Oct 14, 2016

Where's My Hot Water Bottle?: Mont Grêle


Is collective / communal heating a thing in other countries? I'd never heard of it till we moved apartments here in Paris, where it's pretty common. The "syndicat" (like a Home Owners Assocation for the building) decides when to ask the city to come out and turn on the heating for the building. Then the city takes their sweet time doing it. Individual owners/renters have no control over when it turns on and how hot it runs. This means that since the weather has just turned cold, I'm writing this in my annual pre-heat outfit: long sleeves, wool sweater, heavy fleece jacket, fuzzy fleece blanket, and hot mug of tea.

What I really need is an old-fashioned hot water bottle, because the tea mug can't retain heat long enough. Occasionally, I take the big metal tea kettle itself and walk around with that, not to drink more tea but just to hug it to my body. The only reason I'm not typing this wearing gloves is that I'm too cold to rout around the winter storage boxes and find them.

I shouldn't complain; our 90-year old neighbor's apartment gets less sun and less warmth than ours, and we know she's over there freezing. I try to invite her over for hot tea, but she doesn't like leaving her apartment much. So I go to her, and we huddle in her living room, with her little portable electric heaters doing their best (but failing) to heat the space up.

What's funny is that once the heat in our building is turned on (usually around late October), we have no control over the temperature and the heat just radiates off the pipes. The apartment gets so hot that when we come in from the cold outside, we have to strip down as if we're in the tropics. It's like our whole family is in a constant state of menopause, fluctuating from freezing to boiling with no say in the matter.

Once the heat turns on, I will stop complaining about being cold. And start complaining about the knocking of the pipes, which happens loudly and irregularly between the "on" hours of around 7am-11pm. But right now, I'd happily trade the cold for the clanging.

I'd like to leave you with an a propos French vocabulary word: "frileux" or "frileuse" (feminine version), which is the word described to use somebody who is easily and/or often cold. It's tough to be frileuse in a collective heating building.

THE CHEESE: Mont Grêle

Mont Grêle is a farmhouse, raw milk goat's cheese from Savoie, in what is now the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region. It's named for Mont Grêle (literally "Mount Hail") which is a local peak with lovely views. It's a bit of an unusual cheese in that Savoie is normally cow country. Another unusual aspect is that it might be aged for many months, which is atypical for goat cheeses. Sometimes, the farmer who produces this, Mr. Branche, even ages the Mont Grêle for up to half a year, whereas most goat cheese are aged for only weeks. He's also the genius cheesemaker behind other lovely goat cheeses Le Signal and another that is called, alternately, Galette Chartreuse, Galet des Chartreux, and Galet de (la) Chartreuse.

Because it is so aged, the cheese can be very dry, almost to the point of downright crumbly. But even then, it maintains an ooziness around the edges that is really quite lovely. The wrinkled crust is covered with a white bloom which can add in blues, browns, and reds as it ages. It has an addictively salty, goaty, farmy flavor, but not too strong, with hints of mushrooms, earth, and grass.


Though Mont Grêle is the name of a mountain, the word "grêle" actually means "hail" -- as in frozen water falling from the sky. It's no wonder, since it's a relatively high peak in the Savoie, and so winters are cold, very cold. Much like my apartment before they turn on the collective heat, when I have no control over how cold it is. Now if I were writing this during the heart of the winter when the collective heat had already been turned on, I would have to find a cheese with a tropical-themed name to reflect the balmy indoor temperatures, when I have no control over how hot it is.


  1. That reminds me of the flat my daughter rented in Leeds (UK) a few years ago : you had to feed coins into the machine to get some heating !
    Needless to say, it was usually freezing cold; I visited her in November, it was 12°C in the room …
    Souvenirs, souvenirs …
    Fr. from BXL

  2. have you tried a radiant heater? Electric; instead of heating the room it heats the body next to it so pretty efficient when you're working at home in the cold


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