Nov 18, 2016

Having a Ball: Crottin Fermier de Cocumont


Oh, how I wish we could turn back time, before the leader-elect of my country was a power-hungry egomaniac, to the days when the elected leader of France was a power-hungry egomaniac. The Second Empire may have been a bad time politically in the history of this democracy, but it turns out it was a fabulous time economically, artistically, and culturally. And it turns out I can turn back time, for a one day visit to the Second Empire at the Musée d'Orsay.

Paris owes its architectural look to the prosperity of this era, to Baron Haussman under Emperor Napoleon III's reign, from 1852-1870. It was also during this time that some of the most famous impressionist paintings were created. To celebrate the period, the Musée d'Orsay is not only hosting a wonderful exhibit, they're also hosting a few balls, in the beautiful ball room of the Musée d'Orsay (itself built just after the end of Second Empire, in 1900).


So, on a recent Sunday, we are there from 11-5, taking Second Empire dance lessons, not just waltzes and polkas, but Quadrilles and group social dances, like the Boulangère. A "boulangère" is the wife of the breadmaker, which means she is alone for much of the night, and free to pass from man to man. And so, this is a dance where the inner circle of men sometimes goes in the opposite direction from the outer circle of women and, therefore during the dance, you keep switching partners.

There are many social dances like this, mostly involving dancing with strangers and changing partners often. Anthony, who seriously overheats in his tuxedo jacket (which doesn't have the long tails of the Second Empire, but otherwise works just fine), sneaks out for a little while to take in some of the museum and cool off. The girls and I, in our pseudo-Second Empire gear scavenged from the closet and costume bin, pretty much dance solidly from 11-5, except for a break for lunch and to see the Second Empire exhibit (where we are not allowed to take photos) and a few of the museum's other impressionist highlights.


But really, we don't feel much need to see the paintings today, as the dance itself is a magical, colorful spectacle, transporting us through time. Each beautifully costumed person is a portrait.


If you think that's a lot of photos, just be grateful I'm not showing you the other 300 or so I take during just about every dance break.


From 1852-1870, Louis Napoléon-Bonaparte (nephew of the Napoléon Bonaparte), who had been democratically elected to President of the Republic, declared himself Emperor Napoléon III, almost 50 years after his uncle did the same thing. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Luckily, there have been no more elected Napoléons since then.

A propos of our current situation, it should have been no surprise when Napoléon III showed his megalomaniacal dictatorial leanings, since a few years earlier he wrote that "In a government that is democratic at its base, only the head of state has governmental power; morality derives from him alone, and also all is directed at him, whether it be hate or love." Um, no, self-proclaimed Emperor, that's not what the rest of us think a democracy is supposed to be.

In his constitution of 1852, all executive power was entrusted to the emperor. Do you think many of the citizens regretted casting their votes for him? Do you think his subjects referred to him as the bloated Cheeto-colored moron? Interestingly, Napoleon III did actually believe in universal suffrage (for men only, of course, so not actually universal) and even freedom of the press. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day.


Pippa catches two young women eying my handsome husband in his tuxedo and tells me, "Mommy, you should be jealous!"

"No," I respond, "I should be proud!"


Yes, I know I am the schlumpiest costume at the ball (my daughters' comment: I look even shorter -- and dumpier -- than usual). Going in, I wasn't sure if it was better to be classy and wear a real formal gown I own (but it's a slender, Chinese-style Cheongsom) or do the best I could to costume up. I costumed up, but as it turns out, should have gone with the nice gown. Oh well, I am transported back in time during the dance, but I can't go back in time to re-dress for said dance. I do at least have a bustle and just one question: Does the Second Empire make my butt look big?


Strangely big butt, odd-ball costume and all, I have a blast dancing around the room, often in the man's role, accompanying one of the girls. When the girls polka together, Gigi believes she is doing the man's role, and leading. Actually, if you look at their arm position, Gigi is still in the woman's position, but she's just manhandling her little sister and leading anyway!

They crack up for this but actually take some of the dancing quite seriously. Gigi dances a polka with one expert dancer (not the one in the photo, though) and raves, "I just glided across the floor, like I was flying!" At every subsequent polka, she tries to maneuver near him so that she can dance with him again when there's a partner switch. He's not particularly young or handsome, so it's honestly just about the dancing. She exclaims, "I finally understand what they're always talking about in books and movies when they describe floating across the floor!"


Pippa is similarly taken with one of her dance partners, when she waltzes with an actual waltz instructor. Anthony waltzes with her just after and declares it her most successful dance of the night. The gymnast in her really comes out, and she concentrates hard on her form and posture. It's both adorable and heart-warming.

There are some great dancers who do demonstrations for us, and instruction for the many, many, many sweaty, laughing, whirling, twirling, sore-shoe, foot stomping, curtseying, bowing, promenading, partner-switching dances on our own. It may just be one of the most fun, most magical, Frenchest things we've ever done.

THE CHEESE: Crottin Fermier de Cocumont

The Crottin Fermier de Cocumont is a farmhouse cheese turd, as the name specifies, from Cocumont at the Bandet Farm, a town in Lot-et-Garonne in the newly formed super-region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. It's made from raw goats' milk, coagulated through lactic acid bacteria. I get mine delivered from the lovely people at La Boite du Fromager.

It's a classic goat cheese, thick and the sort of dry creamy that begs for either a glass of water or a glass of wine. It's a medium strength goat cheese with a slightly ammoniac odor to it, so the aroma and taste don't exactly match -- the odor being more astringent than you'd expect from the taste.

Here it is, that ball of a cheese, the star of a cheese platter as colorful and elegant as the Second Empire ball.

If it looks short and dumpy and all wrinkly in white, like me in my Second Empire get-up, just know that Crottin Fermier du Cocumon has the soul of a magnificent goat cheese. It seems perfect that a tender ball of high-class, elegant, delightful cheese should accompany the ball we attend. But that's just my impression (pun intended).


  1. This sounds and looks like SO MUCH fun !!
    (it is also very funny, I laughed out loud at the "connection" part … )

  2. How adorable ! Your girls are so sweet, it really looks you had so much fun there... Greetings from Venezuela !

    1. It was, indeed, so much fun. But so hot and sweaty!

  3. How fun to see this! I know several of the Carnet de bal dancers and will share this post with them. I'm sure they will be pleased that you all had such a good time!


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