Aug 6, 2014

Sorry, We're Closed: Meule de Savoie

This sign, spotted and photographed by my friend Daniel, kind of says it all. It reads, in translation: "OPEN EVERY DAY Except Sundays, Mondays, and holidays, 2:30pm-6:30pm." It looks like it used to say till 7pm till the closing time was changed. Basically, they're open every day, all day, except when they're not, which is an awful lot of the time. Just don't say they didn't warn you.

We own Paris on a weekend morning. We rise at our normal hour, the children letting us sleep in as late as 8:30am in honor of the weekend. We snuggle in bed; we have a leisurely breakfast, possibly even a labor-intensive one with American pancakes or scrambled eggs. We play board games, we do art projects, we get dressed, and we are still able to be out and about by 10 or 11am. We are just about the only ones on the streets. What, exactly, do the French do until noon? As they all appear to be locked tight behind closed doors, we cannot tell you. All we know is that it is almost like a ghost town.

Needless to say, there's not much one can do, or buy, on a Sunday. There are some museums -- open much later in the afternoon, of course -- and one of our favorite on-island bakeries. This same bakery is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays, however, which has messed us up more than once, forcing us to go to the closer, less-tasty, much grumpier boulangerie. My favorite cheese shop is closed on Mondays. The Monop' (an urbanized mini-Monoprix) is open on Sunday but only till noon, though the big Monoprix is closed all day. I never see anybody in the Monop' on a Sunday morning but me. Am I really the only one who runs out of milk and eggs and virtually all other groceries on a Sunday morning? Let's just say we have many, many Sunday suppers made up of leftovers.

In fact, it's almost as if Sundays were, well, August in Paris. When it actually is August in Paris, however, you can hardly tell the difference between Sunday and the other days. The shot below is taken around 3pm on a summer Monday.

The other evening, I go out to buy bread for a cheese party. I do not go to our favorite local bakery, La Parisienne, because it's Sunday, and I know it's closed. Instead, I head to our usual Sunday boulangerie on Ile St. Louis, but it's closed for the month for vacation. Frankly, they barely seem happy about it, with a sign proclaiming that, as a "group 2" bakery, they are forced to close from early July through early August in accordance to the laws relating to paid holidays.

I know they have directed me to the nearest boulangerie, but that's the one we call the grumpy baker, and, frankly, we feel grumpy when we have to eat his sub-par bread. So I then head up to the Marais to four other boulangeries: two are closed on Sundays, one is closed for holidays, and finally -- finally! -- I find someplace where I can buy a baguette in Paris a kilometer away from my apartment, although I still have to settle for mediocre bread.

And don't even get me started on our Berthillon ice cream supply being shut off from late July till Sept 3. Or this convenience store, called 8 to Eight, which is open Monday through Saturday, 8am till 7pm, except for from 12:30 till 3:30, and not at all on Wednesday afternoons, or on Sundays. So not when you're generally not working, or hungry, at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Very convenient indeed.

Then, of course, there's the post office, at any time. This is what happens once when I try to mail a package:

Carry the bulky box to the post office, cleverly waiting till 1:30pm in order to avoid the 12-1 lunch hour. Turns out it's a 1-2pm lunch break. Carry the box home again. Come back another day. Get there Tuesday afternoon before 5pm. Find out it closes at 4:30pm on Tuesdays. Carry box home. Come back another day. Return with bulky box to mail during open hours, but post office does not have or sell any tape. "They sell it at the petite épicerie on the corner, madame." Turns out the petite épicerie used to stock tape, but does not anymore. Carry box home. Find packing tape at the big Monoprix. Come back another day. Return to post office between 2-4:30 on a Monday-Friday afternoon and successfully mail package. Run out of stamps and need to mail a letter. Show up at 9am, after dropping kids off at school. Learn post office does not open till 10am. Come back another day.

Having firmly established that we can accomplish none of our critical errands on weekends, on certain weekdays, in the mornings, during extended lunch hours, in the late afternoons or evenings, or any time during the summer, we would like to point out to you the coiffeur across the street from our apartment. Though he has posted hours that are as restrictive as most other places in Paris, he is in fact open at all hours of the day and night, ready to cut and blow-dry your hair, should you have a hair-styling emergency. I just wish I had known that when I set my hair on fire at Christmas.

THE CHEESE: Meule de Savoie

When we walk into Le Goût ut du Terroir in Strasbourg, there are two Meule de Savoie samples out: 18 months and 24 months. Interestingly, I find that the 18 month sample has more flavor, though this goes against everything I know should be true. The children all prefer the 24 month sample, which actually seems to confirm my odd feeling that the 24 month is less flavorful, since they often shy away from the super-aged versions and go for the middle-strength versions instead.

Either way, Meule de Savoie is an enormous wheel of raw cow's milk cheese made in, where else?, Savoie. When I say enormous: each wheel weighs from 35-45 kilos. Just for the sake of comparison, I'm at the top end of that range, too. It is raw, but still cooked and pressed, then aged for at least 5-6 months. But the really good ones are aged much more.

In both our samples, the fact that they are more aged and also made with summer milk shows in the flavor: hints of fruit, herbs, grasses. Both have a certain nuttiness, but not that strong sweet-nut tang of a Comté. Because of the fruit aftertaste, this cheese is often eaten with fruit. It's also a local favorite on a sandwich and is frequently used in a Savoyard fondue.

The texture is soft and creamy in the mouth with the kind of crust even I prefer not to eat: hard and dry.


On the evening when I have to go to six boulangeries to find one open on a Sunday night in late July, this is one of the cheeses we eat on that mediocre-but-not-great-and-certainly-not-convenient bread.


The lovely store owner even gives us this piece of cheese for free, just because the kids are so enthusiastic about the samples of it she has out. I had already bought a couple other kinds of cheese, and she just slices this chunk off and throws it in the bag for us. It's like the opposite of trying to get the bread for it in Paris: completely hassle-free. Go to this store, if you're in Strasbourg! Not only is it charming, high quality, and friendly, but also it is -- blissfully, at the moment we need it -- open.


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