Aug 30, 2014

Cliques and Labels: Tomme Cironnée


I should preface this by saying that Gigi's own middle school is full of the usual cast of characters -- early daters, fashion forward, elitist snobs, well-liked by all, super-smart, class clowns, nerdy outcasts, nerdy but well liked anyway, jocks, artists -- and that neither of my girls have been particularly bullied, harassed, or excluded, though of course there have been moments. And neither, as far as I know, has victimized anybody else. But then I hear about some of the suburban schools, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

One of the girls in Gigi's show comes from a suburban school where, she tells us, there are three groups of kids: "les populaires" (the popular kids), "les intellos" (the intellectual/smart kids) and "les bolos / bolosses". Now that last one is harder to define, though the English word that comes closest -- and is horrible -- is "loser". It's a word that popped up in the last decade or so in the Parisian suburbs and doesn't seem to be going away. Nobody knows exactly where it comes from, but two theories are that it's a mixing-up of letters of "lobos", as in "lobotomized" (inverting letters is a popular slang here) or that it's a contraction of "bourgeois" (just the same in English and French) and "lopette" (a pejorative word equivalent to "fag").

Gigi's friend tells her that the popular kids at her school have divided out the intellos and bolos in the grade into groups, with one of the populaires in charge of each group. Gigi's friend said her grades before winter break were actually so high that the populaire-in-charge moved her from intello status to bolos and told the rest of the kids not to speak to her for the rest of the school year. Now, doesn't that just curdle your blood?

It's not that these awful cliques and labels don't exist in the US, and probably world-wide. I'm sure they do. But I know this is not an isolated event. It seems that we're quite sheltered from it in Paris (and the same goes for San Francisco): There's a certain urban-cool that negates that and places high merit on both intelligence and artiness. But I will say this: no matter how horrified you are to hear it, the French schools don't do very much to combat it. The system here is not touchy-feely and nurturing, and doesn't seem to prize social-emotional intelligence or group work. So the mean girls and bullies, called "les pestes" (the "pests" or "the nuisances") march on.

THE CHEESE: Tomme Cironnée

You can tell where the Tomme Cironnée, also sometimes spelled Céronnée, comes from when you see it's more complete name, Tomme Cironnée d’Isère. Isère is home to world-class skiing in the mighty Alps, a mite too many cows' cheeses, and ...well...these mites called "cirons".

The mites are about half-to-one millimeter wide: tiny, but visible to the naked eye. Kind of like lice. Yum. Are we getting excited about this cheese yet?

Tomme Cironnée is a mountain cheese made from cows' milk that has been thermisé -- that is to say partially heated in order to get rid of some bacteria, but not to the point of full pasteurization. The resulting flavor is full -- with hints of sweet, smoke, wood, and a bitter tang. It's mild, but anything but boring. And for a hard cheese, it's remarkably creamy, absolutely smooth and silky in the mouth.

And all those holes? No, they're not because of the mites. They're caused by the air bubbles released and trapped during the cheese-making process. But the gray, leathery, nubby crust: now that's due to the mites. It's more often spelled Tomme Céronnée, and it's actually a variant of a Tomme de Savoie. It's "forgotten" in the cellars for 3 months so that the mites can go to town on the crust. It helps develop the specific aromas or nuts and spices. If you want to see a video on this process, just take a look at the video. If, on the other hand, you are squeamish and/or ever want to try this delicious cheese, you might want to give it a miss.


This is a story of upper crust pests. And the upper crust of the Tomme Cironnée is created by pests, real ones, though I guess the school-kind seem pretty real, too.


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