Nov 29, 2017

A Sporting Chance: Galet de Bigorre


I would need to take a big breath to rattle off the list of the things I would do to improve French schools, if it were up to me. But one thing I think the French do absolutely right is the sports class. Starting in primary school and all the way up till high school graduation, they have physical education classes for the kids. Not only do they devote a significant amount of time to this (a couple hours per week or so, depending on the age), they take the opportunity to expose the kids to an incredibly wide variety of activities.

Usually, in each trimester, the kids will have two big activities to focus on, and it's not just the obvious things like soccer or track & field -- though of course they do those also. In school gym classes, my girls have studied modern dance, circus arts (including juggling, plate spinning, and walking on rolling barrels), judo, ping pong, gymnastics/acrobatics, and fencing.

And that's on top of the swimming lessons that nearly all French kids have -- during their school days -- up through 6th or 7th grade. And let's also not forget the week-long field trips (classes vertes) where some French kids, even in public schools, travel around the country trying large-scale outdoor activities. On their field trips, our girls and their friends have learned to ski/snowboard, sail, and rock climb, among other things, and have even tried spelunking.

The idea is that if we expose children to enough activities, they will come across something that resonates with them and perhaps pursue it as a hobby on their own. You can see the difference in intensity here in France vs. the US. In France, nobody is thinking of how to get their child to the very top of a sport in order to win college scholarships. The few that are setting their children on the hyper-competitive track in France are those that are genuinely in the running for the Olympics, national teams, or a professional career. I know of American kids who train for simply recreational purposes at the same -- or even greater -- intensity as some of these French-Olympic hopefuls.

Needless to say, as a parent, that makes both the in-school gym classes and the after-school activities in France a lot less competitive and stressful (and much less expensive, too!). In nearly all cases in France, when a kid is pursuing an activity -- dance, tennis, horseback riding, synchronized swimming, fencing, etc -- it's simply for the joy of doing the sport, with no hopes of future gains or glory. And a lot of that starts right there in gym class.

THE CHEESE: Galet de Bigorre

Galet de Bigorre is a raw, farmhouse goat cheese made in Occitanie, in the very southwestern corner of the country, near the Atlantic and the Pyrenees. It's made in the same molds as the much-more-famous Selles-sur-Cher, which is made further north in France.

This disc of goat cheese has a slight tang of lemon in it and is generally made and found between spring and fall. This means it's out at the perfect time to be served with very ripe apricots -- a lovely combination indeed. Or, if you're not in apricot season, a fruity jam or pâte de fruit will work nicely.

Galet de Bigorre is generally aged around two weeks, then sold and eaten young and fresh. The delicate crust often comes lightly ashed, though that's not necessary. The disc I buy is ashed mostly in the center, like a big bullseye.


Shaped like a disc, it could be a hockey puck, or a plate for spinning in a circus arts class. With the bullseye in the center, it also looks like it could be a target for archery practice. Galet de Bigorre looks like it could be useful in so many sports, but it's not, of course; what it's actually useful for is being part of my very favorite French activity of all: eating cheese.


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