Feb 24, 2015

Dragons, Sheep, Lions, Drums, and Cops: Tomme Chèvre Ariégeoise


It's that time of year when I like to really mix my cultures -- celebrating Chinese New Year in Paris.

This year, what really strikes me is the incredible number of officers and security guards lining the parade route. It's as if we've come to see a police parade. I can only assume that this is in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack, because it wasn't like this last year.

I don't think there's anything particularly attractive about the parade as a terrorist target -- other than the fact that it's a lot of people crammed in together in one place. The officers are not just there for crowd control or in a perfunctory capacity: They are actively scanning the crowd, and it's clear they mean business.
The parade, on the hand, is less about business, and more about colorful, ethnic pride. It's held, naturally, in the 13th arrondissement, home to Paris' de facto Chinatown.


Despite it being year of the goat, there are plenty of dragons, lions, and monkeys represented.

It's not as big an event (or a Chinatown) as the Chinese New Year parade in San Francisco, and while that means it's a bit tamer, it also means it's a lot easier to get up close and actually see the parade. It's not a mob scene, partly because it's being held in the middle weekend of a two-week school vacation, during which time Paris pretty much empties out. That's fine with us, as we come back from skiing in time to enjoy the parade and are enjoying our front row seats.


THE CHEESE: Tomme Chèvre Ariégeoise
Unlike the Tomme Ariégeoise I already wrote about, which is generally half-cow and half-goats' milk, this Tomme Chèvre Ariégeoise is all goat. That being said, the nomenclature is confusing, because a cheese labeled simply "Tomme Ariégeoise" could indeed be a pure-goat cheese, too. In any event, this one is all goat.

An artisanal cheese made near the village of Bethmale in the Midi-Pyrenes, it's made from raw milk that is pressed, not cooked. It's aged for at least three months, during which time it's turned and hand-brushed on a weekly basis. It's creamy and crumbly and, in true Ariégeoise fashion, pockmarked with holes that come from the aging process. The taste is mellow and slightly fruity.
Of course, given that this is the Year of the Goat (Année de la Chèvre), it's imperative that I choose a goat cheese. 

I would say that cheese itself is extremely un-Chinese, but coincidentally, I have just read in Popular Science that the oldest cheese in the world -- dating back to 1615 B.C. -- has been found dried and preserved in China, buried in little nuggets on the chests and necks of Shang Dynasty mummies (yes, that makes them pre-Jesus cheeses). It was definitely cheese, and not just milk or butter, and was made with bacteria and yeast. Actually, even the old cheese was already old, having been discovered in the 1930s, but I suppose the scientists had to wait for technology to advance over almost a hundred years to be able to analyze it.
So, if there can be a Chinese New Year's parade in Paris, then there can be a cheese to go with it, even if you will never, ever see cheese on a modern Chinese menu but rather only on 3,500-year old Chinese mummies.


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