Apr 1, 2016

Funny Fish and Scallops: Tome de Montagne


The French metro system is not exactly known for its quirky sense of humor, but this year they surprised us all. Perhaps they thought Paris could use a little harmless levity after all the city's been through this past year. So today they quietly re-named a few stations for the day. I travel through a station normally called Saint-Jacques, which now is called Coquille, as in Coquille Saint-Jacques (the word for "scallops").

Traditionally, the French don't actually play pranks on April Fool's Day, instead preferring to stick fish on the back of unsuspecting people. Ha, ha! April Fish!

But this is some definite American-style April Fool's pranking. In fact, one station, normally called "Quatre-Septembre" ("September Fourth") is renamed "Premier d'Avril" ("April First").

There are about a dozen in all. Opéra is rewritten, anagram style, as Apéro ("appetizer"); "Alexandre Dumas" is rechristened "Les Trois Musquetieres", the name of his most famous book; a pun is made on the name "Anvers" which is hung à l'envers (upside down -- and pronounced the same); "Pyrénées" becomes "Alpes", and the RATP has declared that as of 2096, they'll call it the "Jura" so that every major French mountain range gets covered, eventually. This is a joke that's up with the times: Télégraphe is updated to "#Tweet".

How good is your French? Do you get all the puns and plays on words? In addition to the ones I already mentioned:
  • Monceau....changed to.....Ma Pelle (sounds like "My Bucket"....so becomes "My Shovel")
  • Crimée....Châtiment (sounds like "Crime et Châtiment", which is the French title of "Crime and Punishment")
  • Cadet... Rousselle ("Cadet Rousselle" is a famous 18th century children's song using the name after a 17th century bailiff)
  • Château d'Eau...Château de sable ("Water Castle" to "Sand Castle")
  • Joinville-le-Pont ... Joinville-le-Pont Pon! Pon! (just because it sounds funny, like cartoon gunfire)
  • Parmentier....Pomme de Terre (Parmentier was famous for dishes, such as the one named after him, that use potato, or "Pomme de Terre")
And while we are on today's ridiculous news and the French sense of humor, a young farmer in Aquitaine, near the Pyrénées, brought in some farm animals in lieu of a tax payment a few months ago. The authorities ordered him to pay a penalty of 239.40€ for the mess that had to be cleaned up and also to write an apology letter. The penalty and letter were due today, and he walked in with 23,000 single centimes (the equivalent of pennies) along with a 10€ bill. He signed his apology letter from himself and also Lili the cow, Tao the llama, and a couple of Pyrénées goats named Nougat and Réglisse ("Licorice"). The authorities refused both the payment and the apology. Evidently, the French bureaucracy is not amused, not even on April Fish Day.


I would say "not to be confused with" Meule de Montagne or Fromage de Montagne, but really, how can you not confuse them? They're all generic names for rather generic cheeses -- not generic meaning bad-tasting, but generic in the sense that these names are so all-encompassing as to be almost meaningless. And yet, it's a cheese, so I'm putting it in my blog, and I'm sticking to that decision. It could also be called Tomme de Montagne and be the same cheese. Or a very different cheese with the same name.

The one I try, which could be entirely different than any one you try, is a raw cows' milk cheese with a lovely, thick crust from around a year of aging. There are little almost-moldy streaks on the inside, as if it's a mountain cow cheese, dreaming of becoming a blue cheese. But it's not blue yet. It's still a tangy, sweet mountain cheese with a characteristic nutty aftertaste and a crumbly, dry texture.


Nobody knows where this Tome de Montagne comes from -- the Pyrénées (usual name for the metro stop)? Les Alpes (April Fool's name for the metro stop)? We do know it's made from cow's milk, as in Lili the cow, who made her mess in the French tax office and, as we can tell from the letter she signed, feels very contrite about her actions now.


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