Jan 2, 2019

The Rainbowfication of the Marais: Tomme au Génépy


You may know of the Jewish history of the Marais, especially prevalent on the Rue des Rosiers (end 19th, beginning 20th century). You may know of the history of the Marais as a place for nobility (13th-16th century, and especially 17th century) or artists (latter 20th century). And while you still have people who are rich, artsy, and Jewish living in the Marais (and sometimes all three), there's no mistaking one of the newest and biggest identity markers in the Marais nowadays, thanks to the quick and complete rainbowfication of the neighborhood: it's been the gay neighborhood of Paris -- the LGBQT center since the 1980s.

As proof of rapid rainbowfication, here is the before shot of the same boulangerie, taken about three weeks prior to the above shot, during this past summer. Voilà la rainbowfication! Vive l'arc en ciel!

Though I have no concrete proof, I believe deep in my heart that this rainbowfication is inspired by the Castro, San Francisco's predominantly and proudly gay neighborhood. This is where the rainbow flag, as a symbol for inclusion, tolerance, and progressive gender/sexuality values was created in 1978 by local artist Gilbert Baker, at the encouragement of Harvey Milk, mayor of San Francisco and one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States.. The rainbow flag in the Castro is the biggest flag -- of any sort -- that I've ever seen flying, anywhere. Given the frequent winds in San Francisco, I can't even imagine how it (and the people below) can survive.

photo from: By Matthew McPherson - Transfered from en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3249727

Even San Francisco's "small" flags are prominent, and not so small. They make a pretty sight up against the ornate Victorian bay windows. I would say it's a uniquely San Francisco sight, but now that the Marais has been rainbowfied, perhaps it's not.

There are no flags quite as large in Paris, but what the Marais lacks in size, it makes up for in enthusiasm.

And there are more than just flags. The city government itself seems to have gotten in on the act by painting very prominent rainbow crosswalks, which start right at the entrance to the Marais, by the BHV department store opposite the Hotel de Ville (City Hall).

City Hall is not shy about rainbowing itself up, especially around Gay Pride weekend at the end of June. Hey look -- those are some big flags!

Some of the transfiguration is clearly sanctioned, with ads and more permanent additions to the buildings themselves.

Other aspects are less official, but still in the spirit, like this rainbow-road-side graffiti that reads "Aimez-vous les uns les autres," and means "Love one another."

If you're not entirely sure of the meaning of the all the rainbows, some of the treats on sale at that particularly colorful bakery (and a few others -- though by no means all) will make it clear. Whether it's a raspberry tart, baguette, or cookies, the shape says it all.

THE CHEESE: Tomme au Génépy

Tomme au Génépy is named for the liquor rubbed on the outside of it during the aging process, Génépy, a liquor made from the genepi plant, also known as artemesia, or wormwood, and therefore related to Absynthe. The plant grows in alpine conditions, which makes this a mountain-grown cow cheese.

Tomme au Génépy, sometimes sold by different manufacturers as Tomme au Génépi, is made from pasteurized cows' milk. Because it is an orange-rind cheese and has been regularly rubbed during its three-week aging period with a strong and sweet, herbaceous, medicinal liqueur, it is both unusual and pungent. The taste is a kind of sweet funky that stops just short of three-day-old-gym-locker, and it gets better as it melts in the mouth. Getting it up to the mouth is an adventure because of the smell, that foot-fungus odor of an orange cheese.

I should say that usually, the Tomme au Génépy is washed with the liqueur. Depending on the cheesemaker, Tomme au Génépy might come coated with the dried herb instead, which makes it milder and far-less pungent.


 photo from: https://drinkdispatch.com and https://www.absinthes.com

For this story, I wanted a cheese with as many colors of the rainbow as possible. With Tomme au Génépy, we have creamy yellow inside and orange and brown on the outside, photographed on a bright red platter. The liqueur that is rubbed on the outside to achieve the orange color ranges from pale yellow in the fancier versions to emerald green in the cheaper versions in which food coloring is added. In fact, the word "genepi" is a bastardization of "jaune épi" ("yellow wheat") so the idea of color is built right in, as is the idea of just making up one's own words -- like "rainbowfication". All together, that's red, orange, yellow, and green, or more than half a rainbow covered, which is not bad for a humble, mountain cheese.


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