Saturday, March 31, 2012

Glorious salt marshes of France

The product known in French as fleur de sel is a prestigious gastronomical salt composed of white crystals formed by the evaporating effects of wind upon the surface of salt marshes. I didn't even know that such a product existed until I arrived in France.

The expression fleur de sel might be translated into English as "flower of salt", but those words don't mean much. Besides, I don't believe that anybody talks of "flower of salt" in English. So, I'll stick to the French expression. Here's a packet I bought a few days ago:

Think of it as super salt. The fleur de sel crystals are expensive, of course, because they're collected manually. When you sprinkle these extraordinary gastronomical gems on meat, for example, they add a wonderful salty crunchiness to the eating experience. Chefs add fleur de sel to their preparations at the last minute, so that the crystalline structure is not destroyed by the cooking.

The most celebrated French salt marshes are those of Guérande in Brittany. For countless ordinary shoppers in France, salt and Guérande are synonyms.

But the most ancient salt marshes are those of the Roman city of Aigues-Mortes, on the edge of the Camargue delta of the Rhône.

Most often, the salt marshes are a dull blue.

Their geometrical splendor stretches to the horizon.

Periodically, harmless algae add a glorious pink hue to the salt marshes.

Who would have said so: Salt is beautiful! And tasty, too.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Raspberry Pi basic computer

Normally, if all goes as planned, I'll be able to place an order tomorrow morning for a Raspberry Pi computer, for 40 euros. Click here to visit their website, to see what it's all about.

If I understand correctly, the development of this low-cost computer was masterminded by a fellow named Eben Upton and several colleagues at the computer laboratory of the university of Cambridge.

I couldn't agree more with Eben's belief that young hobbyist programmers need a gadget of this kind if they wish to become hackers... in the original noble sense of this term: skilled specialists capable of getting computers to perform amazing tricks.

Long ago, I remember hearing an American designate the primitive French 2-horsepower Citroën as "basic car". Well we might say that the Raspberry Pi is basic computer. When you pay your 40 euros, you get the bare minimum, with no frills. To get it to do interesting things, you're expected to add on all the necessary bells and whistles, which will inevitably involve creating your own software. And that's exactly what makes the Raspberry Pi an ideal gadget for bright individuals who are determined to master computer programming.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Dogs and stars

For the last two days, my memories have been dominated by images of Christine's dear dog Gamone. In the stark clarity of the death of a dog, I find a distilled paradigm of the tragic brevity of our human existence. I am shocked by the abrupt flight into nothingness of the simple beauty and nobility of the departed animal. It is a theme of immense melancholy, of celestial emptiness. And yet the cosmic messages of a dog's existence are no less real than those that emanate from us humans. Their existential photons end up hurtling towards the stars, just like ours. We're all on the same wavelength, as it were.

Sophia pursues her calm existence, apparently oblivious of the fact that her daughter Gamone has now been totally metamorphosed into a burst of something heading out towards the confines of the Cosmos. As you can see from this photo, Sophia looks quite slim and alert. In fact, in spite of her advanced age, she's in good shape. As for Fitzroy, he remains relatively earthbound for the moment, in the sense that he is capable of meditating deeply, for long periods of time, on the mysteries of a jet of water emerging from a hose.

But a canine philosopher is capable of interrupting his cogitations, maybe in the twilight zone of a warm spring evening, to go out hunting. The following morning, I admire the catch:

That's the first time I've ever seen a gray rat in the vicinity of the house. It's reassuring to know that Fitzroy can apparently find and destroy such a pest.

Calculating for dummies

Some of my readers might not get very far into this blog post, because calculating is not exactly an exciting subject, particularly when it's "for dummies". That's a pity, though, because the demonstration that I'm about to provide is really quite amazing. I'm going to show you how to obtain a relatively precise value of pi without having to perform any serious mathematics whatsoever.

I can hear a wag saying that you can merely look up the value of pi in Google! Fair enough, but I'm talking here about a method of actually calculating pi, from scratch, rather than simply looking up the value. The final calculation involves little more than a bit of counting followed by a multiplication operation. So, let's go.

To perform the operations I'm about to describe, you'll need a device that fires some kind of projectiles in such a way that you can clearly distinguish their points of impact. An ideal device, for example, would be a so-called air gun that fires birdshot pellets, known as BB slugs.

Having made this high-tech suggestion, let me point out immediately that you can perform the required operations using far more down-to-earth resources. For example, you might use some kind of sticky goo such as chewing gum, or children's putty.

