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Sep 30, 2016

Croissants to Clothes, Brioches to Belts: Chaumes

THE STORY:

In which A Year in Fromage acknowledges the slow slog towards gentrification. Or maybe not so slow. But definitely quite gentrified. In Paris, this process is often physically made manifest by utilitarian, old, neighborhood food shops being replaced by expensive socks or clothing boutiques.



Luckily, the retro look of the old signs is considered hip and cool. Rather than paint over them, they tend to keep the store looking like a patisserie, a place where you can buy a 3strawberry tart, right until you get close enough to look in the window and see that it's a place where you can buy a 300 pair of strawberry-colored pants.

No place is this more true than in the Marais, the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris. Still the heart of the traditional Jewish neighborhood, this famous deli, Goldenberg, is now a store for Les Temps des Cerises and Japan Rags. Instead of a hot pastrami, you get a hip pashmina.


This store not far down the block advertises bread with pictures of wheat, and you can still see the "Boulangerie" lettering under the awning. But Bel Air now sells...you guess it...expensive clothing. Several of these places are on the Rue des Rosiers, in the 4th, and nearly all that I'm mentioning are within a couple blocks of each other.

 

Just a few blocks away, this used to be the home of the neighborhood butcher that sold horse meat for dinner (was there ever such a thing as kosher horse meat?!). Now they sell expensive hosiery. I'm not too thrilled about the overpriced socks, but I bet there are some horses that are pretty happy.


This former deli, whose specialty was evidently cooked vegetables, now offers up fancy souvenir cookies which look pretty but don't taste like much. They're kind of dry (so they transport well), and I'd rather have cooked vegetables, frankly.

 

Across the Seine, in the 5th arrondissement and in the back streets behind the Pantheon is one of my personal favorites: This former dairy, which proudly (and paradoxically) sold pasteurized milk and fine cheeses is now the Bambou Take-Out -- an Asian food buffet and eat-in, take-out grease factory.

 


In the 6th, you can top off your creamy Chinese food with some creamy wine. I believe the store is located in an actual old neighborhood creamery, and that they simply kept what was there for the ultimate hipster name for their store: "La Cremerie, Natural Wines."


What will be housed and sold in this former butcher? I'm guessing it will be something critical, like handbags.



THE CHEESE: Chaumes

Chaumes is a pasteurized, industrial cows' milk cheese made in the Dordogne, in southwestern France, in the town of Saint-Antoine-de-Breuilh.


It's a semi-soft cheese, with a relatively creamy texture and an orange crust that's less stinky-feet-smelling than the raw milk orange crusts. This is both a good thing (if you hate stink) and a bad thing (if you like more sophisticated and complex cheese flavors). It's cut into wedges and sold in plastic packages in many supermarket aisles, though I happen across my sample at a cheese expo. The texture is pleasant enough, and the taste is too: but pleasant enough for what? For sticking on a sandwich or on a cracker, or for a utilitarian grab-and-go picnic lunch. When there are not yummier options available.

 

THE CONNECTION:

This Chaumes was not bought in the gorgeous former cheese and dairy shop in the 5th that now houses a take-out Chinese restaurant for the obvious reason that cheese is not take-out Chinese food. However, I do taste this cheese in a historical building, converted for the day into a cheese exposition. The Pavillon Ledoyen was originally a humble auberge built just before the French Revolution, opening its doors in 1779 near the Place Louis XV. As you can imagine, the royal name was soon changed (not so much gentrification as democratization), and you'll find this historical building near what is now called the Place de la Concorde. It has been transformed and upgraded and -- yes, gentrified -- many times and is now usually the home of a fairly pricey restaurant. Unless, of course, it's taken over for a cheese expo.



Another reason to choose Chaumes for this story is that, like the sign advertises (but why so proudly?), in the 5th on that take-out Chinese place, this cheese is made from lait pasteurisé (pasteurized milk).



And, finally, the name of the cheese "Chaumes" sounds very much like the word in French that means "unemployed" or "out of work" -- chômage. And indeed, there were certainly many bakers and cheesemongers put out of work in these old buildings, before somebody took their place to sell 300 cardigans.

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