Dec 23, 2016

Backwater King: Couronne d'Aydius


950 years ago on Christmas Day, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England, that insignificant little backwater island off the coast of Normandy. Looking at Dives-sur-Mer, Cabourg, and Houlgate, the tiny Normandy towns Guillaume left to go do his conquering, they seem like a pretty backwater place, too. But just like England itself, this spot in Normandy is a tiny place very proud of its history.

This summer, we attend the slightly-disappointing-if-I'm-to-be-honest historical fair in these towns commemorating the 950th anniversary of the departure. Still, even if it's punier than we hoped (perhaps just what Guillaume le Conquerant said once he realized what he'd conquered), any time you can get a taste of going back nearly a thousand years is good in my books.

We get to try on chain mail, which is significantly heavier than you'd expect and explains why little girls didn't usually go into battle in medieval times. It's also significantly more likely to get entangled in long braids than we foresaw. We de-tangle it from Gigi's hair by getting her down on the ground (to take the weight off the hair) and slowly pulling it out. Lessons learned for Pippa, who wears the medieval hood, even knowing there is the prospect of getting some medieval lice that way (spoiler alert: no lice!).


We play medieval games, photograph some medievally dressed people (and yes, I know medievally is not a word), and absorb some medieval atmosphere.

These medieval port-a-potties inside tents are, without any sarcasm, the loveliest, cleanest, most pleasant port-a-potties I've ever used. Medieval is not always evil.

We also get to see this wooden pulley which, according to the notice hung nearby, came from Mora, the actual boat that Guillaume sailed over for to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. In its more recent history, it supposedly was purchased in London at a Christie's auction by Philippe Le Villier for 150,000, at the same auction where Joan of Arc's (supposed) ring was sold. However, as far as I can tell, Joan of Arc's ring (which sold for around twice that much) was sold by Timeline Auction in February earlier this year, and I can find no record of any sale of this pulley to Philippe Le Villier (spelling corrected) or anybody else for that matter. Well, never mind: we may or may not have seen part of the original ship live and in person, and this may or may not be a photograph of it.


Things we miss at the festival include a medieval dinner, attended by some descendants of the companions of Guillaume le Conquerant. Luckily not all of them as there must be millions by now. As for the companions, this is not conjecture; there's a list of them, but what's funny (to modern me) is that since it was before the days when people had family names, they are grouped by first names. There are over 30 men named Hugue on the list, for example, and their "last names" are simply where they are from: de Bernieres, d'Arranches, de Beauchamp, de Manville, de Montfort, you get the drift. There are a few who are identified by other characteristics -- such as Robert the Bastard, and Guillaume la Chèvre (Guillaume the Goat) -- presumably either a "bastard child" or a real bastard and either somebody goat-like or, more likely, somebody who raised goats.

Among the companions is one that is a direct ancestor of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator and author of the Sherlock Holmes books. We just visited the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221b Baker Street in London and, at the time, would never have guessed that it had ties going all the way back to 1066 and Duke William of Normandy defeating Harold at the Battle of Hastings and, on Christmas Day, becoming King.


THE CHEESE: Couronne d'Aydius

At my consistently spelling-challenged store, this is labeled as Couronne d'Ayduis, which changes the pronunciation considerably (from "day-dee-U" to "day-DWEE"). However, in researching the cheese, I can tell you with great certainty it is, indeed, from Aydius, a town in the department of the Pyrénées-Atlantique, in the newly-formed region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

More specifically, it comes from the bucolic Ferme Bourguinat, where you can also rent a gîte (self-catered lodging) and gambol in the fields with the farm's 50 or so goats, from which they get the raw milk to make this lovely cheese.

The Couronne d'Aydius (Crown of Aydius) comes, as you can see from the photos, in both plain and ashed versions. I buy the ashed for the bigger visual splash, but really the taste is the same either way -- and it's not plain, even when it's plain. In fact, it's a salty, oozy, wet, excellent "moldy donut", as our family refers to these sorts of cheeses. At room temperature, it's closer to liquid than solid, like a fine fondue amoeba trying to take over the platter.


Though Couronne d'Aydius comes from the Atlantic coast, instead of Guillaume le Conquerant's English Channel coast homeland, it's at least a crown fit for the coronation of the new King of England. Although, having said that, I wouldn't actually crown his head with a ring of cheese.

Also, let us think back to Guillaume la Chèvre, one of the companions who traveled with and fought for Guillaume le Conquerant. This cheese might be apt to represent the crown placed on one Guillaume's head, but it's the other Guillaume's family who probably would've supplied the milk for it, from the family's chèvres (goats).


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