Jul 31, 2014

This Subsidized Life: Somport de Chèvre


One of the perks of living in France is that even in the upper middle class, we still benefit from all sorts of subsidies. My French friends, who range, I would guess, from upper middle class to rather wealthy indeed, also enjoy the benefits of the subsidies. We're not abusing the system; it's just the way it is.

For example, Anthony's company pays for half of his monthly commuter pass, and also half of his "tickets restos". These vouchers, whose real name "titres-restaurant" means "restaurant vouchers", are food tickets. But don't think of them as food stamps. This is a very common benefit for employees at companies; it's a booklet of 8€ tickets that the employee has the option to buy -- usually half paid by the employee and half by the company. Many fine restaurants and food stores (from small to big grocery stores) accept them. Often shops will have signs about whether they do or do not accept the tickets.

There are also, occasionally, company-subsidized vacation tickets to be used at hotels and for travel. You know, to be used on one of the 6, 7, or 8 weeks of paid vacation you probably have for the year.

But that's not all. On the train, we benefit from the Carte Enfant + -- a discount ticket available to children under 12 years old. The card holders, and up to 4 people who travel with them, get a big discount (generally 25-50%), off of domestic train tickets. We have to buy the discount card once a year for 65€ and also bring it with us each time we use discounted tickets. There are other discount cards for the train rides, including frequent business traveler and senior citizen. We make back the fee for the card in just one major cross-country train ride for the family.

Many of my friends enjoy a benefit that I don't -- and never will: the "carte famille nombreuse" ("large family", meaning three or more children). A famille nombreuse benefits from hugely discounted (or free) entrance fees at museums, attractions, train rides, municipal facilities (like swimming pools), and even half-price metro tickets. But not only that, they get major tax breaks, reimbursement for extra-curricular activities and extra child-care (beyond the free day-care that is), and even full-on government allowances of several hundred dollars per month, per child.

France does its part to encourage larger families, including 16 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave (at 100% of salary) for the first and second child, and 26 weeks for the third and beyond. The father gets 100% for 2 weeks. And parental leave, shared between parents, extends to 3 years (unpaid or partially paid, for part-time work or total leave, depending on circumstances and number of children, but in any case with position guaranteed upon return). And yes, that means if you have 3 children, it might be roughly 9 years of parental leave.
But I only have two children. And am neither a French citizen nor a permanent resident. Zut alors!

THE CHEESE: Somport de Chèvre

The Somport de Chèvre that I buy is a farmhouse cheese, made from raw goat's milk in the Aquitaine department of the Pyrénées Atlantiques. A cow's milk version of Somport has been made here, in Basque sheep territory, since the 1960s, aged anywhere from 2-14 months. But this goat cheese version is only aged on the lower end of that spectrum, 2 months (which is still quite long for a goat cheese). It's named for Somport, or the Col de Somport, also called the Aspe Pass or Canfranc Pass -- and no matter what you call it a high pass of the Pyrenees between France and Spain. In fact, the famous "route du Somport" is a tunnel connecting France and Spain.

Though it's a hard cheese, it's both crumbly and a touch creamy. The taste is mellow but flavorful with hints of nuttiness and sweetness.  It looks something like its larger neighbor, the famous sheep cheese Ossau Iraty and while perhaps not as renowned or memorable, it's certainly a lovely hard cheese on the platter.


While most of my favorite cheese stores don't accept the ticket resto (and believe me, in order to write this posting, I've really asked around), one does -- my local Pascal Bellevaire. With the ticket resto, an 8€ wedge of cheese (a quarter kilo, so about half a pound) only costs us 4€.


Post a Comment

Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Customized by Mihai