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Jun 13, 2019

Isn't it Romantique?: Germollin

THE STORY:

This is not the most romantic thing you can do in Paris, but it is the most Romantic: the Musée de la Vie Romantique (Museum of the Romantic Life). In fact, it's a charming little museum with a garden and some sweet art, all tucked away in a hidden courtyard. But none of this will make any sense if you don't know the difference between Romance, romance, romantic, Romantic/Romantique, and Romanticism.



When we say "romance" in English, we're talking about all that is loving and mushy, the foundation of the rom-com, the bodice-ripper, any film that involves Colin Firth. Whereas when we say "Romance Language," it simply refers to one of the languages derived directly from Latin (i.e. the Romans) -- French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, mainly. The French call this a "langue romane" so in French, at least, there is no confusion between romance and Romance.

Then we have the concept of "romantic" which of course the French not only share, they are famous for championing. In French this is "romantique," but that is not what the museum is about at all. That's because there are two meanings in French, as in English: romantic (having to do with romance) and Romantic (having to do with the artistic period known as Romanticism).

Romanticism was a popular artistic and literary movement spanning the late 1700s through the mid 1800s. It emphasized individual glory and emotionalism, often based on medieval and ancient themes and also on the wildness and grandeur of nature. Hence, the rose garden. It's not exactly wildness or grandeur, here in a Parisian courtyard, but it brings nature to us, a respite from the city. The entire movement was a reaction, in part, to the industrial revolution and so was, itself, a respite from the cities. But what good is nature without something to sip and nibble on? So the garden has a lovely cafe open in spring, summer, and fall.


The building, located at 16 rue Chaptal in Pigalle in the 9th arrondissement, was constructed in 1830 at the height of the Romantic Era for painter Ary Scheffer. It stayed in his family till his descendants decided in 1956 to donate the location to the nation to preserve its patrimony. To an American in Paris, the neighborhood is quite romantic indeed.


It's not exactly the most grandiose collection of Romantic Art, to be honest: mostly some period furniture, and room decorations, and portraiture work. It's a good place to learn more about George Sand, however, the masculine nom de plume of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin who wrote in the 1800s. George (Aurore to her friends) was, in her lifetime, exceptionally popular -- even more so than Victor Hugo and Honore de Balzac. She wrote romance novels and also Romance novels (because they were in French) that were both romantic and Romantic (era, that is). It's all a bit confusing. She was a neighbor of Ary's and frequently visited the house, which is why her granddaughter, Aurore Lauth-Sand, bequeathed to the City of Paris a good deal of memorabilia from and about George Sand to be displayed in the museum.

It wasn't just Sand's writing that made her famous; her behavior made her infamous. Scandalously, she smoked in public and, even more shocking, she often wore men's clothing in public, allowing her access to places forbidden to women. There's a great quote from Victor Hugo about his fellow writer that would work just as well in San Francisco in the 21st century: "George Sand cannot determine whether she is male or female. I entertain a high regard for all my colleagues, but it is not my place to decide whether she is my sister or my brother." She did marry and have children, become legally separated, and have a long series of affairs with many men. There was one actress as well that she was rumored to have an affair with, but it's still only a rumor.


THE CHEESE:

Germollin is a dense, plug-shaped tower of a cheese made from raw goats' milk by La Domaine des Ballifays. The dairy farm, created in 1987, has a panoramic view over Germolles-sur-Grosne, a tiny, mountainous village in the Charolais mountains, nestled in the crossroads of three rivers -- the Rhône, the Saône, and the Loire. The department, Saône-et-Loire, is in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.



Since the village has 115 inhabitants, and the farm has a herd of 150 goats, there are literally more goats than people around. They graze in gorgeous pastures three seasons of the year and eat hay in the winter.


The cheese is dry, hard, and crumbly with a fabulously goaty zing. It's got strong hints of greens like peppers, grasses, and herbs, making the flavor as round as the cheese itself. It's hard to tell the scale from the photo, but it's not that big -- just a few inches high -- and so delicious that it's gone in a flash.




THE CONNECTION:

A man, a woman, a sweeping landscape of millions of wildflowers and rolling hills, and absolutely enormous platters of cheeses -- what could possibly be more romantic? This photo is almost like a grand Romantic era painting, except for all that cheese and the dairy-making uniforms. This is a photo from Ballifay's own website, maker of the delicious Germollin.


But the main reason I choose this cheese for this story is that I discover Germollin on my way out of the Musée de la Vie Romantique (where I learn about the Romantic era in a romantic setting in a Romance language) when I stumble across l'Affineur Affiné -- a fromagerie and cheese-based restaurant/wine-bar whose name roughly translates as "The Aged Ager."




The fromagerie, which is located at 51 rue Notre Dame de Lorette in the 9th arrondissement (making this the 3rd week in a row the name "Notre Dame" has appeared in my blog), has a small but intensely flavorful, high-end array of cheeses. And a handsome cheesemonger which, when we're talking about romanticism, doesn't hurt.



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