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Jan 1, 2015

World's Biggest: Grain d'Orge

THE STORY:

How can we have lived in Paris and not tried out the world's biggest temporary, indoor ice skating rink? It's a travesty, really. So this year, we remedy that, with 50€ worth of tickets to skate inside the Grand Palais -- transformed annually from a boring old museum to a flashy disco ice rink.
 
 
 
We're having a warm winter so far, and there are tons of people on the ice, so we are skating through chunky soup. At one point, I turn around to get a photo of Pippa, catch my tip on some soupy chunks, and go down. Hard. This is extremely unusual for me; growing up in cold places, I am very, very at home on the ice. This time, I fall on my tailbone so hard I am about to throw up and/or faint. They have to evacuate me off the ice. It's all very dramatic. I'm thinking I may have avoided pain killers for my cancer and mastectomy, but I'll be loading up for this bone bruise. I'm not sure I'll skate again, until they up the level of the disco lights, and the crowd starts cheering wildly. Then, miraculously, I suddenly feel good enough to skate.
 
  
 
The only other time I've had an ice skating injury -- despite lessons and tricks and jumps -- is when Pippa, at age 5, pulled me down as I was trying to help her up and ripped a ligament in my left hand. If I were a superstitious person, I would stop ice skating with Pippa.
 
 

While we are speaking of superlatives and some of France's claims to fame:

1) As of 2014, France is once again the world's biggest wine producer, taking the crown back from Italy. Though, at the same time, the US just overcame France in the same year to become the world's biggest wine consumers. Of course, the US population is 317 million, roughly 5 times the 66 million inhabitants of France. So if the contest is even close, then you know that the French are drinking lots more per capita.

2) One dubious claim, in my mind, is that Paris is soon to be home to the "world's biggest start-up incubator." Do they mean square footage? At 30,000 sq meters (323,000 sq feet), located in La Halle Freyssinet, it's certainly going to be huge. It hasn't opened its doors yet, anyway, so it seems the claim is somewhat premature and aspirational.

3) The Millau Viaduct, at 343m, is the world's tallest bridge (not to be confused with the world's highest, longest, etc.). It spans the Tarn River, near Millau in southern France. Besides winning the Outstnading Structure Award in 2006 (it was opened to traffic in December 2004), it is often considered to be among the greatest engineering feats of all time.

4) Questionably: the Tour de France is sometimes called the Biggest Sporting Event in the World, with 12-15 million live spectators, and 3.5 billion by television. That's roughly half the planet, which seems impossible to me, but maybe that includes the snippets you see, whether you want to or not.

5) The Marathon du Médoc is the self-proclaimed World's Longest Marathon. This seems paradoxical, as a marathon is set at a standard 26.2 miles. But the Marathon du Médoc may just seem longer because as it winds its way through the Bordeaux countryside, including the Château Beychevelle, Château Gruaud-Larose, and Château Lafite Rothschild, the runners are handed wine -- from the places they pass, among others. Also, people run it in costume, so I find it fully conceivable that running 26.2 miles drunk in a bumblebee costume is longer than running "just" 26.2 miles. Also, if you stop at any or all of the 18 stops for not just wine but also local delicacies like steak and oysters, it may take you longer than your fastest-ever time.
 
 
[Note: this is not the Marathon du Medoc, but rather the marathon through Paris, with two gentlemen running as waiters with glasses of wine. So, photo-wise, it kind of works...]
 
France may not be the biggest wine-drinking nation anymore, but it's almost certain to be the biggest wine-drinking-while-running-a-marathon-drinking nation.
 
THE CHEESE: Grain d'Orge
 
Grain d'Orge is a raw goats' milk cheese from Touraine, in the Loire Valley. It appears to be nearly all the goats' milk cheese from the Loire Valley, wrapped up into one. It's hard to see from the photo, but this is a very big cheese -- not quite the size of a car wheel, like some of the hard cheese tommes, but for a soft, goat cheese, it's large: the size of a man's shoe, as opposed to a tiny hockey puck.
 
 
It's a mild cheese covered with a twig of barley -- the grain of "orge" in the name of the cheese -- but I can't say that the barley gives it any noticeable flavor. The grains that the goats graze on may offer up some flavor to the milk that makes the cheese, but over all, it's a lightly salty, lightly flavored cheese. The texture is a luscious, creamy, pillowy, and buttery.
 
THE CONNECTION:
 
Is the Grain d'Orge the biggest goat cheese in the world? Probably not, but it could be. It's huge! It's a party-sized, super-mild goat cheese for all your large-group needs. Are any of the rest of these actually the largest anythings in the world, either? The bridge is probably true, since it's easily verifiable. But I'd take the other claims with a grain of salt, or in this case, a very large grain of barley ("Grain d'Orge")spread on a slice of baguette.

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