Apr 15, 2020

What Else? Finally: St. Nuage


Well, it has been a shamefully long time since I've posted. You'd think that being locked in my house for the better part of 1.5 months, I'd have had plenty of time to write something. But snuggled up in my house in San Francisco, losing out (probably) on my summer in France, I just haven't felt motivated. Till now. So without further ado: what else? Covid-19. Finally...from reports of life in quarantine (or, as the Californians call it "shelter in place", and as the French call it "le confinement") to French culture accessible online and, of course, ending with cheese. As I'm now holed up in San Francisco, the information comes from all of my friends scattered around France who I miss. But these days, I miss my friends down the street just as much!

My French friends have posted (and are graciously allowing me to re-post) pictures of:
  • the streets of central Paris....with ducks wandering tranquilly down the empty streets.
  • the Seine so calm it's like a mirror (because no boats!).
  • the nightly cheer down the narrow Paris streets for the medical workers.
  • empty beach boardwalks, empty roads, and empty parks.
  • their children, cross-legged smack dab in the middle of the Champs-Elysees, in broad daylight.
  • their children, skateboarding down the middle of the road.
  • their children, going to the "cafe" which is the tiny table on their patio or in their courtyard.
  • their dinners and cooking projects.
  • the masks they are sewing.
So as you can see, it's a lot like shelter-in-place in the US or, presumably, anywhere else. With some French architecture in the picture.

One dear friend who lives in a small town on the Normandy beaches told me that she can't walk on the empty boardwalk or beach because of the fines:
  • first infraction: 135
  • second infraction: 1500
  • third infraction: 3700
  • fourth infraction 6 months in prison 

As my French friend says, "Ca ne rigole pas!" or..."They're not joking!"

Another friend, in Paris, is starting a campaign called "Buy your bread and biscuits, don't bake them!" This is not because she is championing a cause to support small bakeries but rather because she is hoping if everybody starts once again buying their pastries and breads professionally-made, she might be able to find some flour to buy to use in her bechamel sauce. Her college-aged son, who returned from a semester in Italy early, is sequestered in a cabin with a bunch of other college-aged Italian-returning friends, where they all have or have had Covid-19, but are spending their time learning to cook, feeding and caring for each other, rejoicing when their sense of smell returns, and playing a lot of card games. So, as Covid-19 stories go, not so bad (not so bad now, though scary enough before, I'm sure).

Though I haven't heard much about toilet paper hoarding in France, I am hearing the same sorts of stories about people who can't find specific ingredients in stores -- basic, boring ingredients that have never been in shortage before (or, at least, not in living memory and probably not since rationing in World War II). I can't believe how long it took me to find baking powder and powdered sugar.

At the moment, the French government has declared that the French confinement will end on May 11. I'm quite curious about whether that will really happen, whether it will be extended, and what that will actually look like. At the moment, San Francisco has ordered us to shelter-in-place till May 3, but I will be seriously surprised if that's not extended by quite a bit in both strict and, eventually, less strict ways. We shall see.

In the meantime, if you are a Francophile -- and ideally a French speaker -- you can check out the following French productions that are airing for free online. The shows from La Comedie Francaise hit us (on the West Coast of the US) in the morning, France in the evening, and other parts of the world at some weird hours, indeed. But if you are in Sydney, Australia, and feel like working on your French language and cultural understanding at 2-5 in the morning, then by all means:

L'Opera de Paris: https://www.operadeparis.fr/  
Link comes out each week on the main page of the Opera (just click on "Voir" in the big video frame on top of the page). Here's the schedule announced so far, though they may certainly extend:
  • Soirée Robbins (2018) [Hommage to choreographer Jerome Robbins]
  • Les Contes d’Hoffmann (2016) [Tales of Hoffman, French opera]
  • April 27 - May 03: Carmen (2017)
  • April 17 - May 03: Le cycle des symphonies de Tchaïkovski [Tchaikovsky symphonies] 
La Comedie Francaise: https://www.comedie-francaise.fr/
Each day: something livestreaming at the exact time listed one -- talks and shows from the vault starting at 4pm (16h) in France. They tend to air at 6:30pm & 8:30pm (18h30 & 20h30) French time.
And if you watch Modern Family, you may have seen a recent episode which they filmed in France, and it made me so happy to see my old home -- literally: They filmed at the cafe just beneath our window in Paris. This is actually a shot of our Paris apartment, as it appears on the TV in our living room in San Francisco, just after I scream and make the family freeze the frame for me. There's our apartment, in the background behind the red-awning cafe, with the green railing around the deck, just to the left of the tree in the photo.

