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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:

* Custom Travel Content 
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Read more about the Secrets of Paris here


Calendar of Paris Events

Book NOW for September 5-6
The American Church of Paris is hosting A Prarie Home Companion radion show with Garrison Keillor for two dates, September 5th at 8pm and September 6th at 4pm. Tickets are €31, book as soon as possible, space is limited.

Through August 24
The Paris Fun Fair (Fête Foraine) is open in the Tuileries (Louvre Gardens), daily 11am-11:45pm (until 12:45am on Friday and Saturday). Free entrance, but you’ll need to buy tickets for each ride on the usual carnival attractions, or have cash for cotton candy and the games where you can win prizes. The Ferris Wheel has excellent views over Paris! 

Through August 24
The annual Open-Air Cinema Festival takes place Wed-Sun nights at the Parc de la Villette's Triangle Prairie (M° Porte de Pantin), starting at sunset (around 10pm), free entry. This year's theme is Adolescence, including films such as Moonrise Kingdom, Scream 4, and American Graffiti.

Through August 31
Between the Lines and the Trenches, a very intimate collection of personal letters, notebooks and photos from the trenches, many never published before. At the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts (222 Boulevard Saint-Germain), through August 31st, entry €7.

CLICK HERE FOR THE FULL CALENDAR

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

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Monday
Oct252010

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 (16)

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.
-rh.
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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