who are born in 2006, 2007, and 2008. Children who will be 10 or 11 -- born in 2004 and 2005 -- are benjamins/ benjamines. Children who will be 12 or 13 -- 2002 and 2003 -- are minimes. Next up is the 14 and 15 year olds -- 2000 and 2001 are cadets/ cadettes. It doesn't matter if the child's birthday is at the end of the year and for virtually all of 2015, she is 9; still she competes against the benjamines. This means that my own aînée has been a poussine and a benjamine in gymnastics, and now will be moving into the cadette category. And my cadette, who is also in our family la petite dernière, has been a poussine and now will be a benjamines.
 
It's all terribly confusing for my Anglophone, American brain, and I've had to edit the previous paragraph about fifteen times to get the dates, ages, years, and names correct. And I realize it's still completely incomprehensible. You can imagine how effective I am when trying to hold a conversation with the registration desk on this subject. I usually just give up and tell them the birth year of my child and let them figure it all out.
 
THE CHEESE: Jabron
 
 
Jabron is a beautiful raw goat's milk cheese that comes from Provence, in Jabron Valley, at the edge between the Alps and the Jabron River. The farm, there since 1984 has a herd of 230 goats that provide the milk for high quality farmhouse cheeses.
 
It's an ashed cheese with a moldy crust and a bright white interior. Yours might not look quite as blindingly bright white as this, but it is a very, very sunny day and we're eating this cheese outdoors.
 

The texture is lovely, thick and creamy, with just a thin layer of oozy wetness right under the crust. It's a very mild cheese, with light hints of herbs and flowers and just the tiniest bit of goat without the tang.
 
THE CONNECTION:
 
There is another cheese Senteur de la Pigière, that is a slightly smaller, slightly newer permutation of a Jabron. When I am introduced to both of the cheeses at the same time at the same store, the salesperson describes them to me by saying that Jabron is like a big brother to the Senteur de la Pigière. Therefore, that makes it the aîné of this particular cheese family. 
 

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