“Sur le pont d’Avignon, l’on y danse, l’on y danse . . . .” So many people know of the town of Avignon because of that famous little ditty. But what’s this walled medieval town actually like? Well, in the summer, it’s a mad house because of the annual month-long theatre festival that takes place every July. For those few weeks, thousands upon thousands of theatre folks from around the world descend on the city to partake in the official “In” festival or the unofficial “Off” festival. There are an estimated 1,200+ performances every day and everywhere—in firehouses, in theatres, in courtyards. The streets are completely covered with posters, and the sidewalks are full of costumed actors performing, singing, and distributing tracts for their respective plays.
M. Cheesemonger and I did squeeze in three plays over two days, which I almost thought wouldn’t happen, since I began feeling under the weather after the second play. Luckily, some local cheese saved me.
. . . . I am getting ahead of myself! Let me back up! In the center of Avignon, there is a market hall. Now that we had a kitchen, M. Cheesemonger and I could go to the market and prepare meals at home (my favorite activities!). On our first market visit, we spied a cheese shop selling a greenish/greyish-hued slop of a cheese marked as a “regional specialty” and “very flavorful.” We walked out of there with a small container filled to the brim. Next door, we found some beautiful zucchini flowers stuffed with fresh goat cheese and herbs, roasted eggplant topped with a touch of fresh tomato sauce and perfect spheres of fresh mozzarella, a few buttery escargots à la Bourgignonne, and a marvelous “vigneron” bread made with red wine, walnuts, and raisins. M. Cheesemonger also got a few slices of real-deal Italian Parma ham. It was a perfect hot-weather meal, and it left room for our reservations that evening at a cheese-themed restaurant called La Vache à Carreaux.
I could have spent hours roaming the market hall. If only we had stayed in Avignon a few more days. Then I could have brought to our fifth-floor walk-up some fresh sea scallops, some more cheeses, maybe some quiches, stuffed tomatoes, tripes, or fresh pasta. Well, we did get some fresh pasta—a beautiful knot of tagliatelles with a creamy sauce aux cèpes to accompany it. M. Cheesemonger and I loved them so much, we went back and bought more the next day.
The dinner at La Vache à Carreaux was passable, if not completely successful. M. Cheesemonger ordered an andouillette with St. Marcellin sauce, while I ordered the baked camembert with calvados au caramel. Both dishes came with a bit of salad and crunchy roasted, herbed potatoes. I found my dish way too sweet and gummy, but M. Cheesemonger’s plate was fabulous. The St. Marcellin and andouillette melded perfectly together to reach new levels of pungent, savory creaminess . Our appetizer cheese plate was also largely a success. We were treated to a couple of fresh chèvres (one coated in paprika, the other in herbs), Pavé d’Auge, a local goat cheese whose name escapes me (hélas!), and some Livarot. They were all served at peak ripeness and perfect temperature. M. Cheesemonger and I walked away satisfied, but not completely won over. If you’re looking for a decent meal in Avignon, the Vache à Carreaux will certainly provide you with one, but I think modest expectations here are the key to a successful meal.
The next day, after visiting an oddball antique market, we saw our second play, a take on My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk, performed with paper puppets, three puppeteers, and a traditional Turkish instrumentalist. It was magnificent, but I wasn’t feeling so hot by this point.
Here’s where the life-saving cheese came in. I joined M. Cheesemonger at the table just before he left for Play #3, and after a few mouthfuls of the “regional specialty” I felt my senses return. The sluggishness slipped away, and I knew I’d make it through the play. So what is in this mysterious, nameless concoction? I wish I could tell you! It was made with ewe’s and goat’s milk, and a good dose of penicillium roqueforti. M. Cheesemonger suspects it is some kind of fromage fort with a healthy dose of some unknown blue cheese. In any case, “goûteux” was an understatement. It will rip the roof of your mouth off if you eat a big enough mouthful! It will also, apparently, revive your senses enough to return you to normal functioning levels if you’re feeling under the weather.
And so, off we went that evening to see our third play in the shadow of the papal palace.