Oct 24, 2014

Of Horse: Le Cavalli


Who could forget the great Horse Meat Lasagna Scandal of 2013? Perhaps only the dead horses themselves. Interestingly, one of Paris' few, remaining horse butchers, Chevaline Chaussier in the 13th arrondissement, actually saw a rise in the number of clients and purchases as a result of the scandal. People were, simply put, curious.

One of my French friends, who knows something about horse meat, says "There's no way somebody 'accidentally' bought huge quantities of horse meat thinking it was beef. They don't look anything alike. Horse meat is nearly black. That whole thing was a complete lie." That certainly makes me curious, too -- curious enough to visit Chevaline Chaussier and see for myself. Whether or not the scandal was caused by lie or error, the red sticker proclaims "Faites gaffe, je mande du cheval", meaning "No mistake, I eat horse."
Is it black? Not quite. But does it look like beef? Not quite. Certainly it does seem that anybody who's buying mass quantities of it and is, presumably, a regular beef purchaser and beef expert should know the difference. Yes, even when it's ground.
I bring along Scott & Kay, some readers who contacted me and with whom I've made a walking date. It's not exactly the regular tourist trail ("Would you like to come to a butcher shop with me?"), but luckily, they are the kind of people, like me, who enjoy that sort of oddball quest and adventure. We are all, frankly, some combination of amused, curious, and disgusted. But I have to be brutally honest here: we are amused and curious enough to visit and take pictures, but too disgusted to taste anything.
While horse may be a fairly unusual meat to eat (on purpose) even in France, it's hasn't always been so. It was much more common here in the past, and was in fact considered a poor man's meat; what other great use was there for horses too old or tired to work?

But it's not completely a thing of the past. Here, on a menu in Provence, is horse tartare, one of the more common ways to "enjoy" horse meat. And below, a photo of this dish from the window of Chevaline Chaussier. Apparently, it's low in fat, so it's got that going for it.

A little more common, but still related it seems to me, is cured donkey salami. This is, in fact, a fairly common item, and I see what I like to call "ass sausage" at many markets -- Paris, Provence, Alsace. You'll see it labeled "âne" (donkey/ass).

Frankly, the ass sausage looks a whole lot less scary than the more innocuous-sounding "myrtille" or blueberry sausage.

Ironically, just around the corner from the Chevaline Chaussier is the Boucherie du Temps Passé which might best be translated as "Butcher of Days Gone By". They sell wonderfully boring chickens, salads, hams, and modern-day, pork sausages, while the Chevaline is really the one selling things from days (and tastes) gone by.

The beauty of wandering along with my new friends, on a mission to do nothing but visit a horse-meat butcher and then explore a rarely-visited section of Paris, is that we come across a host of little treasures, much of it related. Sometimes, I feel like the universe just hands me this stuff. For example, just down from Chevaline Chaussier is the Horse Market Building, a 1760 building in the Louis XV style, that once served as the depot for the controllers and accountants of the nearby horse market. The tiny street just a block away was once called the rue de l'Essai, "Trial Road", because it was the spot to take the horses for a trial spin before purchasing. The market later moved further out toward the edge of Paris and then disappeared in the 19th century when, presumably, one no longer went to the middle of the city to buy horses.
Of course, this is not just a coincidence. I'm sure the reason that the horse market is here, and that the local metro station is called Chevaleret, has to do with the fact that this was once the horsiest area of Paris. Where would you go for your horse meat? Where the horses are.

At some point in the past, you could also have gone many other places in the city, although now there are just a handful. I pass this place in the 4th arrondissement many time per week. It's never occurred to me, before now, what the sign means. Yes, this little spot in the Marais used to be a horse-meat butcher as well, and still bears the rather pretty mosaic that proudly advertised its goods.

This being the Marais, the shop now sells wildly overpriced, trendy hosiery.

THE CHEESE: Le Cavalli

Though the name sounds somewhat Italian, Le Cavalli is a French cheese, made in Saint-Nicolas-des-Bois just outside of Alençon in the department of l’Orne in the region of Basse-Normandie. It's a truly original cheese, something new: not just organic, but made of 60% sheeps' milk and 40% horse milk. Actually, the label says "jument" which technically means "mare", so that makes it 60% ewe and 40% eeeew.

In fact, I am totally biased. Of the 20 French people I tell about this cheese, not one is disgusted. They're all stunned ("Well, that's...original"), but not disgusted. At a dinner party, it's the first cheese to go from the platter; of course, it is tiny, only about the size of a silver dollar. But mostly it goes so quickly because everybody is curious. Even a 9-year old girl tries it eagerly, and likes it. They simply see it as 60% ewe and 40% mare, and why not? Sure, a horse is a mammal and produces milk. But when I ask if they would say the same about pig, dog, cat, or monkey cheese, for example, they all make the "yuck" face and say I've gone too far. So they have a limit, it's just further down the road than my limit.

I do try the cheese; not only is it my sworn Year in Fromage duty, but I'm curious. And mostly it tastes like a sticky, stinky, aged, strong sheep cheese. The texture is soft and creamy. But there's something at the end, some little aftertaste that's not quite sheep. We're all considering that the mares' milk. It's got a different sort of mild game tang to it, but for all I know that could also be psychological.

Le Cavalli is the newest brainchild of the cleverly-named company Chevalait, which uses jument milk in not just this cheese but also fresh mares' milk, powdered milks, chocolate milk, soaps, hair-care products, and hand lotions.


A cheese made with horse-milk for a story about horse meat. Depending on your cultural perspective, you may consider either, neither, or both to be absolutely disgusting, or absolutely delicious. I can tell you that I buy this cheese from my cheese guy at the outdoor market at Maubert Mutualité on Tuesdays. Just about every French person I talk to expresses a curious interest in tasting it, making it the most requested cheese I've come across. When I go back another Tuesday to buy more (a rare occurrence, since I have so many cheeses to taste) for friends, he tells me he's not stocking it regularly. I ask if it's because people find it too disgusting a concept and he tells me, "No, it's because it's so expensive. People don't want to buy it because it's 7€ for this tiny disc."


  1. There is a mistake concerning the menu : "steak à cheval" is not horse meat (they mistranslated it) but a chopped beef meat (like in hamburger) with an egg on top of it. A horse steak would be "steak de cheval" and not "steak à cheval".
    Otherwise i'm french but i really like your blog. I find it really intersting to know what foreigners think about our country.

  2. Thank you very much for writing such an interesting article on this topic. This has really made me think and I hope to read more. horse stall mats

  3. Although they were specifically bred to pull a plow or a carriage, you may be surprised to find that large draft horses can be ridden as well! Draft horses are known for their heavy build and impressive strength, but this does not work against them at all when it comes to riding for pleasure or even for competition. Many draft horses are used in trail riding and with proper training, they do very well in dressage competition as well. dressage horses


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