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Apr 21, 2017

Smells Good: Carré de Vinage

THE STORY:

Sometimes, something can be right under your nose, and you won't even notice: for example, the Fragonard perfume museum in Paris, on a gorgeous little alley right near the Opera, where I've been countless times.Yet my path to get to this museum was circuitous, in that it took a young Princeton alumni moving to Paris to study perfumery, reading my blog, and contacting me in order for me to hear about it. But now that I do know, Paris (and my world) will never quite smell the same.



It's a tiny museum, located at 9 rue Scribe, and free, and I've briefly mentioned it before. But, like a little bottle of perfume, it packs a real punch for its size. First of all, it's beautiful. Set in a gorgeous alley, it's an elegant gem of a 19th century Napoleon III-era townhouse that has been converted several times. In previous incarnations, it's been a house-molding and decoration manufacturer, a theater, and a bicycle velodrome -- so that ladies could learn to ride a bike without the scandal of showing their ankles in public.



Now it's a high-end museum and show room for Fragonard perfume.

 

The guided tour takes you through information about the perfume-making process, which is much  more complicated and costly than I ever knew. For example, it takes literally a ton of iris rhizomes to end up with 200g of distilled iris essence, which is not much more than a soda can's worth. Lavender is a regular bargain compared to that, at "just" 200kg of flowers can provide 1kg of extract.


There's also the history of perfume, and perfume paraphernalia, including perfume bottles and labels. Did you know the origin of the word "perfume" comes from the Latin roots meaning "by smoke" as perfume's original purpose was, like incense, to be burned for religious ceremonies so that the fragrant smoke would drift up and reach the gods?


Of course, the reason it's free is that there's a showroom and boutique at the end. However, I've done this tour several times with various visiting tourists, and at this point I can comfortably state that the showroom is not only educational but absolutely pressure-free. They'll help you test your own nose, here, and the results may surprise you -- what smells good, and who smells well. You will honestly think about aromas differently after a visit here, and I know that I now notice more and am more curious about the smells around me.



Besides perfume and eau de toilette itself, there are also soaps, lotions, and sachets. It's quite a lovely, unusual, fragrant detour when you're around the Opera, and surprisingly educational.


One thing you'll notice is that the French honestly are more into perfume than Americans.


Especially when you add in the use of fragrance in lotions and potions, it's ubiquitous. You'll also notice that while there's frequently plenty of flowers and pastels surrounding fragrant products, they're not all for women. Men in France seem to be much more likely to use both fragrance and perfumed lotions.


Twice, walking down the streets of Paris, I have been asked to do marketing research for perfume. The first time, the woman went through about a dozen questions before asking my age. When I told her 45 (at the time), she stammered, "Uh, Uh, I'm so sorry. You're too old for the survey. It's only for up to 35 years old. On the other hand," she said brightly, "you should be flattered that I thought you were much, much younger!" More recently, I gave my feedback on a new perfume being developed, and Pippa took the free sample I was given, named it "Asia", drew out a label for it, and gave it to her sister as a present. The gesture was too sweet. And so was the perfume.

THE CHEESE: Carré de Vinage

Carré de Vinage is the original raw cows' milk cheese created by at La Ferme du Vinage in the 1980s, when the dairy farm that had been in their family for nine generations needed to diversify, as milk deliveries became a thing of the past. Currently, approximately 450,000 liters of milk each year come from roughly 60 milk cows of the Rouge Flamande and Holstein breeds.

In the village of Roncq, at the northern tip of France, this cheese is made in the tradition of other, more famous strong northern cheeses like Maroilles, and Vieux Lille, along with about 20 other cheeses at the farm. To obtain the stinky, sticky orange crust, the cheese is regularly washed during the aging process with salty/brine water.


The outside is orange and sticky, and be warned that, as with many pungent orange cheeses, once you touch it, your hands will need a good, soapy scrubbing. Note to self: wash hands well before grabbing the camera.

The cheese is a semi-soft cheese, held together by the firm, stinking crust. In the photo above, it's cold, which is why it looks so firm. After a while at room temperature, the inside gets not quite runny but definitely softer and goopier. The taste is what you'd expect: with hints of ammonia, mushrooms, and a slightly rancid sweet-salt-stink. I realize this makes the Carré de Vinage sound almost disgusting, and it's true that it's not our favorite on the platter, but that is more about our family not loving the orange-colored cheeses (or orange-colored presidential candidates) than about the cheese itself. If you are a lover of strong orange-rind cheeses, this is a very fine, high-quality one, indeed, with real oomph and character.

THE CONNECTION:

This Trump of a cheese (it's orange, and it stinks) has a serious perfume, an aroma, an odor, a fragrance. It's an olfactory experience that goes well with this story. Much like this cheese and perfume are opposite kinds of smelling experiences, The Carré de Vinage come from the very North of France, at the absolute opposite end of the country Grasse, the fragrance capital of the world, near Marseille.

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