Here's that same apartment, viewed from the bridge. You can see the red awning on the left, and our apartment straight ahead. Same buildings, different angle.

I must admit that this -- the Coronavirus crisis -- is the first time I have truly been happy that we're living in San Francisco instead of Paris, mostly because we have about 3x as much space in our house in SF compared to our apartments in Paris, with 4x the number of toilets, and a decent amount of outdoor space, for a city, anyway: small backyard and easy access to two huge parks, Golden Gate Park and the Presidio. Also, though we are firmly sheltered-in-place and life is distinctly far from normal, we are allowed more freedom to go and play outside and walk around in SF than are my French friends (I'm assuming it's because we have more space to spread out in SF and less population density, although why the same rules hold for the French countryside doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me). So yes, I still miss Paris, and I'll be particularly sad if we don't get to spend our time visiting the country and our friends there this summer. I did love that Paris apartment and its view, but while quarantined for months on end, I'm happy to be somewhere with more space and nature.

My confinement started a week before the rest of my city's because of a freak coincidental concussion for Pippa.

She was not injured doing some crazy gymnastics tricks, as you would all assume, but rather while washing her paintbrushes in art class at school, when a large plank being used for a project that was casually balanced against a wall fell onto her head. Anthony was, of course, out of town (as some natural law -- like gravity -- has decreed that all big injuries and illnesses must occur when I am single parenting). Pippa was not only forbidden from leaving the house and walking around or doing anything energetic, she also was not supposed to look at screens, do homework, or tax her brain. That meant I spent the week indoors with her, keeping her company and off electronics by baking and doing puzzles, which pretty much formed the basis of the first few weeks of our shelter-in-place as well. Now we have moved on to a tumble track (the bouncy thing allowing Pippa to do her gymnastics in our backyard), more baking, school and work online, family games, online friend gatherings, electronics time, and yet more baking.

I hope that wherever you are in the world reading this, that you are healthy and relatively happy. I'd love to hear from people from all over about some of the quirks of your confinement. Comment below (anonymous is possible) or contact me! And after this, I'll resume to "regular" programming with stories -- and cheeses -- that are not all about life in confinement.


St. Nuage, which literally means "Saint Cloud", is a triple cream cows' milk cheese made in Burgundy by Hervé Mons, named "Meilleur Ouvrier" -- literally "Best Worker" but more something like a national treasure artisan.

St. Nuage has a delicate crust that has a distinct "toad skin" feel to it, that is the geotricum lumpy, wrinkly, brain-like mold that forms on certain soft cheeses, such as a Pictou des Deux-Sèvres. However, instead of the thick, dense, creaminess of a goat cheese like the Pictou, this is a towering, fluffy, buttery cheese akin to Brillat-Savarin. I assume the cloud in the name refers to the fact that it feels like I'm eating a cloud -- ethereal and lighter than air. The flavor is buttery with hints of mushroom, and aged perfectly with no trace of the strident ammonia sometimes found on these super-ripe cheeses.

It's made from pasteurized milk in order to be easily exportable and is officially deemed a "triple creme soft ripened cheese." Honestly, "soft" and "ripened" barely do it justice, though triple cream seems about right. The only reason it's not oozing, amoeba-like, all over the cheese platter below is because I whipped it out quickly from the fridge for the photo. Believe me, after just half an hour at room temperature, it looks like it's trying to take over the plate; it won't succeed, however, because it's far too delicious to be left alone. The cheese is scooped, spooned, and lathered onto bread and quickly devoured.

Sadly for my friends in France, St. Nuage is hard to find in France itself, as it seems to be only sold through Whole Foods. This is the one of the few cheeses that I think French friends should be jealous of me eating here in San Francisco.


St. Nuage is one of the very last French cheeses I ate before the shelter-in-place. And, in fact, I just tried to order it again, since it is one of the only French cheeses on the Amazon/Whole Foods grocery site we were ordering from. Trying to order from. In fact, the order comes without the cheese, and we are left, sadly fromage-free. Maybe we'll get luckier the next time we either venture into a store or manage to arrange a delivery.

Also, I like the fact that it's a cheese named for clouds -- one of the few things we get to see moving around outside our windows. The streets are so tranquil and barren.

And, finally, though you know how much I love Paris, and France, and French cheese, I've also admitted that during this pandemic, I am -- for the first time -- actually preferring to be in San Francisco. Along with more space in our housing and more freedom to move around outside, my Parisian friends might also be envious that I get to eat this delicious St. Nuage -- when I can finally get my hands on another one, that is.


  1. Super fun to read and very informative! Great info for our Covid times for sure. Thanks so much! Chris


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