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Dec 22, 2014

Shoes and Stockings: Brézain Fumé au Feu de Bois

THE STORY:

We move here with a shipment of approximately 41 packages, but we're fairly convinced it should've been 42. There seems to be one box that got lost in the transition, containing (we've noticed over the years) a paper cutter, cup and teaspoon measures, and Christmas stockings. So we do what any self-respecting parents would do, short of figuring out where to buy new Christmas stockings in a country that doesn't have the Christmas-stocking-hanging tradition: We MacGyver the situation with Christmas hats, a laundry rack, and clothespins.


Our Christmas hats go to good use in general. We trim the trees in them, we open gifts in them, we snuggle in them, we try on fake French mustaches in them, you name it. They're a holiday staple.
 
  
 
When cousins visit, we share the love, and the hats. Given our recent infestation though, all I can see when I look at this photo is the possibility of sharing the lice.
 

My initial idea, our first Christmas in Paris, is to hang the hats from the mantle. But the hats don't have loops, the mantle doesn't have hooks, and along with the stockings, we've lost the weighted stocking hooks. It is quickly apparent that this is a failed attempt: How will Santa stuff them? Boo.


The plastic laundry rack and clothespins may not be the most elegant solution, but they work like a charm. Now that we're on our fourth Christmas here, I doubt the girls can remember doing it any other way. It's our own, new, family tradition.


At first, we leave a note for Santa, to help him figure it out (we're not sure just how far his magic extends).


By now, however, we figure this is old hat (pardon the pun) for Santa. We simply label them and cross our fingers that we haven't been placed on the naughty list.

But what's a hat-wearing family to do when the hats are in use? Put on the reindeer antlers, of course.

 
 
They're not actually stockings, but they function perfectly well, as opposed to the fireplace which is real, but doesn't, in fact, work.

And what goes with stockings? Shoes. December 6th is the feast of Saint Nicholas. Boy, that guy gets a lot of play this time of year. Our French friends don't have stockings, but they do celebrate this tradition, placing shoes by the fireplace (or sometimes outside the door) in order for Saint Nicholas to come fill with small gifts or clementines (though I'm not sure I want things I will later eat put first in my shoes...). We don't do this holiday at our house, and I'm happy to report that St. Nicholas does not come by to put something in our shoes because, given that this is the normal state of our shoes in the entry way, it could be a while till we found anything.
 

There's a popular legend associated with the day, and the saint, in France, of three children who get lost. A butcher lures them into his shop, kills, and salts them in a big barrel (holy pickles!). St. Nicolas (French spelling), however, is able to revive them, and the evil butcher becomes Père Fouettard, and helps St. Nick protect children from then on as a penance. Thankfully, the holiday tradition involves only treats in the shoes, and no salty pickles in a barrel.

The French do their small presents on Dec 6 for Saint Nicholas Day, but we have to wait till Christmas Eve, when our hats are hung by the chimney with care in the hopes that St. Nick soon will be there.

THE CHEESE: Brézain Fumé au Feu de Bois


Brézain Fumé au Feu de Bois means, literally "Brézain Smoked by Wood Fire". Brézain itself is an industrial cheese I find at the supermarket deli counter, made from pasteurized cows' milk in Haute-Savoie.

I have a pregnant lady coming to the party and want to make sure to have hard, pasteurized, and hard and pasteurized cheeses, so that she can having something no matter which way her safety-levels swing (French: hard cheese, or American: pasteurized, or playing it really safe and going for both).


For a pasteurized cow cheese, which I normally find rubbery and bland, it's rather nice. It's gently creamy, with a pleasant smoky flavor. You know how some smoked items just blow you away with that fake-smoke taste (I'm reminded of the Hickory Farms samples we used to snag as kids in the mall...)? This is not like that. This is a gentle and natural smokiness. No hint of American mall about it all.


The cheese was conceived by a cheese affineur based in Savoie, Jean le Gléour, in 1982. It took him four years to create this cheese, and ten years till he would be able to start large-scale production. The cheese is named after "braise", which means "embers". It's also something of a pun, because the near-homonym "Breizh" means Bretagne in a local Breton dialect, which is where Monsieur le Gléour has his family origins.

It's smoked in special ovens -- not by an actual fire, despite the evocative name and concept -- and is often used on salads, pizzas, raclettes, fondues, and gratins, or in cubes as an appetizer.

THE CONNECTION:

A cheese smoked by a burning hearth (feu de bois -- wood fire) for a story about shoes and stockings -- or hats, in our case -- hung by the fireplace for St. Nick. Plus, like many of our shoes, it's just a little bit stinky.

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