Oct 26, 2014

Unbelievable, Literally: Fleur de Sel


There are some things that are amazing to believe, others that are hard to believe, and -- here -- some that are quite literally impossible to believe (I'm predicting you will, in fact, not believe me): for example, that insurance will not pay for stolen property if it was not obtained by breaking the lock. So, if somebody steals the key to your apartment or car, whatever they steal (from your apartment, and including your whole car) will not be reimbursed. I bet you think I'm being gullible about some urban legend, but just wait.....

As defined in the French penal code, a theft has to include "forcing, degradation or destruction of the entire locking device." Therefore, when Alain Bechade gets his garage door broken down, and the thieves break into the house and take his car keys, the insurance company won't reimburse him for the stolen car. The car itself was not broken into, you see: the car was opened and driven with keys, so (by the insurers' logic), it hadn't been stolen.

Similarly, if somebody gets the keys to your apartment and can enter without breaking, insurance won't pay for any stolen items. Hey, free art!

You realize the lesson here is that you need to be careful to whom you loan your keys. Add to that the fact that if your house keys are lost or stolen, it is inexplicably expensive to have your door lock changed: around 1,000€.

If all of that isn't enough to make your blood boil, there's also an actual French law that once somebody has been squatting/living in your property (even if they had to break in to get in there) for over 48 hours, they can no longer be forced out or arrested by police. They are no longer considered trespassers; they are tenants. So the owner -- as a now unwitting landlord -- must begin formal eviction procedures. In general, such proceedings take at least 4-6 months. During that time, the landlord must keep all utilities on the property paid, as it would be illegal to turn off water or electricity or gas to the "tenants". I know this to be true because my friend's brother has been out of his own home for almost two years because of this. In theory, if it's a principle residence, it's supposed to be a quicker process, but almost two years doesn't sound too quick to me.

This is related in spirit to a 2009 law preventing landlords from evicting tenants during the winter, from Nov 1 through mid-March, for any reason at all, including non-payment of rent. The pro-tenant theory behind this is that it would be cruel to force somebody out in the cold. While I can get behind the spirit of that, it of course invites abuse by all sorts of tenants. And the city wonders why so many people would prefer to leave apartments empty rather than be a landlord here.

And, finally, on a different note, but equally unbelievable: the promotional video for the release later this week of Ubisoft's newest Assassin's Creed game. Because the theme is the French Revolution, they shot the promotional video here in Paris. And I guarantee, you will not believe it's real. The video of the making of the video is just as interesting as the video, if you get my drift, but all you really need to know is that there are no special effects, no clever editing tricks, no green screen backdrops, and no gimmicky props, except for the very last scene (and for reasons for that will be painfully obvious once you watch it). It's a breathtaking video, unbelievable in the truest sense of the word.

THE CHEESE: Fleur de Sel

Not to be confused with Bondon de la Fleur de Sel, which is a tall tower of a raw goats' milk cheese from Poitou-Charentes, Fleur de Sel is a flat disc of a raw goat's milk cheese from Poitou-Charentes. In fact, it's made in Deux-Sèvres. This is on the coast, a bit south from Guérande, the place in France most famous for harvested sea salt. The name of this cheese, "Fleur de Sel" sounds like it means "Flower of Salt", but in fact it refers specifically to the naturally very finely-ground salt that is  harvested from the evaporation of the foam at the edge of the ocean or certain big bodies of water. The power of the water not only creates a foam, but also pulverizes the salt. Below is a photo I took on a family trip in Senegal that shows part of this process.

With a name like Fleur de Sel, you would think that this would be a salty cheese. But, in fact, it's more like a plain cream cheese; you might even call it bland.

If you want to get any saltiness out of your bite, you'll need to sprinkle some salt on it. Or, it's nice enough with honey or fruit. The texture is thick, creamy, and spreadable, and it seems like it would blend up into a nice cheesecake recipe.


When people tell me these stories ("Did you know that in France...?") I try to take them with a grain of salt. I've spent a while researching to confirm them. I think it's a good idea to take your cheese names with a grain of salt, too: fleur de sel may be a fine grain of salt, but Fleur de Sel is sadly lacking on the saltiness.


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