Mar 10, 2017

All Aboard the Bike Train: Brie à la Truffe


Instead of dismantling those old train tracks, why not put them to good use? Thanks to an amazingly vast train network -- and one that has been consistently modernized -- there are old tracks around France that have been turned into Vélorail ("vélo" meaning "bike"). Ours departs from the Pont de Coudray in the Calvados area of Normandy and arrives at the Pont de Brie.

There is, naturally, a national Fédération of Vélorails de France, which covers about 40 of the bike-train-cars (what would the English translation be?!) throughout France, from top to bottom, taking defunct lines and turning them in a fun family outing.

The one we ride, the Vélorails de la Vallée de l'Orne is on a track from 1874. It took the locals nearly twenty years of pleading and construction to get these trains, linking their small towns with the local hub of Caen. 

photo from: http://www.velorails-valleedelorne.com/index.php/histoire-de-la-voie

As part of their efforts, they petitioned Emperor Napoleon III himself. Maybe that's what California needs in order to get the trains we've been fighting for: an all-powerful Emperor.

The train tooks passengers and goods between Caen and the destination of Flers, serving stops in between, from 1874 till 1970. The trip took around 3 hours for much of that history, and if you looked on a map, you would see why that won't work for modern passengers on modern trains; today it's two short half-hour train rides (with a transfer) to get between those two cities.

In World War II, service continued, though greatly reduced. And after the Invasion of Normandy by the Allies, and the subsequent bombing of the Pont des Bordeaux on June 29, 1944, the line had to be cut into two sections: Caen-Clécy and Berjou-Flers.

photo from: http://www.velorails-valleedelorne.com/index.php/histoire-de-la-voie

When we arrive at the Pont de Brie, a tiny little stone bridge about the width -- and length -- of one or two cars, we see this World War II liberation reminder. It's really hard to grasp that people battled and fought and died over this tiny bridge of absolutely no strategic importance in the middle of nowhere, leading from no place important to someplace even less important.

Now the old tracks remain empty -- except for obsolete train cars used as reception offices and tourists (nearly all of them French tourists) pedaling away.

It's a pretty easy pedal, except for the uphill, when our particular car has a brake grinding against the wheel and slowing us down. I am, naturally, the only adult on my car at the time, and my thighs feel it.

Still, it is undoubtedly a beautiful ride, and a different way to get out into the countryside.

THE CHEESE: Brie à la Truffe

To say that Brie à la Truffe (which I get delivered from La Crèmerie Royale) is delicious is a drastic understatement. This cheese is heavenly. It's the kind of cheese that makes you moan so loudly with pleasure, you start to feel like you're in that orgasm scene in When Harry Met Sally. It's a huge crowd-pleaser, so much so that my friend worries that it's like the Kim Kardashian of cheese, and it's tacky of him to declare it his favorite on the platter. But no, Brie à la Truffe is the Michelle Obama of cheese; it appeals to the masses, is virtually impossible not to love, and is all class. It's perfectly fine if it's your favorite cheese on the platter; it's certainly up there as one of my favorite cheeses on the platter. Or that I've ever tasted. Ever.

Brie, of course, I have covered, in many variations: Brie de Meaux, Melun, Montereau, Nangis, Provins, and just "plain" Brie. As delicious as many of them were, none of them could have prepared me for this sensation. Here, a high quality raw cows' milk Brie de Meaux is split into layers. In between is a layer made with a soft, fresh creamy cheese, olive oil, herbs, and of course, truffles. It's three textures in one (crust, oozy Brie layers, fluffy truffle) and an absolute marvel in both taste and texture. It's almost impossible for me to get a shot of the half-eaten cheese because it goes from new to decimated in about 60 seconds flat.

Is it cheating to have covered Brie de Meaux already yet still include this as a "new" cheese? No, it is not because a) I make my own rules and b) the end result is so drastically different than an unadulterated Brie de Meaux. 


Take that, you "happy cows" of California in the TV ads: These are the happy cows of Normandy, free range, grazing on grass, and enjoying this pristine setting, in the middle of our Vélorail-ride. Damn, no wonder the local cheese is so good! 

The connection here is obvious, and also less so: a form of Brie, chosen to accompany a story about a Vélorail out to the Pont de Brie, the turn-around point of our ride (and a fine place to use the bathroom and buy an ice cream bar or take-away sugar crêpe).

Also, I like how the Brie looks like two train tracks running along the central truffle filling.

And finally, I like how the cheesemakers tear apart a Brie and reconstruct it into something different, something new, something wonderful. The same could be said of the Vélorail itself --  a new life for old tracks.


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