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American-born travel journalist and guidebook author Heather Stimmler-Hall created the Secrets of Paris in 1999 to share the hidden side of the City of Light. Discover what you've been missing:

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Calendar of Paris Events

Through February 27
The 100% Packaging-Free Organic Pop-Up store by BioCoop, originally just slated to run through COP21, has been such a success that it's not extended through the end of February.  There are over 250 itiems available in bulk, including produce, fresh bread, dairy (butter, yogurt and cheese), fresh ground coffee, nut butters, and other items, 20% from local sources. If you don't bring your own reusable glass jars and other containers you can buy them at the shop. At 14 rue du Châteu d'Eau, 10th, open 10am-8pm Mon-Sat. 

December 1 - January 31
Skate on the Eiffel Tower! This year the ice skating rink on the first level of the Eiffel Tower is back, free for those who already have a ticket for the Tower, open daily 10:30am-10:30pm. Skip the line by taking the stairs, it will help you warm up, too! Skates size 25-47 (EU), sleds and scooters for kids, gloves are required. This year's theme is COP21, so expect to see an eco-friendly decor.

Through February 28
Bartabas' Zingaro shows combine equestrian theatre, dance, world music, poetry and many other disciplines. After having pounded the ground of his Théâtre Equestre Zingaro for more than a quarter of a century, Bartabas is now tackling the skies with his new show "They shoot angels, don't they? (elegies)". Get your tickets €42-50 at FNAC

Click here to see the full calendar of events...

Secrets of Paris gives 10% of all tour fees to the French food bank, Les Restos du Coeur

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La Vache Qui Rit...know why she's laughing? 

On my first flight to France 15 years ago, a little foiled triangle of Vache Qui Rit cheese was included with our meal. Of course, being pretty clueless, I thought it was hilarious that they had translated it directly from "The Laughing Cow" into French (it wouldn't be the last time I realized it was the other way around). But aside from knowing it was a soft cheese without any "white stuff" surrounding it, like the mini-camembert I couldn't quite eat yet, I never really knew anything about La Vache Qui Rit.

As I integrated into French life, I learned that it wasn't culturally cool to eat "industrialized" cheese, as my Parisian roommate called it (at that time, I had actually thought myself pretty evolved because I ate Caprices des Dieux, spread on a baguette with butter, "white stuff" and all). But it's never too late to learn something new, and today I finally discovered the fascinating and illustrious past of La Vache Qui Rit.

So I was browsing the old military artifacts in the lobby of the Service Historique de la Défense at the Château de Vincennes (military archives...yes, this is how I spend my free time). Between old medals, portraits of generals, and a few old canons was a small glass display where, from across the room, I could see what looked like an old box of La Vache Qui Rit. Thinking I could make a Spam-related army food joke, I went over to have a closer look.

It turns out that the original laughing cow was thought up by a well-known cartoonist Benjamin Rabier when he was serving as an officer in the military during World War One. He painted a laughing cow on the trucks transporting the soldiers' meat rations along with the word "Wachkyrie", which was supposedly to poke fun at the Germans' own supplies trucks that were decorated with the mythical Walkyries of Norse legend (popularized in Germany by Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries").

Said in French, "Wachkyrie" sounds like "Vache Qui Rit", which seemed to amuse the other French soldiers, including a certain young dairy farmer, Léon Bel. In fact, he like it so much that in 1921 he asked Rabier to draw him a new version specifically for his newly created soft cheese, La Vache Qui Rit. Rabier gave the original cow a new red coat and little cheese box earrings, et voila, the laughing cow was born.

Another interesting fact: La Vache Qui Rit was one of the very first trademarked cheeses in France (16 April 1921), since up until then most cheeses were still made by small dairy farmers and artisans.

La Vache Qui Rit is made with a mixture of different cheeses, including Emmental, Comté, and Gouda. Vegetarians will be happy to note that it does not contain any pork fat like so many other cheeses (in fact, it only has milk fat in it, making it one of the only Hallal-certified industrial cheeses in France).

So how does the laughing cow keep generation after generation of kids interested in eating those little triangular cheeses? With a new "look" of course. Check out the latest commercial, with a shameless remake of the Philippe Katerine song 100% VIP (warning, this stupid song will be stuck in your head all day):

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Reader Comments (17)

Oh, I used to love vache qui rit as a kid! We actually called it that, because my mom lived in France for a year and I guess the name stuck in her head. It was many years before I realized that the words had meaning beyond "cheese wrapped in triangles of foil."
October 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCamille
Great story and SO GLAD to hear that you spend at least a little bit of your time here in the Chateau de Vincennes! The one thing I have never seen you comment on is the America Festival that takes place every year in Vincennes, usually in Septemer. I always seem to miss it cos I am usually away at that time, but it includes all of the Americas - North, Central, and South - and authors, films, and books from a variety of countries. Pretty interesting. :)
October 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTina
Hi Tina, I always miss that, too. This year I even had planned on going and ended up in bed nursing a cold instead. C'est la vie....but I think I'll be out in Vincennes more often. So many cute men in uniform walking around!
(FYI: for those who don't know, there's still a military fort on the grounds).
October 25, 2010 | Registered CommenterHeather Stimmler-Hall
How perfectly odd that the Historique de la Défense is in fact at the Chateau de Vincennes.
October 25, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrhoderic
Fascinating, thanks for filling in all that background!

La Vache is so essential at our house that we have to buy the "high rise" wheels from Costco!
October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBruce
Pork fat in industrial cheese, so happy to know about this so that I'm careful. Thanks for the great history!
October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZahra
I love the new Queso Fresco and Chipotle flavor - it finally tastes like something!
October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFallout Girl
Loved the post, the history is SO interesting. I am a sworn francophone who loves cheese, especially French cheeses but that doesn't keep me from eating La Vache Qui Rit also, I like the taste much to my French husband's dismay!
October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAndi
I love it myself. It makes an easy snack to put out for parties too.
October 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLinda
La Vache is very important at our house that we have to buy the "high rise" wheels
October 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMuebles de cocina.

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