The only requirement is that you must be able to determine precisely the point of impact of each projectile. Marbles or pebbles have to be ruled out because it's almost impossible to determine their points of impact when thrown at a target. So, let's suppose that you've obtained some kind of suitable device...

• Obtain a big square of white cardboard, the bigger the better, and place it flat on the ground beneath a tall tree. Make sure it doesn't move, maybe with the help of a couple of metal spikes.

• Armed with your airgun, or whatever, and a good supply of projectiles, climb up into the tree, high above the square of white cardboard... which will be used as your target. [I forgot to point out that you should probably let your neighbors know beforehand that you're conducting a scientific experiment in computing... otherwise they might become unnecessarily alarmed.]

• Now, here's the essential part of the calculation procedure. You're expected to fire projectiles (slugs, chewing gum, goo, whatever) in the vague general direction of the square of white cardboard down on the ground. Above all, you have to fire at the cardboard in a totally random fashion, without ever aiming deliberately at any particular region of the square. In other words, your projectiles are expected to produce impacts that are scattered all over the cardboard in a completely random fashion. Indeed, if ever you aimed carefully, and you were such a good marksman that all your projectiles hit the middle of the cardboard, then the method I'm describing would not work at all.

• You're expected to carry on bombarding the target with projectiles for as long as possible, until the cardboard is completely covered in impacts.

• When you've produced a huge number of randomly-located impacts (let's say, to be generous, a few tens of thousands), climb down out of the tree and examine meticulously the bombarded square of cardboard. You will have understood by now that my method of "calculating for dummies" is a little weird. Call it a thought experiment, if you prefer.

• Using a corner of the cardboard as the center, draw a circle whose radius is equal to the length of a side of the square. Your big square of cardboard should look something like this:

• In the above representation, we've introduced a color code, to simplify our explanations. Points of impact inside the quadrant of the circle are indicated in red, and the others in blue.

• Start out by counting the number of red impacts, inside the quadrant, which we shall designate as Q. Then count the total number of impacts on the cardboard square, red + blue, which we shall designate as T.

• Divide Q by T, and multiply the result by 4. This will give you a value of pi.

It's easy to understand why this counting procedure should provide us with the value of pi. Consider the ratio of the area of the quadrant and that of the square. Elementary geometry tells us that this ratio is pi divided by 4. And, provided the impacts are scattered randomly over the entire square, then we can see intuitively that Q divided by T should be a good approximation to the value of this same ratio. To put it in simple terms, the quantity of impacts in any particular zone indicates, as it were, the relative area of that zone.

This approach to calculations was named in honor of one of the world's most prestigious gambling temples: the Monte Carlo casino in Monaco, on the French Riviera. When you use the Monte Carlo approach on a computer, you no longer need an airgun and BB slugs to produce your set of arbitrary points. You simply use an application capable of generating random numbers.

The Monte Carlo method of problem solving was invented in 1947 by John von Neumann and two of his colleagues, Stan Ulam and Nick Metropolis, at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. A small group of brilliant scientists, many of whom had recently arrived in the USA, had come together with the intention of designing the world's first full-fledged electronic computer, named Maniac, to be used primarily as a development tool for the hydrogen bomb.

When I started work as a computer programmer with IBM Australia in 1957, the Monte Carlo method had reached the zenith of its popularity as an almost magical problem-solving approach, which fascinated all of us. Today, over half a century later, Monte Carlo computational algorithms are still in widespread use in many simulation contexts.

The Monte Carlo method is entitled to an entire chapter in the middle of George Dyson's interesting and instructive history of computing, Turing's Cathedral.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A beautiful dog named Gamone

Christine's dog, Gamone, has left us.

She was a daughter of my Labrador Sophia, and she was born here at Gamone. From the start, she was Christine's dog, and it was Christine who had the excellent idea of choosing Gamone as the name of her pup. In the beginning, when Christine was busy organizing her existence in Brittany, Gamone spent a lot of time with me here. Here's a photo from around 2005:

Back in those days, I found it hard to imagine that Gamone might ever move away from us, one day. But she certainly did. Gamone was destined to lead a rich and beautiful life up in Brittany, first alongside Bécherel, and then at Christine's wonderful house at Gommenec'h.

