Sep 3, 2014

A Tale of Two Backpacks: Le Curé Nantais


It was the best of backpacks, it was the worst of backpacks. Meet the cartable, the French backpack, except it's not a sac à dos, which is a backpack. For elementary school kids in France, it's hip to be square.

It's very practical for large rectangular books, art pads, and notebooks. Middle and high schoolers nearly universally wear the rounder, sportier, American-style hiking backpack. But elementary school kids seem about evenly split.
My friend James lived in Paris for a year when he was a young child, and when he went back to New England, he brought along his cartable. When he wore it to school on that first day, he was teased and mocked, because it was so odd-looking to the American kids. So James wore it again the second day. And he was teased. He continued to wear it, day after day, until sometime in mid-November, he wore it to school, and finally wore the other kids down. Nobody bothered to tease him that day, and he went home and said that he wanted a "regular" backpack.

It's character-building. Plus, James has a little contrarian streak. And today he's a very successful entrepreneur, so you see where a little rebellion, a little non-conformation, and a funny-looking little backpack can take you (though he might argue that not all of his success is due to his French-style cartable).

THE CHEESE: Le Curé Nantais
This cheese was invented in 1880 on the advise of a curé (priest), Pierre Hivert, and named in honor of him. It's made near Nantes, on the West Coast of France.

It's an artisanal cheese made from raw cow's milk, gathered daily from local farmers. The milk is heated in copper pots, and the cheese is aged for 4 weeks on spruceboards. During that time, they're washed every other day with a salty water with Muscadet.
It's a slightly stinky, sticky cheese with a ruddy tan. Inside, it's on the soft, rubbery side, with a bite that's somewhere between chewy and creamy. The taste is, like so many of the Vendée region, not exceptionally memorable, but it's medium-strength and  -- well, not to sound too underwhelmed -- just fine.


Le Curé Nantais comes in two shapes -- much like backpacks in France: square and rounded. The rounded one is labeled only slightly differently, with specific mention of the Muscadet in the wash. However, the traditional version also has Muscadet in the wash. So, there's no difference between the cheese in terms of taste or, like the backpacks, functionality. Just pick the one you prefer.



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