Jun 16, 2017

Pull up a Chair: Pottok


At the Jardin du Luxembourg, Luxembourg Park, in the heart of Paris, the first thing you generally notice is the Senat building. That's pretty natural, considering the park is the grounds of the former palace of Marie de Medici, King Henry IV's widow, which is now used as the French Senate building. But the more time you spend here, in and out of seasons, the more you discover the park's hidden treasures.

The Senate, formerly Marie de Medici's Luxembourg Palace, was her country retreat outside of Paris proper. Today, it's in the heart of Paris, between the 5th and 6th arrondissements. The palace and grounds were built starting in 1612.

When we first moved here with kids aged 6 & 8, the best part of the Luxembourg was the carousel, with its old-fashioned rings to catch, still dropped (as they have been for generations) one by one, by hand, by a surly attendant.

The girls worked out that the best strategy for maximizing the number of rings captures was not only to have good aim and a steady hand with the stick (but those go without saying) but also to leave a space between you and the person in front, whenever possible. If the kid before you is only one horse away, either a) they make it, and there may (or may not) be time for the attendant to get the next ring down there or b) they don't make it, and they get it wildly swinging which makes it harder for the next person.

You can also take itsy bitsy pony rides (it's the ponies that are itsy bitsy, not the length of the rides). The scenery, past the Senat and with views of the Pantheon poking out from the park may be lost on these chubby-cheeked horse riders.

Another big favorite with kids -- and one that's impossible to miss -- are the boats you can rent and "sail" in the pond.

This boat, which sometimes visits the park, is not for sailing. I'm not really sure what it's for; there's not even a hat lying around to throw change in.

Strolling around over the years, I've discovered lots of nooks and crannies with lovely sculptures, pretty in any season. There's even a replica (since 2012) of one of the miniature ladies of liberty used by Bartholdi as a model for the Grand Statue of Liberty in New York's harbor.


Recently, I noticed this ancient bronze wood nymph taking a selfie.

The park has its own bee hives, and bee-keepers, and, therefore, honey. It goes on sale every September and sells out a few hours later. I was lucky enough to get a jar (by readers of this blog who kindly bought me one!) and it is delicious. It's a pretty classic honey, a very rich amber color and with light floral hints.

Two of the most reconizable aspects of the park, besides the Senat, are the benches and chairs. They just look so very Jardin de Luxembourg. These particular chairs have been made by Fermob since 2004, reproducing the iconic chairs, called SENAT chairs, that were in the park since 1923 till 2003. The company's CEO says, "We make them in Thoissey, exact replicas, in steel, with their green color RAL 6013...They are made in an ironworks that I bought in 1989 and which was one of the historical manufacturers of the chairs."

These green, aluminum chairs are much, much heavier than they look. That way they don't fly away in the wind or run away with thieves. They're not bolted down in any way, and can be moved around to make whatever configuration suits your reading, picnicking, chatting, sunbathing, resting needs.

The benches are less famous, but still lovely. And quite practical. They're double sided, which is nice not only to double the seating, but also so you can follow the sun, or shade, when it matters.

There are tennis courts, a chess area, a huge enclosed playground (where kids pay but grown-ups get in free), petanque (bocce ball) courts -- of course, fountains, gazebos, and places to eat. It's a four-season park,



Pottok is a farmhouse cheese made at the Ferme Elgarrekin in the Pays Basque with raw milk from their goats. The goats produce milk from mid-November till mid-February. Actually, according to the farm, it's from November 15 till February 15, but that seems oddly specific for a natural cycle. Are the goats really that reliable?

I don't know if the goats are, but this cheesemaker is; the Kapelu they make is just as delicious as this Pottok. It leaves me wondering what else they might make.

The farm has about 40 goats, the first of whom arrived on the farm in 2010. They also have pigs, and make pork products. I don't know if they have horses, but Pottok is named for a kind of local, Basque, semi-feral, endangered pony. And I can't figure out why there's a paprika clover-like shape etched on the top, or how it relates to the horses after which the cheese is named.


The ponies in the park are certainly not Pottok, but they're around the same size and look.

Ponies in the park, ponies in the name of the cheese. Also, this cheese is really stunning and special-looking, much like the Jardin du Luxembourg.


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