My Fitzroy never knew Christine's dog, but I have the impression that Fitzroy (at my side now) realizes that I'm heartbroken. A magnificent and sensitive canine creature has left the world.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Fabulous image. From the Guardian's Week in Wildlife, photo by Mircea Costina in Dobrogea, Romania [click to enlarge]:

Perched high in the air, in the middle of the day, this small owl is no doubt planning to hang around discreetly until it sights a prey.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gunman's siege in Toulouse

Like millions of spectators throughout France (and the world at large, no doubt), I've been fascinated by the still-unfolding case of 24-year-old Mohamed Merah, holed up in a Toulouse flat encircled by police. In French terrorist history, the despicable crimes carried out by the alleged assassin were of a new kind. He used a powerful weapon to kill three off-duty soldiers, a young rabbi and three innocent children, by firing into their heads at point-blank range. For the last day and night, the determination of French authorities to capture Merah alive has given rise to a weird siege, of a totally new kind in France.

Why is it so important that Merah be captured alive? First and foremost, we might say that the moral principles of the French Republic have never accepted (at least not in theory) the idea of getting rid of an annoying suspect by simply killing him. But the real reason for hoping desperately that Merah survives the siege is the idea of being able to examine him at length, and study all the details of his background. We need to understand why and how a relatively normal youth, born in Toulouse, could be transformed into a brutal Al-Qaeda-style terrorist. Curiously, Merah was not reputed to have led the life of an Islamic fundamentalist. On the contrary, this video (of a year and a half ago) shows him having fun in an automobile:

In view of the absence of any reactions whatsoever from Merah over the last few hours, observers are starting to wonder if he hasn't already committed suicide. Meanwhile, half an hour ago, the French minister of Foreign Affairs Alain Juppé admitted on the Europe 1 radio that Merah's case suggests that weaknesses may have existed within the security services: "I understand that people can ask the question of whether or not there was a loophole. Since I don't know whether there was a loophole, I can't talk to you about its nature. But this question needs to be clarified."


[11 am French time] Police of the RAID unit apparently broke into Merah's flat about a quarter of an hour ago, but there's not yet any news about whether or not the suspected killer is still alive.

[11.35 am French time] After an intense gun battle that lasted for five minutes, AFP announced that the suspect had been mortally wounded.

The death of Mohamed Merah in a lengthy gun battle with police, while wielding a Kalashnikov, was the worst possible scenario, for there's a chance that he might appear as a heroic martyr to certain observers.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mondo cane

Sophia's primary wish, as she grows older, is to lead a peaceful and lazy (non-strenuous) existence... like all of us, you might say.

Whenever I happen to wander up the road on my own, to fetch water for the donkeys, Sophia gets upset and starts to bark. She wants to keep me in sight all the time (except, of course, if I go out in the car, which doesn't seem to bother her).

In the turd domain, Queen Sophia has become a little like the French "Sun King" Louis XIV at Versailles, who apparently had the habit of sitting on the royal chamber pot every morning, and doing his business, in the company of selected members of his court. My dog Sophia expects Fitzroy and me to accompany her to a precise place on the slopes, 50 meters beyond the house, and to wait there until not the least fragment of a turd remains to be ejected from her anal tract. I'm always amused by the way in which Sophia, up until the latter question has received a definitive answer, continues to beat around the bush, coming and going, hesitating, and turning in circles. It's clearly a fundamental matter of making a good decision.

Fitzroy now accepts the principle of being chained up for certain periods during the day (in the middle of the morning or afternoon, for example, after having eaten), to remove the temptation of setting out on exploratory expeditions along the roads, no doubt in pursuit of magic female odors. He doesn't seem to be traumatized by this necessity, as he comes readily when I call him to be attached to the chain.

During the night, he's totally free to do as he pleases. And one of the activities that pleases Fitzroy immensely is the destruction of colored plastic objects.

It goes without saying that I'm not happy to see the nozzle of a hose subjected to this treatment. But how can I possibly explain to my dog that I need those plastic objects for several good reasons? Just imagine if a grass fire broke out, and I suddenly found my hose nozzle in that state. Fitzroy, of course, would never worry about such things as grass fires. On the other hand, he has always been infatuated by water hoses.

We humans see the Large Hadron Collider and its beams of particles, beneath the Franco-Swiss border, as an extraordinary tool capable of maybe providing answers to some of the basic mysteries of our existence. Fitzroy seems to see the jet of water emerging from a hose with a similar degree of awe. Even if it means getting soaked for the nth time, Fitzroy would like to break through this mystery, and get to the bottom (or maybe rather the top) of it all.

My dog performs astonishing jumps of well over a meter into the air. I tried to manipulate the hose and take photos of Fitzroy's spectacular jumps at the same time, but my images cannot possibly hope to convey the intellectual rage of my dear dog.

