Sep 18, 2016

On the Balcony: Lou Pèbre


There's a colorful French expression: "Il y a du monde au balcon" which translates literally as "It's crowded on the balcony." But really it's a euphemism to describe a lady who's well-endowed and showing it off. Check out that full balcony.

The expression is thought to come from the Opera, the Palais Garnier in Paris that is, which was built in the 1860s and 1870s. For many 19th century attendees, the point was often less to see the Opera than to see and be seen by the other well-dressed, high-heeled patrons. The point for the ladies (and by ladies I also mean teenage girls being shown off by their fathers as marriage material) was to appear as well-endowed as possible, in every sense. Not only was the decolletage very low indeed, but this is the reason that the most expensive jewelry stores popped up nearby. They remain there, the Cartiers and Van Cleef & Arpels, at the nearby Place Vendome, to this day.

The expressions seems to partly come from the fact that when the women were trying to be seen on the balcony, they would jostle for a position by the rails then lean forward and put their cleavage in the best light. So it was both literally and figuratively crowded on the balcony.

The French like several expressions comparing the human body to buildings and building parts. "Il n'y a plus personne au logis" ("There's nobody left in the building") and "Il n'a pas la lumière dans toutes les pièces" ("He doesn't have a light on in all the rooms") are both ways to cast aspersions on somebody's intelligence.

The Palais Garnier is also reputed to be the home of another great French expression that I've already talked about: "Merde" (literally "Shit"), used in French theater to mean "Break a leg." It comes from the days when people were dropped off in horse-drawn carriages, so the more horse shit outside the theater, the bigger and better the audience.

Interestingly, in the 1800s, it was considered the height of indecency for a woman to show her ankles (the horror! the scandal!) but also the height of refined taste to show as much of the breasts as possible, without actually exposing the nipples. Except in art, where the naked nipple was de rigeur.

Corsets helped make a bosom more ample, by pushing everything up and out (including one's breath). Like the best-dressed ladies -- and even men -- of the time, the Opera itself was, and still is, a gaudy colorful, glittering display of decoration, whether the balconies are empty or full.



Lou Pèbre is a fresh goat cheese from raw milk in the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region. As a fresh cheese, it's barely aged, which makes the texture super soft, delicate, almost mousse-y. Or, if you prefer, there is also a cows' milk version, depending on the season (and perhaps the whims of the cows and goats).

The lily white goat version, which I taste, has the tang of a yogurt, with hints of lemon and the herbs and flowers of the hot scrubland of the grazing areas. On its own, it's a mild cheese, but it comes covered with black peppercorns (in my case), and there are also versions coated with herbes de Provence, sariettes (savory), pink peppercorn, and more.

Besides giving it a nice zing, the peppercorns also make the Lou Pèbre pretty spectacular on a party platter. It's clearly a specific version of the more generically named Tommette de Provence aux Baies, and both hail from the same region, with the same tendency toward flamboyant toppings.

 It's a hard-to-find cheese, with the cow version being even rarer than the goat, and I got mine thanks to La Cremerie Royale, a wonderful delivery service specializing in rare cheeses (yes, they ship overseas). And thank goodness, because it's getting very difficult for me to find new cheeses here in Paris!


Lou Pèbre is both spicy and fresh, much like the bosom of a 19th century ingenue. It's also round and snowy white, like a fine upper class breast. And, like the Opera -- the Palais Garnier -- and its early patrons, the cheese is highly decorated.

It's hotter than blazes on the day we enjoy this bevvy of cheeses, and I'm in a sundress. Had I realized at the time I would be using this cheese for this story, I might have worn a dress showing off more of the goods. By 19th century standards, my neckline is practically nun-like. But my cheese platter is a decadent thing of beauty.


  1. Wow, that opera building is spectacular!
    I am a "fluffy" girl and I get my bras at Lane Bryant. The style I prefer, and provides lots of lift, is their "balconette" line. Hmmm.
    Your cheese spread looks pretty spectacular, too.

    1. It cannot be coincidence. Thanks for pointing this out (as I am not a "fluffy" girl -- and thanks to the mastectomies and implants I no longer really need bras at all -- I would never have known about the balconette line!). Brilliant connection. I love it!


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