Monday, July 02, 2007

The Mystery of the Pyramids

One look at the luscious pyramids of chevre that appear in artisan form from all regions of France and I begin to tumble the mysterious shape and its history like a puzzle in my mind. Why pyramids for goat cheese?

Baskets are hung to favor the quick elimination of whey, it might be easy to dismiss the whole issue as just the preferred method for cheese-making in general, but then again the pyramid shape seems to be classically linked to cheese coming from goats. If it were a question of the mechanics of cheese in general, we would not think "chevre" when we see this shape.

The truncated pyramid shape (above) is said to have its origins in Valencay, inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte's dinner in the countryside with his interior minister, Talleyrand. When presented with local cheeses, the story is that Napoleon commented on the tall pointed pyramid shape as reminding him of his campaigns in Egypt. His host followed the next day with a delivery of six truncated pyramid shaped cheeses, and it has been made that way ever since.

An alternative and more exciting version of the story is that the little conqueror took out his sword and violently chopped off the tops of the cheese right then and there at dinner, in a fit of rage. As a counterbalance to the mayhem, blithe naysayers will sit back and point to the steeple of the church of the town, insisting the shape of the cheese is inspired by it. Most people choose the more exciting story.

No matter what the origin, these short topped pyramids have become a classic symbolic shape that means chevre, influencing many artisan cheese-makers the world over to adopt it. Nowadays we find them everywhere in the world that French inspired goat cheese is made, and each one holds its own mystery - why does goat cheese taste so wonderful?

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Blogger Lucy said...

I wish I could answer that question.

Nothing compares to goat cheese. To me it often seems to taste of where it was produced. That 'local' flavour is one of the best aspects of it for me.

I prefer the more fanciful tale too!

12:32 AM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger Connie said...

its funny, even the 'commercial' goat cheese makers will sell it in little plastic pyramids. it does lend itself to great eye-catching presentation... and when confronted with a wall of cheese selection, your eyes can easily zoom in on the goat cheese

12:54 PM, July 03, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One time I visited a cheesemaker at a fair in France. He had chevre in a variety of shapes (and coatings, including herbs and ashes). I asked him why the cheeses in all the funny shapes, and he told me it's nothing more than how the shape affects the ripening, and thus the flavor. I tasted. The same chesse at the same age does in fact taste different depending on whether it's a log, a disc, or a pyramid. I bought a selection, and at home the small victims were devoured in short order.

11:34 PM, July 03, 2007  
Blogger Jann said...

I have told this story many times, too~ whether or not there is much truth to it , it remains a charming tale! And, such delicious cheese~

2:35 AM, July 06, 2007  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks for your comments and input, friends.

5:55 PM, July 06, 2007  

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