Mar 8, 2015

Let Them Eat Cake: Coeur de Marie


The first gorgeous day of spring also happens to be my birthday, so I cash in my chits for a day trip to Versailles, without the whining of "Not another palace!" For many people, I suspect Versailles is all about King Louis XIV. But for us, it's all about Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, and the last Queen to reign here before the revolution.

The kids, of course, love Marie Antoinette's hamlet -- the pre-curser to Disney in terms of artificially adorable villages. They love all the animals, and pet as many as they can reach through the fences. Between the architecture, the animals, and the kids, it's cuteness overload.

The girls favorite building in all of Versailles is le Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette's "little" hideaway.
While watching an informational video about the place, Gigi, who loves Louis XIV through Louis XVI history so much that if you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she now responds, "a university history professor specializing in pre-revolutionary Renaissance France," notices an error. In it, they refer to Madame Du Barry as the mistress of Louis XVI. She looks at me, her eyes wide. XVI? She was the mistress of Louis XV! Everybody knows that. (Or not.) It's a historical travesty, so she talks to the staff there, and they get her to fill out an official comment form. We'll see if the powers that be ever respond to us and/or fix it, but either way, it's the highlight of Gigi's day: she feels so cool (and yes, I realize this may not be your definition of cool. But it's hers).
The house is a manageable size for viewing, and we even get to see the royal toilet, which brings us back to the age-old question, if Marie-Antoinette could time travel to the present day, would she be more comfortable as, say, a normal upper middle-class citizen? Or would she want to go back to her own time and rule (and no fair if you tell her she's going to be guillotined)?
The Grand Palais -- the Big Palace -- is, on the other hand, not a manageable size at all. You can tell that not only by the crazy EFSI (Every F**ing Square Inch) chapel, corridors, and rooms, which are all decorated within an inch of their lives, but also by Pippa's showy "I've-had-enough-of-this-fancy-crap" yawn.

The Hall of Mirrors is the highlight, officially, and the girls and Anthony, who are all seeing it for the first time, are suitably impressed. But I have to say that when I first saw it 28 years ago, backpacking through Europe during one college summer, I was dumbstruck. But now, having seen so many other EFSI French palaces and buildings (the Opéra and City Hall here in Paris among them), it doesn't seem that unprecedented. The girls and Anthony concur: This place is more amazing if you're new to European palaces. Fair enough. If you've done the July death slog through here and are marveling at how empty it looks, note that though it is, indeed, a weekend, it's low season and not on any special holiday (except my birthday, which should be -- but is not -- a national vacation day).


If ever -- ever -- there was a time, place, and occasion to eat a crazy Angelina's café, overpriced dessert, it would be in the Grand Palais de Versailles, at snack time, on my birthday, under the gaze of Marie Antoinette. I mean, seriously: Let them eat cake!


In case you're wondering, that's three desserts for four people -- because we knew they'd be too rich -- and about 30€ (only $32 at today's exchange rate. Go US dollar!). The girls and I split the raspberry caramel and lemon tartes (yum and yum) and leave Anthony to his chocolate thingy, which is too intensely chocolaty for the rest of us. This is a real Treat-y of Versailles (and yes, history buffs, you knew it was coming).

Supposedly, all of Marie Antoinette's hair turned gray at age 38, in one single night, on the eve of her beheading. Though this story is probably apocryphal, when hair does turn gray rapidly because of stress, it's sometimes called "the Marie Antoinette Syndrome." Of course, she wore gray wigs anyway, and nobody really knows what her hair looked like under there, so it's all a bit shady (pardon the pun). I may be older than Marie Antoinette ever made it, but mine is only starting to gray -- a few strands here and there.

The biggest Marie Antoinette myth, however, is -- probably -- her "Let them eat cake" quip. Supposedly, upon hearing that the peasants didn't have enough bread to eat, she said, "Qu'ils mangent de la brioche." First of all, brioche is more a sweet bread than a cake. But even beside that, most historians agree that she never uttered it in the first place. Which, however, does not mean that when we go to Versailles, we should not indulge in some overpriced and delicious birthday cake.

THE CHEESE: Le Cœur de Marie

More commonly known as Le Cœur de Guerbigny, I've listed this cheese by its alternate name, Le Cœur de Marie (Marie's Heart), for the purposes of my connection. Nobody knows why it's also called Le Cœur de Marie, though the reason for it being called Le Cœur de Guerbigny -- or sometimes simply Le Guerbigny -- is easier: Guerbigny is the town in the department of Somme in the region of Picardie from which it originates.

Le Guerbigny is made of whole, unpasteurized cows' milk, and the crust is washed during the aging process. It's nearly always in the shape of a heart, though under the simpler name, it also can be round. It's considered part of the Munster family -- not Herman Munster, but Munster cheese -- and that makes it stinky times two, with a slightly sticky crust. It's also very close in both appearance and taste to the Coeur de Rollot, which is simply heart-shaped Rollot, a cheese already made in the time of Louis XIV by monks.

Today, only one family farm makes small batches of the cheese, though it's supposedly hoping to get approval to expand operations.


Who knows what was in Marie Antoinette's heart when she -- supposedly -- uttered those famous words, "Let them eat cake?" Or, who know what was in the heart of other people who made up the false quote and then attributed it to her? Marie's heart may be a mystery, but for my purposes, Marie's Heart is also a cheese.

Here is a happy cow at Marie Antoinette's farm, just to add to the connection with the Coeur de Marie (and yes, if that were the only connection, I could also have done goat or sheep cheese. Her hamlet has a whole menagerie).



  1. The treat-y of Versailles !

    1. I had already published the essay and gone to bed when I bolted upright with this line. I had to get up, open everything back up, add it in, and republish. So, I'm happy you appreciated it!

  2. loved this post. Want the cakes. All of them.


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