Oct 9, 2014

What Gaul: Crottin du Morvan


We see a lot of history in France -- much of it medieval, renaissance, pre-revolutionary, Napoleonic, you get the idea. But in the middle of nowhere in Burgundy is a site devoted to very important French history that goes back further: the Gallo-Roman wars. Specifically, it's all about Vercingétorix, a name I've never actually heard of and can't pronounce till my daughters school me.

I've heard of the Gauls at least, and the Romans, of course, and I guess I knew they fought, but it never really occurred to me who Astérix and Obelix were always fighting and what it was all about. This site, Alésia, is the assumed site of the great, decisive battle between Vercingétorix (Ver-sin-JET-or-ix), the general of the local Gallic tribes, and the Romans under César. The comic books take, um, a few liberties with the history, shall we say. It's probably how a lot of French people learned their Gallic-Roman history, however.

The actual spot of the siege, the massacre, and the battle can be seen from the museum, which is located just down the hill on a field.

You can see the signs for the place as far away as Paris.

Someday I hope to go to the Mystère de Sainte-Reine, a Gallo-Roman period costume event celebrated near Alésia, if you believe the literature, since 866A.D.
Not too far away in Burgundy is the city of Autun, which lays claim to having "rivaled Rome" in its heyday. But rivaled Rome in what, we ask? Watermelon seed spitting contests? Armpit farting? Because it sure wasn't about the constructions or the ruins. We find here the remains of a small amphitheater, with excellent acoustics, and two remaining gates to the city. Supposedly, there is also a Temple to Juno, but no amount of GPSing, sign-post following, or asking directions from locals can get us there. The town may bill itself as a spectacular home to Roman ruins but -- spoiler alert -- it's not.

THE CHEESE: Crottin du Morvan

The Crottin du Morvan ("Turd of the Morvan", which is a huge natural park in Burgundy) is made from raw goats' milk, not goats' dropping, no matter what the name says. It's a big turd of cheese, usually eaten in spring and summer.

It's often eaten fresh and young, but can also age a few weeks till it has a more pronounced hint of hazelnut. I don't know if every Crottin is like this, but I can tell you the one we buy is very tangy, and there's no mistaking that it comes from a goat farm.


The Crottin du Morvan come from the immediate area of Alesia and the museum. It's also a simple, rural cheese that could be very much like something the Gauls and invading (and ultimately victorious) Romans would have eaten here 2,000 years ago.

By the way, in the United States, today is national Moldy Cheese Day. Crottin du Morvan is a cheese, and it's moldy, so it qualifies: to all my fellow Americans, enjoy the holiday!


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