Apr 30, 2015

Don't Lose Your Head: Raclette Poivrée


Q: When was the last person in France executed by guillotine? (Answer below)

The guillotine is something that normally seems quite removed from my American existence and from the era we live in. But living in France really makes the guillotine come alive, so to speak.

First of all, my friend lives in an apartment around a courtyard in which Dr. Guillotine is supposed to have worked on and perfected his "humane" execution device.

Then, once during a class discussion of ancestors, one of the Pippa's friends tells the class that her however-many-times-great grandfather was guillotined during the French revolution -- obviously after he had children.

Living near Hotel de Ville (where many of the 2780 people condemned to death in Paris were guillotined during the French Revolution), the Conciergerie (where Marie Antoinette was imprisoned while waiting to be beheaded), and the historical center of Paris, it's inevitable that we run across guillotine references every now and then.

And that's besides the Guillotine game we have and enjoy playing.

You get the most points for the heads of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

But it was all such a long time ago, it's ancient history. N'est-ce pas? Not quite.

A: When was the last time the guillotine was used? You probably guessed the late 1700s, after the Revolution, or the mid 1800s. I don't know: Maybe you wanted to be extreme and guessed sometime in the early 1900s. The last person to be executed by guillotine was Hamida Djandoubi, in France, on September 10......1977. No, that's not a typo, and it is indeed during my lifetime. That's crazy. Use of the guillotine wasn't actually abolished officially, along with capital punishment in France, until 1981, during Francois Mitterand's presidency.

It's a grotesque fact, but a great bit of trivia if you ever want to floor people at a pub quizz or a cocktail party.

THE CHEESE: Raclette Poivrée

Raclette Poivrée is yet another of the many Raclette cheeses I try this past Raclette season. This one, as the name and photo suggest, is peppered. With little grains of black pepper throughout, I assumed it would actually be spicier and pepperier, but in fact it's a mildly black pepper flavor and lovely over the usual Raclette potatoes.

Though most people associate Raclette with the mountains, the Jura, and the Alps, this Raclette, like so many others I buy at the Pascal Bellevaire store, comes from the Aquitaine region, in Southwestern France, by the Atlantic coast and the Pyrénées mountains. It's a raw cows' milk cheese and perfectly edible raw, but its true purpose in life is to get melted.


You see that nifty cutter that the cheesemonger is using to slice off my sliver of cheese? I buy so much cheese from this particular shop on this particular day (they know about my project, and also know that I want to photograph at home the big chunks I'm buying before they get sliced) that they slip the slicer into my bag for free.

It's a thoughtful gesture, but it turns out that it's not as easy to slice neatly as my cheesemonger makes it out to be. My Raclette slices are, to put it mildly, a little mangled. However, it's all just going to be melted, poured over meat and potatoes, and mashed up in our mouths, anyway, so nobody really minds.


In any event, that explains why I choose the Raclette Poivrée in honor of French slicing devices -- whether used for good (cheese) or evil (chopping off people's heads).


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