A jet of water emerging from a hose looks like a tangible thing... and yet it seems to evaporate into thin wet air as soon as you attempt to grasp it. Maybe it's a matter of adjusting one's angle of attack, even in mid-air.

Fitzroy's determination to solve this problem knows no bounds... apart from his own, which are truly superb.

I would never dare attempt to explain to my dog the curious physical nature of liquids, because he has clearly discovered these mysteries all on his own. I prefer to leave Fitzroy with his permanent determination to catch the Snark one of these days. Others might wait for Godot. Meanwhile, Fitzroy jumps.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reaching my blog

A site meter incorporated in my blog tells me the paths by which users have found Antipodes. Often, I'm greatly amused by the terms that people use in search engines prior to being directed to my blog. Guys searching for soft porn have often been directed to my blog posts here and here... which are not even smutty enough to offend a Catholic archbishop. This morning, I was amused to see that an Indian gentleman, having submitted to Ask the single search term "bigdirtyimage", was led to my quite serious blog post entitled Dirty talk [display], which was basically a pretext enabling me to praise the brilliant handling of sexually-explicit language by the Harvard professor Steven Pinker. My Indian reader was surely disappointed.

The Ask search engine used to be called Ask Jeeves. We all know that Reginald Jeeves was a very correct English valet in the P G Wodehouse novels, and he had subtle answers enabling his master—an upper-class chap named Bertie Wooster—to get out of all sorts of nasty predicaments. Intrigued by the Indian fellow's discovery of my blog, I decided to test the Ask device.

Sure enough, surprisingly, my blog post comes up on the first page of links. More surprisingly still, the very first suggestion from Ask is a nice website with flowery rainbow images of a wallpaper variety.

All I can say is that Jeeves, in spite of his unquestionable skills in answering embarrassing questions, seems to have displayed an amazing dearth of intuition concerning what the Indian gentleman was really looking for when he cried out "bigdirtyimage".

US women encouraged to quit the Church

On the occasion of International Women's Day, the US Freedom from Religion Foundation placed a full-page ad in the New York Times encouraging women to escape "from incense-fogged ritual, from ideas uttered long ago by ignorant men, from blind obedience to an illusory religious authority".

Click here to access a jpeg image of the ad (which you must enlarge to read). It ends with an entreaty: "Please, exit en mass."

NOTE: The play on words in the expression "en mass" is amusing and no doubt catchy, but etymologically unfounded. The French words masse (physical mass) and messe (religious ritual) have quite unconnected origins.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Exceptional vision of the valley

Late this afternoon, when I caught sight of extraordinary hues in the valley, I grabbed my Nikon and took the following shot from the bathroom window:

My motivations behind this photo [click to enlarge] were actually a little more complicated, and confused. While opening the bathroom window to take a look at the dogs, I glimpsed the blurry mirror image of the Huillier houses in Châtelus, at the foot of the Cournouze. The two on the right, one superimposed on the other, gave the impression of the presence of a Byzantine chapel with a tower. I realized immediately that the extraordinary reddish light was playing tricks on me.

Spider goats

Spiders are in the news these days. A Japanese professor of chemistry, Shigeyoshi Osaki, who has been studying spider silk for the last 35 years, has succeeded in collecting and processing a sufficient quantity of silk from several hundred Golden Orb spiders to make a set of violin strings. Specialists are most impressed by the mellow timbre of sounds produced by these strings, which can be heard here:

In a quite different domain, there has been a lot of talk these days about the fabulous work in genetic engineering carried out by a US professor of molecular biology, Randy Lewis, whose specialty is the breeding of an exotic creature: the spider goat. At first sight, the concept of a goat that is part spider, biologically speaking, is rather frightening.

But that spectacular image from the Next Nature website [access] is belied by an actual photo of Randy Lewis cuddling one of his spider kids, which look and behave exactly like normal little loveable animals.

Randy Lewis has extracted from spiders the gene for web construction, and then inserted it into the genetic context, in a goat ovule, that concerns lactation. In a nutshell, the female kid born with such a DNA cocktail will produce milk containing strands of the same protein that would be referred to, out in the wide world, as a spider's web.

Before accepting his present position at Utah State University, Randy Lewis had started his research in synthetic biology in Wyoming, where he was once interviewed on the nature and purpose of his activities in the domain of spider goats:

The Guardian in the UK has just published an interesting up-to-date article on this subject [access].

