Dec 7, 2017

Laughing yellow: Tomme du Pic de la Calabasse


Given the news and the state of the world, I think it's high time you learn the expression "rire jaune" which means, literally, "to laugh yellow." It's used to describe a forced, hollow laugh, the kind where you're laughing on the outside while crying on the inside. That laugh we do when watching the talk show hosts joke about current events, because they're funny, but it's rather tragic at the same time.

Nobody knows where the expression comes from exactly, but it seems to have appeared in the 17th century and come from a negative connotation of yellow -- but not a racist one (or, more precisely, not exactly the racist one you're probably thinking of). Historically, yellow was considered negative because of the association with Judas, who's usually represented dressed in yellow, as in the 14th century fresco "Kiss of Judas" by Giotto. 

photo of painting from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kiss_of_Judas

Oddly -- but perhaps not so coincidentally -- the expression "Être habillé en jaune" which literally means "to be dressed in yellow" is an old fashioned way of saying somebody is Jewish, since in medieval times, in certain countries, it was required of Jews to dress in yellow (in fact, not just Jews but also other "heretics" found guilty in the Spanish Inquisition were required to wear yellow). The fact that the star worn by Jews in Nazi-occupied countries in World War II was yellow is not coincidence.

"Franchir la ligne jaune" ("to cross the yellow line") is a hold-over expression from when the do-not-pass lines in the middle of the roads in France were yellow (they are now usually white) and it's used just like the English expression "to cross the line." "Un jaune" on the other hand, or "a yellow", is  used for people who cross the line in a strike -- what we could call a scab in English. "Être peint en jaune" or "to be painted in yellow" is to be cuckolded, or cheated on by one's wife. 

It's not all bad for the poor, maligned color yellow. The famous Yellow Jersey is a sign of winning a section of the Tour de France. And "un petit jaune" or "a little yellow" is the name for a mixed drink of Pastis (licorice flavored liqueur) and water and ice -- quite refreshing in the summer.


THE CHEESE: Tomme du Pic de la Calabasse

Tomme, also spelled Tome, du Pic de la Calabasse is made from raw cows' milk, by an artisanal cheesemaker called, of course, the Pic de la Calabasse, based in Saint-Lary, a village in the department of the Hautes-Pyrénées, in the Midi-Pyrénées region. A "pic" both means, and is pronounced, "peak" and refers to one of the local mountains here on the Spanish border.

This tomme, from the pic (peak) of the Calabasse mountain in Auvergne, is supposed to pique (prickle) a little bit at the finish. I can't say this sample does, but it does have an intriguing sweet taste at the beginning, following by a little acidic tang. The texture is mildly rubbery, but on the edge of soft and creamy, and the color a lovely, buttery, mellow yellow.


If people thought of yellow as the color of cheeses instead of the color of Judas, perhaps more of the expressions involving the color would have positive connotations. I'm positive that even if this isn't my favorite cheese, it is a) appropriately yellow for this story and b) far more enjoyable than listening to the news right now.


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