Jul 26, 2014

This Old House: Coeur Vendéen


When I say "This Old House", I mean old. Our friends' house where we are staying was built around the year 1510, which makes it a good 500 years old. As such, it's full of delightful rolling, wavy floors, crooked walls, and peeling paint. But it's not in disrepair so much as it is in a lovely state of ivy-covered weathering.


The gates are newly painted, a blue a few shades lighter than the previous hue.


It's a debate among us all: cheery or garish? Either way, we all agree that it will darken and age. And it turns out that this is Versailles blue, so it can't be all bad. (And for the record, my vote is "cheery", though I must admit I love the dusty, old, peeling blue, too.)

That blue tinge on the pink hydrangea (hortensia) isn't natural; it's just new paint. The other hydrangea are clean enough.
These tiles may not be 500 years old, but they probably go at least as far back as my friend can easily trace her ancestors' ownership of the house -- to before the French revolution. At that time, the "game room" probably meant something else entirely (if the ancient rifles over the hearth are any indication). These days, "game room" means more Monopoly.

There's the drawing room, but we don't do much drawing there -- a little piano and a lot more games.


These initials must have belonged to one of the ancestors, which is a little hard to trace as the house has tended to go from mother to single-child daughter. We do know it's hand-embroidered. I think that alone would have taken me 500+ years.

In the formal dining room, our hostess makes us a gorgeous lobster dinner. Well, let me clarify; she makes us adults a gorgeous lobster dinner, with prawn, champagne, and wine. The children have already eaten their more modest (and kid-friendly) dinner in the cozy kitchen and been sent to bed. The animal skin rug is not Restoration Hardware reproduction; it's the real deal.
Many of our meals are taken outside.
The house is full of fun surprises. I giggle out loud when I find the collection of royal commemoratives. It's been handed down to my friend with the house, and with a giggle herself, she does her best to continue the tradition. She even has something in there for Baby George.

Some of these rusted blue utilitarian pieces are just weathered works of art.

They don't know how old the sundial is, though it does seem to be 2 hours and 15 minutes off. The 2 hours can be explained because of the shift in modern times to time zones and Daylight savings; this helps explain why the sun doesn't go down till 10:30pm in the summer. Obviously that wouldn't have made sense in the old days. As for the 15 minutes, there's a logical explanation for that too, in fact: Until just a couple centuries ago, each town and region would follow it's own time: noon at the apex of the sun. This sun dial reads, in Latin, "We rejoice in the sun, and rest in the shade."

The house itself just fascinates me, and I'm glad that I'm comfortable enough to poke into all the nooks and crannies and take photos of the centuries old doors, floor-tiles, and stone walls.


This does elicit a good-natured laugh now and then: "Don't mind me. I'm just off to take pictures of the dust on that wine bottle rack in the shed!"


Even my friend seems to appreciate that the history of the house itself is something special, especially to an American to whom a 500+ year-old house would, literally, be among the oldest man-made things on my continent.
And the view isn't bad, either.

THE CHEESE: Coeur Vendéen
Le Coeur Vendéen is a salt-washed, orange-crusted cow's milk cheese made from pasteurized milk in, where else?, the Vendée.

The cheese is made, like so many of the local cheeses we find (and buy or merely sample) at the big grocery store, by a local cooperative. Technically, it's considered artisanal cheese, since it's made in one place by milk collected from a specific local region. However, the numbers -- and quality of the cheese -- feel more industrial than artisanal. They collect 3.3 million liters of goat's milk per year, and 9.5 million liters of cow's milk. All told, this makes 460 tons of cheese annually, along with 210 tons of powdered milk products and 460 tons of boxes of infant-formula powdered milk products. The reverse of the cheese has a different mark -- both sides showing the traces of some cord wrapped around it in the aging process.

The cheese is striking looking, but really not striking in taste or texture. It's simply rubbery and bland.

A home is the heart and hearth of a family, and we are just grateful beyond words to be so warmly welcomed into the heart of this Vendéen family and their very old house.


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