Jul 10, 2014

It's a Miracle!: Tarentais


In its infinite wisdom, the French government has chosen for me to get fingerprinted for my visa extension during a week in the summer in which I will be out of town in Alsace with friends. I go in yesterday to ask for them to change the date, but they are closed on Wednesdays. Sigh. I go in again today with Anthony's words ringing in my ears, "You know this is pointless, right?"

Ha, ha! In your face, pessimistic husband! For today I encounter a minor miracle: I walk into the office at which there is a long line, yet somehow my number is called within two minutes. At the desk, I tell the woman I would like to change the time of my interview, if at all possible. She asks for my passport and carte de séjour  (ID card) -- both of which I have actually brought with me -- and tells me she'll fingerprint me right there on the spot, despite the fact that it says in big, bold letters that I am not to show up before my scheduled appointment. I leave the office two minutes later, and the next time I'll receive a letter is to tell me my new card is ready to be picked up.

If they had refused to change my appointment, I would have had to leave the girls with my friend and her children, stranded without a driver, at the house we're going to rent in Alsace; take a two-hour train ride home super early Friday morning; go to my original fingerprinting appointment; then take a two-hour train back to Alsace, so that I could spend half a day with them, return the car, and take the same two hour train ride back home at the end of our trip on Saturday afternoon. This less-than-fun commute would have cost me around 100€ and, more importantly, been a huge hassle.

So who cares if it's gray, rainy, and cold in Paris? To me, the sun is shining, and I am skipping around with a big smile on my face. I feel like there needs to be a word to describe this sort of serendipitous, good luck that shines down from a source as unexpected as French bureaucracy. It would be the same word used to describe when you go to the store to buy something and discover there's a huge sale -- on exactly the thing you were going to buy anyway. I would have used that word that one special time several years ago when I used up both the shampoo and the matching conditioner on the same hair rinse. Today feels like that kind of miracle.

THE CHEESE: Tarentais

Tarentais is a farmhouse cheese made from raw goat's milk that comes from the Savoie region, a place generally more known for Alpine cow cheeses. More specifically, it comes from the Tarentaise valley, home to the highest concentration of skiable spots in the world, many of them uber-elite: The Trois Vallées (Courchevel, Méribel, Les Ménuires, and Val Thorens -- and don't ask me why there are four resorts in the Trois Vallées), Les Arcs and La Plagne, and both Tignes and Val d'Isère.

Given that it's cow country, and ski country, it's not too surprising that this is a recently invented cheese. It's available spring through fall, and aged 4 weeks, at which point it has a nice, white, moldy crust. After another 2-3, it might develop some lightly blue and even red mold, also.

Tarentais is a hard fireplug of a cheese, one that looks and sounds like it can take a few hard knocks. The crust and outer edge, depending on the aging, can be chewy. But the inside, when still white and fresh as in the sample I try, is thickly creamy. It's thirst-inducing, but with an absolutely perfect balance of salt, cream, goat, and nuttiness.


Tarentais is so delicious it's almost miraculous. Almost. Plus, I needed a cheese to go with this story and so walk into my local cheese shop, in which it is getting harder and harder to find a cheese I haven't tasted. It's even more unusual to find one that they have cut into samples that I haven't already tasted. So when I see the Tarentais, a new cheese for me that I can taste for free as I'm looking around for a cheese for this happy event (and I actually love it, to boot), it seems like the perfect choice.


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