Feb 26, 2015

When Worlds Collide: Venaco


During a conversation in which we are lamenting the gray weather -- and gray mood -- in Paris (it doesn't help that there's a flu epidemic, too, and literally everybody we know either is, has just been, or is just about to be sick), the French woman says, "It's too bad that we have that Germanic joie de vivre. And yet," she continues, "we'll cross the street anywhere, no matter what color the light is, just like the Italians. It's like we got the worst of each."

An interesting thought: what have the French absorbed from their neighbors? Of course, there's a huge difference in the French from Provence vs. the French from the North. So, for the purposes of this musing, I'm thinking specifically of the Parisian and near-Parisians:
  • Germanic joie de vivre, but not the Germanic nose-to-the-grindstone work style. This, of course, shows in the GDP and economic reports.
  • A Germanic love of Freud, psychology, and the embracing of angst.
  • The Italian appreciation for wine, food, and a long meal, yet a near Germanic-level avoidance of vegetables.

  • It may not exactly be joie de vivre, but the French certainly have the more Mediterranean appreciation for a vacation. Long vacations, and as many as possible. This may also be reflected in GDP and economic reports.
  • A Swiss/Germanic style of bureaucracy. This is mostly a legacy of Napoleon (who was a Corsican, and therefore culturally more Italian), but that doesn't make it any less Swiss/German feeling now. Things do not get accomplished on a handshake or a bribe but rather when filled out in triplicate and filed properly, with official ID photos cut to the prescribed millimeter. Which is not to say a bribe and a handshake can't help matters along, at times.
  • Driving, especially around the complex star-intersection round-abouts is definitely Italian.

Venaco is a farmhouse cheese from Corsica named after the town of Venaco in the middle of the island, where it is made. In Corsican, the cheese is called Venachese, meaning "From Venaco".

It's a farmhouse cheese that can be made from raw or pasteurized sheeps' milk, and sometimes sheep and goats' milk combined. It comes in a roundish square block (or a squarish circle?). Sometimes it's tall-ish. Sometimes it's flat-ish. Which is to say that there's a fair amount of variety in the Venaco versions I see. But one thing is always the same: an orange rind -- lightly ridged and reeking of sweat-socks, a delightfully frightful odor developed during the four months of aging.


It's a creamy cheese, one that would get downright oozy if it sat out in a warm room before I took the photo. There's that slightly rancid-sweet funk of a stinky cheese that you either love or hate. Although this is not strictly true as I'm not normally a huge orange stinky cheese fan, but every once in a while, I welcome the intensity. The version I try is pasteurized and, perhaps, a little mellower for it, in which case I think I'm happy to not be eating the raw version.


This is a French cheese with an Italian sounding name made in what was formerly part of Italy, and while one of the versions I photograph is made at a farm called Germain, we actually consume it with friends in Switzerland. So, it seems like an appropriate cheese to talk about which aspects of neighboring cultures the French resemble, for better or worse.


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