I'm convinced that spider goats might be considered as a spectacular symbol of the vast array of developments that await us in the domain of genetic engineering. An observer might ask: What is the supposed right of scientists such as Randy Lewis to fiddle with the archaic natural biology of an innocent animal such as a goat, and transform its offspring into monsters whose milk is full of spider webs? That kind of question, to my mind, is misguided, if not stupid. There are many excellent reasons behind the goal of learning how to manufacture artificial spider webs. Spider goats would appear to be a plausible approach to meeting this challenge. These weird creatures of modern science, capable of producing in their milk the substance of spider webs, do not appear to suffer in any way whatsoever as a consequence of this research. So, why might we imagine any kind of evil in this domain?

Admittedly, there are lots of question marks, and it would be potentially dangerous to look upon spider goats as if they were ordinary animals. In fact, they remain extraordinary creatures, and researchers are obliged to respect stringent procedures for isolating these animals from ordinary farmyard goats. For example, it would be unthinkable, for the moment, to produce a new variety of cheese based upon the milk of spider goats. Researchers in genetic engineering realize that, like Prometheus, they would appear to be intent upon stealing the secrets of fire, as it were, from the gods. So, they must be constantly careful, in all that they do. However they've finally learned enough about the mysteries of creation and evolution to be able to communicate with the gods on a peer-to-peer basis.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cartier panther roams the globe

Cartier spent four million euros on a short film, which took two years to make, to celebrate the 165th anniversary of the prestigious French jewelry firm. During the night, a panther, Cartier's emblem, breaks loose from the jewelry object in which it was enclosed, in the Grand Palais in Paris.

The animal travels through fabulous landscapes in exotic faraway lands. We see the panther skimming across the snow in the company of a horse-drawn sleigh. Then it wanders along the Great Wall of China. On the way home, it visits the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, and hops aboard an archaic aircraft headed for Paris. Finally, the panther finds its way to the Place Vendôme, where the headquarters of Cartier are located. And a glamorous Carole Bouquet leads the animal back into its home.

There's a YouTube version of this amazing video:

You can also visit the Cartier website [access] to see a full-screen display of the movie.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My geographical location

Readers of Antipodes must wonder at times where I actually live. So, here's a helpful map, which provides you with clear indications concerning my whereabouts.

As you can see, I live in a land that is covered in castles of all kinds. In fact, my humble house at Gamone is one of the rare edifices in France that cannot rightly by designated as a castle... but that doesn't bother me; I've never been a snob.

Down in the middle of the lower section of the map, you can see a double-spired castle representing Marseille (Marceille), just below a sign indicating Provence (Provincia). To the west, you can see clearly the delta of the river Rhône (Rodannis), which moves in a northerly direction to Avignon and then Valence. Between these two cities, an unidentified river (maybe the Drôme) flows down from the Alps. Besides, the map identifies this region as the Dauphiné. Just to the north of Valence, a big reddish blob on the right bank of the Rhône indicates the position of an unnamed city: Romans. At this point, a major tributary of the Rhône flows down in an oblique direction from the Alps. This, of course, is the Isère. And, beneath this river, the mapmaker has drawn a series of four mountains. The one on the left designates the Vercors mountain range. And, once you've reached that area, you'll be able to find me easily by asking directions from any of the neighboring castle-owners, since they all know me. Simply mention "the Australian with two dogs and two donkeys".

This map is part of a collection whose title is Universal Cosmography, created in the middle of the 16th century by a cultivated French navigator and part-time pirate (friend of Francis Drake) named Guillaume Le Testu [1509-1572]. Click here to access this fabulous publication on the Gallica website (emanation of the Bibliothèque nationale de France).

Here's another Le Testu map, in which he evokes the existence of a great southern continent, referred to as Terra Australis:

Let us listen to Le Testu himself on the subject of this mysterious southern land, the future Australia (which would be discovered officially, two and a half centuries after Le Testu, by James Cook):
This Land is part of the so-called Terra Australis, to us Unknown, so that which is marked herein is only from Imagination and uncertain opinion; for some say that La Grant Jave [Java Major] which is the eastern Coast of it is the same land of which the western Coast forms the Strait of Magellan, and that all of this land is joined together... This Part is the same Land of the south called Austral, which has never yet been discovered, for there is no account of anyone having yet found it, and therefore nothing has been remarked of it but from Imagination. I have not been able to describe any of its resources, and for this reason I leave speaking further of it until more ample discovery has been made, and as much as I have written and annoted names to several of its capes this has only been to align the pieces depicted herein to the views of others and also so that those who navigate there be on their guard when they are of opinion that they are approaching the said Land...
Is there a case for considering Guillaume Le Testu as the authentic discoverer of Australia? I like to think, at times, that the Frenchman deserves this honor. It seems clear to me that he must have been in close contact with the northern coastline of Australia at one time or another, maybe through hearsay, otherwise he would not have referred so explicitly to the southern continent in his maps and the texts attached to his maps. Admiring Le Testu's attention to details in his map of France, I refuse to believe that the same navigator would have simply got carried away by pure fantasy in the case of the Terra Australis hypothesis. On the other hand, Le Testu insists upon the fact (in the above excerpt) that Terra Australis remained "unknown", and he certainly hasn't left us the least map fragment that clearly evokes any part of the Australian coastline. So, we can be sure of nothing.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

