Oct 5, 2014

Village in Paris: Tomme aux Fleurs de Sureau


Not too long ago, the 13th arrondissement of Paris was not only not the 13th arrondissement, it wasn't even Paris. A tiny village outside of Paris called Butte-aux-Cailles was incorporated into Paris, and became part of what would ultimately be the 13th, along with 11 rural "suburbs" that were annexed under Napoleon III and Baron Van Haussman to enlarge the city (Auteuil, Passy, Batignolles, Montmartre, La Chapelle, La Villette, Belleville, Charonne, Bercy, Vaugirard, et Grenelle). Now it's a little surprise -- an unexpected neighborhood that feels like a village within the borders of Paris. It's not the only place in Paris you can go to escape Paris, but it's one of the better ones. For a moment, you might even feel like you're in Alsace.

Originally a hille ("butte") covered with forest and fields and eventually windmills, Pierre Caille acquired the land in 1543 and gave the place its name. Much of the village was built up in the 18th century. Not only are the tiny passages, lanes, and cobbled streets adorable, they're also a great canvas for a very high concentration of particularly talented street /graffiti artists.


My friend Mei takes me out for lunch at a cute corner spot -- you know, the one that is a knitting and yarn store as well as tea house and restaurant. It's the kind of place where you can get a pot of Passion Fruit, Red Berry Rooibus tea along with two skeins of dusty rose yarn and a #3 knitting needle. Besides the name "L'Oisive Thé" ("The Lazy Tea"), there's also a second punny name on the side, the "Trico-thé" (pronounced the same as "tricoter" which means "to knit").

Just across the park is the beautiful 1924 pool. Well worth popping and taking a few photos before the guard comes over to yell at you for taking unauthorized photos.

Not too far away, in the 14th arrondissement, is a tiny road -- more of a passage really -- jutting out from the Park Montsouris that's also a trip away from Paris, in Paris. The Square Montsouris -- confusingly named, because it's not a square at all, but rather a 207 meter long, narrow road -- was built in the 1920s and 1930s.


Twenty-eight of the houses are HBM ("Habitations à Bon Marché"), meaning "affordable housing" for people of limited means -- at the time they were built, mind you. These houses were required to be built in red or ocher brick. Now, this is a highly desirable street, with single family homes, so not exactly "bon marché". And the brick is no negative stigma, believe me. Even the brick houses have been dolled up throughout the years.


Other houses, including Number 40, the former home of sculptor Claude Bouscau, could be built according to personal wishes, needs, and flights of fancy. They are all different, however, which makes this street rather unusual in Paris.


Other former residents include artists Fujita, Roger Bissière, Jean Chapin, Fernand and Claude Hertenberger, Professer of Physiology Alexandre Monnier, and cardiologist Yves Bouvrain. The entire area was outside of Paris until the incorporation by Napoleon III and still feels like a place apart. In 1975, it because a classified and protected street, along with nearby streets rue George Braque and the Villa Seurat.


On a slightly unrelated note, but just because it's here and I find it interesting: on the way between the two "villages" in the 13th and 14th, I see this charming sign, which rings a bell immediately....

...having just seen this painting (which I love enough to photograph) days earlier in the Petit Palais permanent collection.
And though I've talked about this one before, I feel it bears repeating here, in case you're in the 12th arrondissement, wanting a little out-of-Paris-yet-still-in-Paris experience: the charming, pastel Rue Cremieux.

THE CHEESE: Tomme aux Fleurs de Sureau

This Tomme (also sometimes written as Tome) aux Fleurs de Sureau  is made in Alsace, which is Munster country. In fact, there's even a version of Munster that is produced aux Fleurs de Sureau, which means "Elderberry Flowers". However, this particular Tomme aux Fleurs de Sureau has little in common with the stinky Munster version except the name, the region, and the fact that they're both made from cows' milk cheese.

Given that this is not a protected or trademarked sort of name, but just a general description of the cheese, it could be raw or pasteurized, I suppose. But the one we taste on a cute little colorful street of Alsace is made from raw cows' milk.

The flavor is not as exciting as the name would have you believe: Elderberry Flower. Well, it's a hard-but-moist mountain cow cheese with a little sweetness and herbal notes, but it's just not all that.


First of all, Tomme aux Fleurs de Sureau a cheese from Alsace -- harkening back to the Alsatian style houses in Butte-aux-Cailles. The street where I buy it (the cheese shop is where the people are standing at the edge of the photo on the right) is classic, charming Alsace.

Secondly, the cheese has flowers in the name and the herbs in the cheese itself, much as these villages are full of flower-pots and flowers and grasses and herbs in things that resemble actual front lawns. And, finally, elderberry (sureau) is the kind of thing you're likely to find in one of the tea options at L'Oisive Thé.


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