Oct 8, 2014

Future Castle of the Past: Lavort


It takes nearly a thousand years to make a medieval ruin, but it's only been 17 years so far in the making of a medieval castle in remote Burgundy, called Guédelon. And only half that long in the making of our youngest, who celebrates her birthday at what turns out to be perhaps the most interesting construction site in the world.

At Guédelon, they're not only building a medieval-style castle, they're building it using only medieval materials, tools, and methods. That means some horse-power, and a lot of man-power. There are a few concessions to modern life: hard-hats when necessary, steel-toe boots at all times, safety goggles for the stone cutters, indoor plumbing for bathroom breaks, and maggot-free food.

We highly recommend visiting here if you're in Burgundy and/or can spare a (long) day or (easy) weekend from Paris. Definitely do the guided tour, which is offered in English or French (and occasionally other languages), because it makes a huge difference. 
It turns out that building this castle isn't just educational for the visitors, it's quite enlightening for the builders as well. There are several facts that blow my mind. Among them is a discussion of the mortar, and the importance of burning the lime at medieval (not modern) temperatures. It turns out it remains moist and malleable longer, allowing necessary shifting and settling -- without cracking -- as heavy layers are added on top. How much longer? Well, at a recent renovation at the Roman arena at Nîmes, access to a dark spot deep in the interior showed that after 2000 years the mortar still isn't completely dry.
Another: the string our guide is showing us in the photo below has regularly-spaced knots and can be used to do math necessary for construction sites, including multiplication and perfect angles. I get really excited to learn that the word "multiply" actually comes from this tool -- multi (many) and ply (fold) -- at which point Anthony reminds me, once again, that I am a huge dork.
Below you can see what happens to people who call me a huge dork.

Also on Guédelon's grounds is some of the livestock needed to make a castle. Because it takes a village. And a village's livestock.

The only problem, paradoxically, is that the site has proven to be extremely popular with tourists, and so beneficial to the understanding of how a medieval castle would have been built. But that means it's going to be a let-down when it's done, which looks like it will be sooner than anticipated -- in a decade or so. The owners are currently planning other medieval projects, such as a windmill and/or bridge, to ensure the future of the past.
CHEESE: Lavort

Lavort, which is also knows as Tomme d'Auvergne and as Médieval, looks like a cheese that's been around for centuries -- in just about every sense of it. It's got a rough, brown, crust that looks like it would protect the cheese for centuries. And, the wheel has a huge indent in the center, as if a crater has formed, or somebody has weighted it during the drying process with a cannonball. And yet, it's a new cheese, created by Patrick Beaumont in the 1990s.

Not only is it sort of a fake-ancient cheese, it's also an unusual one to find in the stores. When you do, though, I recommend a chunk. Lavort is uncooked, pressed, then aged 100 days on fir planks, which infuses the cheese with a hint of woodiness, to go along with the natural sweet, nutty, and herbal flavors of the raw sheep milk.


Lavort is a modern cheese that appears to be ancient, just like the castle of Guedelon. Better yet, the cheese is not only known as Lavort and Tomme d'Auvergne but also as Medieval.


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