New lesbian in heaven

This morning, I accomplished my good Mormon deed of the day. I accessed a recently-created website,, that enables kindhearted Internet users such as me to perform a worthy miraculous act. First, I requested that they select for me, automatically, a deceased Mormon... which they did, instantly.

The website supplied me with the name of a dead person about whom I know absolutely nothing... apart from the fact that the individual in question was no doubt a female (since the person's name is Jennifer Lee), and that she was apparently Mormon. I also know nothing whatsoever concerning the actual circumstances in which Jennifer Lee became a baptized member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Was she born that way, or has somebody transported her soul posthumously into the community? Regardless of my substantial ignorance concerning the dead Mormon with whom I was dealing, I acted swiftly. I clicked the conversion button... and the late Jennifer Lee was transformed instantly into a lesbian. All I can hope for now is that she'll run into a host of nice hot female friends up there in the celestial Mitt Romney Land.

I've just heard on the US news that the Republican's wife Ann claims: "I don't even consider myself wealthy." Jeez, that sentiment worries me. I hope that Jennifer is not trying to screw up my conversion operation by running around up there and telling all the angels: "I don't even consider myself gay." Is it possible that there might be leftover bugs in the conversion software?

BREAKING NEWS: I was disgusted, this morning, to learn that zealous Mormons have wittingly offended countless members and friends of the Jewish community by daring to baptize the Holocaust martyr Anne Frank into their crazy sect.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Say cheese

Living in France, one ends up acquiring a taste for particular varieties of cheese, and usually settling upon a group of favorites. As I've often said in this blog, it could hardly be otherwise for somebody like me who's settled not far from St Marcellin. For some time, I've narrowed down my all-time favorites to three varieties: one made with cows' milk, and the other two with sheep's milk.

In view of its round shape and orange color, mimolette might appear to be a Dutch cheese. In fact, it's a traditional product from the region of Lille in the north of France. The name "mimolette" is a corrupted derivative of the French adjective mollet that designates the soft texture, say, of a soft-boiled egg. It's a fact that the dull three-months-old cheese is of an unpleasant plastic nature. A year later, it has evolved into a hard tasty product with the texture of white milk chocolate. The orange color comes from a natural colorant, achiote, which is the same agent that is used in English cheddar. As for the hard crust of mimolette, its curious moonlike aspect is obtained—believe it or not—by the intentional inoculation of flour mites... which also enhance the flavor of the cheese. [I've no doubt said enough, there, to turn my Australian and American readers off mimolette forever! Incidentally, mimolette is imported into Australia by wholesalers named European Foods, whose elegant website can be accessed by clicking here.]

World-renowned Roquefort is an ancient blue cheese made from ewes' milk, which is produced in a limited region of south-west France, in the Aveyron department. Although milk is collected from many farms in the vicinity, the actual ripening of Roquefort is carried out exclusively  in the tiny village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, in the caves of Mont Combalou, whose fissured rock walls give rise to a unique system of natural ventilation.

Finally, my personal cheese champion of champions is Ossau-Iraty, also made from ewes' milk, produced in south-west France at the foot of the Pyrénées. In the name of the cheese, Ossau designates a mountain in the Béarn province, whereas Iraty is a forest in the French Basque region, and these two landmarks delimit the official territory in which this cheese is produced. The environment looks much like this:

Over the last few years, I've acquired a taste for this extraordinary smooth cheese, whose milky flavor has an indescribable nutty redolence. Here's a slice I bought yesterday at the local supermarket:

I've often talked about this cheese with people in shops, because I've never understand why such a fabulous product seems to remain relatively unknown. This morning, I was thrilled to discover that, in Britain recently, Ossau-Iraty was crowned the 2011 world champion cheese. Click here to access the relevant page of the Guild of Fine Food.