Oct 1, 2014

Growing Population: Bûche Rondin


When I tell you "the French population is growing," I don't just mean people are having more children, I mean the population is growing larger...as in fatter. Obesity is  becoming a problem here in France, too, though I must say anecdotally that you would never, ever believe that unless you traveled outside of Paris.

In Paris itself, the population as a whole is so fit, that after we had been here a year and headed back to the US, Pippa (then almost 7) looked around and asked, "Why are the people so fat here?" Parisians simply have to walk so much -- around the city, up and down stairs (to apartments, to metro stops) -- that they are, on the whole, really quite fit looking. Their apartments are tiny, and they get out for meals, for entertainment, for walks, to go out at night. And, truthfully, the smoking probably "helps" that thinness, though it still drives me batty and makes me mad, and I don't even want to think about it.

But outside of Paris, in the countryside, things are further away and people live a more car-centric lifestyle. And, of course, the diet is changing, with more pre-packaged and fast foods than before (but still way fewer than in the US). 8.5% of the French population was obese in 1997, rapidly growing to 14.5% as of 2009. The number keeps expanding, though it's still nothing like the over 30% of Americans that are obese with another 30%+ considered overweight.

In general, when I'm writing my postings for this blog, I can find the photos for any story idea among the tens of thousands of photos I've taken in France (yes, carefully tagged and labeled, but still with a lot of searching). Once in a while, I have ideas where I have to grab my camera and go out and get the photos -- usually accomplished within minutes. But it is, frankly, so rare to see an obese, non-tourist Parisian, that I'm having a hard time illustrating this posting. Which, I think, illustrates my point just perfectly.

An American friend visiting comments on this one day at school pick-up, when she sees all the children and the parents. Out of the 50 kids in the upper grades of Pippa's school and the roughly 50 parents (well, parents, grandparents, and nannies) we see picking them up, she is shocked that not only are none obese, she can't even find one that seems overweight (by more than a few pounds). If she had seen all 150 kids and the roughly 300 parents, she wouldn't have found many more, frankly.

There are, anecdotally, no more than half a dozen kids in the entire school who are even a tiny bit chubby, beyond the normal baby pudge. Of course, some of these kids have to walk up and down 40-50 flights of stairs each day (between school and home); run around for three school recesses (of half hour each; have swimming and gym during school hours; walk to and from school and after-school activities (or walk to the bus or metro); and get served home-made, slow-cooked meals with only one snack per day. This is not a fluke: In Gigi's school (the middle school), which is much bigger and has something like 2,000 kids and teachers, I also have yet to see anybody overweight.

And yes, I realize the strange juxtaposition of a story about fat in cheese one day -- exhorting you to eat the real, full-fat version -- and then a story about the growing obesity problem the next. Suffice it to say, that I live by the maxim "All things in moderation." Even French cheese.

THE CHEESE: Bûche Rondin

Bûche Rondin is a pasteurized goats' milk lactic-style cheese. It's very creamy and mild, with a pleasant salty-milky taste that barely hints of the animal. That's a good thing if you don't like your cheeses goaty, but less than ideal if you do. The outside crust is thick and white, in the style of an industrial Camembert or Brie. Not my favorite, but certainly edible, and I eat it just because it seems a shame to waste the buttery-oozy layer right underneath it.

The name is apt, but somewhat redundant, as both "bûche" and "rondin" means "log", with rondin being the fatter of the two. It comes from Maison-Feyne, which I originally assume is the name of the house ("maison") or farm on which it is made. But no, it turns out that Maison-Feyne is a village in the department of la Creuse in the region of Limousin, in central France.

It's a fine cheese, especially for a pasteurized, supermarket cheese (in the deli aisle). But the Bûche Rondin you buy near you may be quite different, since the name is a somewhat generic, non-specific name. It could even be a cows' milk cheese.


Not only is this cheese a round cheese, it's a doubly round cheese. A bûche is a small log or big stick, and a rondin is generally a fatter log, one that must be round, one that can even be a huge section of a tree trunk.


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