Apr 21, 2015

Suburbs Set in Stone: Meule Vendéen


Toto, I don't think we're in Paris anymore. Gymnastics competition season means many trips out of the city to various gyms in Ile-de-France, and carpooling in our friend's car, it's pretty easy to see the moment when we cross the city borders. The street signs change, and one of the kids even notices the pedestrian crossing signal looks different. But as we get into the real suburbs of Paris, it's the houses that give it away.

Made of meulière, it's a local sedimentary (and also siliceous -- but I must admit I don't what that means in English or French) rock that was used till the 1880s for mill wheels to grind grain. In the Parisian basin, there are two levels of meulières, one from the age Sannoisin (called the meulière de Brie), and the other the Chattien age (meulière de Montmorency). I know most of this because I've looked it up; and I only know it's meulière in the first place because I'm walking around the town, waiting for the girls to finish their warm up before the competition, with my friend David, an architecture buff.

The rocks were used to make blocks for houses especially during the late 19th century and up till the 1930s, designed by architects for vacation homes for rich Parisians back when this was still rolling countryside and not sprawling suburb. You see these houses especially in Ile-de-France, surrounding Paris, in Val d'Oise, les Yvelines, le Val-de-Marne, les Hauts de Seine, and Seine-Saint-Denis.
THE CHEESE: Meule Vendéen
Meule Vendéen is a pasteurized cows' milk cheese from, obviously, the Vendée region on the West Coast of France. It's a big wheel of a cheese, which thankfully comes in small slices at the grocery store, and even more thankfully, comes with some sample chunks so I don't actually have to buy any. It's only sold in the Vendee -- not a big export cheese -- and I think after tasting it I can tell you why: It's just not very interesting.

It's not bad, mind you: the usual hard cheese texture of breakable but still a bit creamy. The crust is grayish-blackish-reddish and bumpy and I'm sure that a big wheel of it looks every bit like a millstone (meule) it's named after. It has a very mellow flavor typical of many pasteurized cheeses -- muted and slightly sweet-salty.
It's obvious to see that the words "Meule" and meuliere are related, since a Meule is big, hard, rock-like wheel of cheese and also the name for the brick formed from the meulière stone and also the name for a millstone make from the meulière stone. One of the descriptions I read about meulière describes the stone as cavernous and riddled with holes, "like an Emmental." It's nice when my sources start doing my cheese connections for me. So this Meule is not only a slice off of a Meule, which looks like a meule, it's also riddled with holes, like an Emmental, or like meulière stone. Now if only it came from the Ile-de-France region, it would be perfect, but while Ile-de-France is known for meulière and meule houses, it's not a region that makes cheese Meules.


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