Quotes

May 24, 2016

Almost There: Tomme de Rhuys

THE STORY:

When you are in Vannes, you are almost on the Atlantic coast. Almost. In fact, you are just slightly inland, on a canal that leads out to the Gulf of Morbihan which, in turn, leads (eventually) out to the Atlantic Ocean. And one of the must-do things when you are in the Golfe de Morbihan (at first, Anthony thinks there are golf courses everywhere) is to go out to the islands.


 

There's always land on the horizon here, because they're always an island, or a peninsula, in front of you. You can't go to all of them, since many of the 50 or so islands are privately owned. But you can go to a couple of the big ones Ile de Moines and, the more rustic of the two, Ile d'Arz. We head out there on a gorgeous day and rent bikes (reserve ahead!) to ride around the island. Or almost around. We never do quite get a hold of which paths we aren't actually supposed to be riding on. There are some pedestrian-only routes where I'm pretty sure we semi-accidentally trespass.



We almost get lunch on the island, but find that the one cafe in the center of the island only serves very expensive smoked fish plates. So, instead, we eat Ben & Jerry's ice cream cups for lunch and are, frankly, pretty happy about it.

Just like the "mainland" town of Vannes, the Ile d'Arz is crazy charming.


For heaven's sake: even the bird-houses are crazy charming.


The flowers, the buildings, it's the kind of day where you ride around with a big smile on your face.


 



Ile d'Arz has a little bit of the Cape Cod, Nantucket, Hamptons vibe to it, with rugged coasts, tidepools, and coastal views everywhere. But it's smaller, and Frencher.


Or, at least, more Breton. Notice: the Bretagne black-and-white, but not a French flag anywhere. In fact, the island was Breton before it was French, and has history going back at least 1,000 years.


Some boats we find on a beach are perfectly picturesque, even if not very seaworthy. They're almost boats.



If I hadn't already written about lax safety considerations here in France, you might be surprised to see these children playing giddily around a lot of sharp, rusted metal, not to mention the splinters. After all I've seen here, I'm (almost) not horrified by this.


No matter how small the town -- and the Ile d'Arz is a very small island with a tiny town on it, indeed -- there's always the World War memorial. Usually WWI on one side, WWII on the other in small towns.


Here, the girls are a little surprised at the inclusion of a woman on the above obelisk: Regina Le Port. In the local cemetery, we find out more about her: "To the memory of Madame Regine Mesnard, née Le Port, deceased at Treguier on April 26, 1959 in her 53rd year. Under-Lieutenant of French Forces Interior Combatants, Medal of Resistance, War Cross 1939-1945, Deported to Ravensbruck and Leipzig. Pray for her. Sacred Heart of Jesus, I trust you."


That's a huge sacrifice for a woman not too much older than me, and we honor her by reading the plaque and feeling truly grateful to her for her bravery and for her actions that allow us to be here enjoying this gorgeous day, eating our cookie dough ice cream. When riding a bike in the countryside, hair flowing in the wind (since nobody in France wears helmets), I often think of a quote by Susan B. Anthony: "Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood." For some reason, this day and the combination of biking and seeing this plaque make me particularly aware and appreciative of the freedom of riding a bike and the many freedoms I enjoy because of women like Susan B. Anthony and Regina Le Port.

At one point, we almost feel like we are on a beach in Senegal. For the life of us, we can't figure out how this large group, with their large instruments, has ended up busking here, on a tiny island off a tiny town far from everywhere. But we enjoy it, and put some money in the hat.


We almost make it back unscathed. Just as we are about to return our bikes, the girls decide to go for one last run (famous last words) to practice no-handed cycling and Pippa falls and bangs up her knee. It's goopy, scraped, and bloody, but all we really care about is that she can still do gymnastics. Phew!

And then, we leave the island and get to the train station at the perfect hour, just in time to discover there is a forest fire by the train tracks just outside of Vannes, and for two hours, until they put it out, we are stranded in the station. Luckily, they have a piano, a foosball table, and food. It does mean we pull into Paris around midnight, though, then race home and collapse into bed.


All in all, almost a day riding around almost an entire island in the Gulf of Morbihan, almost seeing the Atlantic, is almost too good to be true.

THE CHEESE: Tomme de Rhuys

Tomme de Rhuys, which I find at my new almost-favorite cheese shop (since I can only visit it when I'm in Vannes, it's geographically inconvenient for my almost-daily cheese habit), is a raw cow cheese made in the town of Sarzeau, in the Morbihan, department, on the Presqu'ile de Rhuys (the Rhuys Peninsula), just on the opposite side of the Gulf of Morbihan from Vannes. It's made from the milk of Pie Noir cows, which are small and don't give a lot of milk. For that reason, they're a breed that is used very rarely -- and less and less at that -- for cheese-making. However, the milk they do give is extra creamy and full of floral and herbal highlights.


The gorgeous crust of the Tomme de Rhuys is cironnée, which means wrinkled and hole-y and eaten away by mites. Yes, you can still eat the crust. Yes, there's a chance there are still mites in it, I suppose. You can also skip the crust, which is dry, thick, and course, and concentrate instead on the interior. It's lightly-flavored, with faint hints of grasses, but not a knock-your-socks off powerful odor or taste.


THE CONNECTION:

This cheese, the Tomme de Rhuys, is a local Breton cheese named for the "Presqu'ile de Rhuys" the peninsula of Rhuys. But a "presqu'ile" is not just a peninsula, it's one that's practically an island, as the name suggests (meaning, literally "almost island"). Not only is it almost an island, the Presqu'ile de Rhuys happens to be the almost-island that almost closes off the Gulf of Morbihan, preventing those of us on Ile d'Arz from having a view clear to the Atlantic. Here's a slightly burry map to make it almost clear what I mean:

map from: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golfe_du_Morbihan

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