Nov 11, 2016

To Bad-Ass Women: Tome Nature


This one portrait, painted by Léon Cogniet and hanging at the Château de Brissac contains two of the baddest-ass French women in history we encounter in all our time in France. The older lady sitting on the chair is the Widow Clicquot; you might recognize her better if I say it in French -- Veuve Clicquot. And the girl at her feet is her great-granddaughter, the Duchesse d'Uzès, Anne de Rochechouart de Mortemart, who grows up to become the first French woman to have a driver's license (and the first to get a speeding ticket).

In 1772, Philippe Clicquot-Muiron founded a business with many facets, including banking, wool trading, and the production of Champagne. Philippe passed the company to his son, who died in 1798, leaving it to his 27-year old wife, née Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin, now the Widow Clicquot.

Under her leadership, she changed the face of Champagne forever: one of their 1811 vintage bottles is said to be the first "modern" Champagne, made with current methods that she helped dreamed up herself, which allow the Champagne to be made more efficiently, freer of sediment and with more clarity. More clarity -- leave it to a woman. She was also in charge when somebody (maybe she herself?) thought of adding a little red wine during the production to come up with pink or rosé Champagne.

The Widow dropped the other aspects of the family business and gambled it all on Champagne. Smart woman. Her Champagne made it to the royal courts in Russia (the Prussians guarding the blockade that she broke through were the ones who invented sabering Champagne with a sword, out of necessity) and all around Europe.

The Widow lived a long and prosperous life, and died at the ripe old age of 88, in 1866. In 1847, her great-granddaughter, Anne de Rochechouart de Mortemart was born, full name Marie Adrienne Anne Victurnienne Clémentine de Rochechouart de Mortemart. She would become not only wealthy (thanks to her great-grandma) but also known for philanthropy, support of feminist causes, and political involvement. She was an accomplished sculptor and author who patronized the arts. She was such an avid and successful hunter, she was kicked out of the Animal Protection Society she patronized.

In 1898, this Duchesse d'Uzès was caught by police exceeding the speed limit in the Bois de Boulogne, going 15km per hour.

The police at the time didn't have radar, so they gauged her speed via the very scientific, advanced method of watching her drive and kind of guessing that it was probably, kind of 15km per hour-ish. The speed limit in Paris and surrounding areas (like the Bois de Boulogne) was 12 km per hour, and the speed limit outside city limits throughout the country was, at the time, 18km per hour.

The speed demon was given her citation of 1 - 5 francs (the article I read was written before the sentencing, so they were unsure if she would feel the full weight of the law or get off easy....). She was the first woman in France to receive her driver's license -- actually a casual sort of permit, back in the day. And the first to receive a speeding ticket.

During World War I, she let the army use one of her castles as an annex of the Rambouillet surgery hospital. And, at age 70, she took the exams, became head nurse, and ministered to the wounded herself. Honestly, what a kick-ass family with some bad-ass women!

THE CHEESE: Tome Nature

Tome Nature looks like it would mean "natural" cheese, but in fact the word "nature" means "plain" as in, this is very plain cheese. Looking at it, I would beg to differ. It's about the orangest cheese I've seen, right up there with Mimolette and even oranger than Epoisses. This orange is not the sticky, stinky kind (like on Epoisses) but rather is dry and largely odorless and flavorless.

I find this Tome Nature near Cognac, on the western edge of France. It's a raw cows' milk cheese, made locally. For such a unique-looking and striking cheese, they've given it a very generic, non-descript name. In fact, it's so generic, it's barely a name at all. There are cheeses made all around France called Tome Nature that are, simply, plain-ish wheels of cheeses. This one, however, is local to western France.

Tome Nature may be orange and full of pizzazz on the outside, but it's plain and white and boring on the inside. It has a slightly rubbery texture and a mild flavor that honestly doesn't taste like much except...cheese. And only then, barely.


It is certainly not coincidence that this post comes just after the American election. It's my way of raising a toast (a cheese-covered toast) to those bad-assed women who came before me, paving the way for independence and liberation and feminism whether it's for the right to drive, to vote, to run a business, to fight for your country, or to run a nation. Unfortunately, I wrote it before the election itself, expecting -- and hoping for -- a very different outcome. Hillary -- you're still a badass.

Why the Tome Nature? Well, I think it's in a woman's nature to lead and innovate and create and use both brains and brawn.

But it also comes down to the color orange: the bright orange of the Tome Nature's crust, the bright orange in honor of the Veuve Clicquot labels, and the bright orange of the most unqualified, heinous, vile, bigoted, immature, disgusting human being (and I use that term lightly) to ever be elected to American office, especially the highest in the land. Like the cheese, Vile Trump is all white with a bright orange exterior, and they're both pretty awful. I didn't like the cheese when I tasted it, and now that I've associated it with Trump, I downright hate it. Then again, I must have more compassion for cheese than Trump has for most human beings, because I actually feel bad about my prejudice against this cheese and will readily admit Tome Nature is not actually that bad, just not exciting. Trump, however, really is that bad.


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