Jul 25, 2018

Temple of Reason: Tomme de Chartreux


In today's episode of "things in history you never heard of before," I bring to you the Temple of Reason, which was the place of "worship" in the Cult of Reason, which was supposed to replace Christianity (and organized religion in general) in France in the 18th century. You've probably never heard of the Cult of Reason, but you've certainly heard of the most famous Temple of Reason...

That's right. Notre Dame. On November 10, 1793, a special Cult of Reason ceremony was held here, with a decidedly atheist bent and an altar to Philosophy, at the base of which was an offering dedicated to Reason, all lit by a torch of Truth. Instead of praying to the bloodied figure of Jesus Christ on a cross, the crowd revered the Goddess of Liberty in the form of an actress draped in bleu, blanc, et rouge, the colors of the revolution and the new republic.

Saint-Paul Saint-Louis in the Marais was a Temple of Reason in 1973 for an extended period. Also Saint-Sulpice, Basilique Saint-Denis, Les Invalides, and many major cathedrals both inside and outside of Paris, including the world-famous cathedral at Chartres.

The cult existed from 1792-1794 till Ropesbierre put an end to that by introducing his own cult, the Cult of the Supreme Being. It was still supposed to supplant Christianity and, knowing Ropesbierre, he probably thought of himself as the Supreme Being, and it was part of his Reign of Terror.

The Cult of Reason was determined that the new national and world order would be atheistic. Despite the name, the Cult of Reason was not, however, always reasonable. Part of its modus operandi was the "carnaval" or ransacking of churches, overturning of statues, defacing of priceless art works -- all that fun stuff. It was the cultural revolution before Mao thought of it for China.

While the Cult may have died out and both Notre Dame and Saint-Paul Saint-Louis are, once again, houses of Catholic worship, the Pantheon is, in a way, a Temple of Reason.

THE CHEESE: Tomme de Chartreux

Tomme de Chartreux (also called Tomme Chartreuse and Tomme le Chartreux, at the store where I taste it) is related to the Galet de Chartreux (also Galet de la Chartreuse) and is a hard cheese made in Savoie, in the Alps, near the Massif de Chartreuse, for which both cheeses and the Chartreux monastery and Chartreuse liqueur are all named.

Made from raw cows' milk, a wheel of Tomme de Chartreux weighs in between 1.5-3 kg and is aged one month in a warm cellar, then many more months in humid and cold cellars. The result is a silky smooth cheese with a pale yellow color and a crust that is white and chalky, with hints of orange. The flavor is musty, with distinct hints of the cellar, and mildly salty, with a nice balance -- not too strong, but not boring.


There seems to be a great deal of confusion about the names of both the Tomme and Galet (de) (la) Charteux/Chartreuse. It really is not reasonable to have so many alternatives, but I can at least set one thing straight: they are not named for Chartres but rather for the Massif de la Chartreuse, which is actually quite reasonable when you think about it. Still, I choose this cheese in honor of Chartres, one of the more famous former Temples of Reason.


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