Pièces Montées: Edible Architectures

For the French, every meal is treated like a ceremony. It starts with an appetizer and ends with a digestif. But before moving on to sweet, a cheese plate with Camembert, Comté, Pont-l’Evêque and other fragrant cheeses of all kinds, colors and shapes is served to guests. At the French table, every meal is concluded with the traditional trilogy of wine, bread and cheese. It is a tradition that has been part of the culture for generations.

Pièces montées are an anthem to French gastronomy. These cakes are symbols of various aspects of French patrimony and honor diversity of culture. Antonin Carême, the creator, is an important gure of gastronomy in France’s national history. This whimsical pastry chef mastered architecture as well as baking. Carême invented the pièce montée cake in the 19th century, in his rst shop Rue de la Paix, called La Pâtisserie (the bakery). He created a culinary object fashioned like an architectural masterpiece, including shapes inspired by solid stone constructions, made from sugar, nougat, almond paste and meringues.

With an original series, the graphic designers Ich&Kar and the photographer Jean-Jacques Pallot pay homage to this French patrimony. They deliberately take pièces montées cakes away from purpose as a sweet dessert and bring them into the world of cheese. Gastronomy and art thus become one. Pièces montées show adoration and respect to the art of cheesemaking, evocative of timeless tradition, artisanal know-how and distinctive culture.


The traditional French wedding cake is called a « pièce montée ». The stacking of small cakes, topped with a miniature bride and groom, makes this monumental pastry the centre of attention. Clearly inspired by architectural shapes, the classic pièce montée is made of stacked cream puffs. The size of this festive pyramid often refects the grandeur of the wedding. This « croquembouche » created by renowned pastry chef Antonin Carême in the 19th century, was originally a mound of cherries, orange segments, walnuts and candied chestnuts glued together with caramel. A century later, these fruits and nuts were replaced by pastry. Two hundred years after Carême, in the style of Ich&Kar, there exists a new kind of pièce montée, built with forty Gaperons – cheese balls made from raw milk and avored with garlic and pepper – which, coincidentally, look like small cream puffs ecked with icing sugar.


In 1516, Leonardo da Vinci moved to the city of Ambroise to start working on building the most atypical French castle: Chambord. The architect commissioned by King François the 1st died three years after beginning the project, only twelve months after breaking ground. All he left was a castle on paper, except he had enough time to develop the idea of a central staircase, which was the only part of the design kept by Leonardo da Vinci. This illusory and quirky spiral has become a reference for staircases in ascending and descending architecture. The shape of Comté works perfectly for this idea and also brings to mind the DNA helix. This 3D rendering of a Maurits Cornelis Escher’s delusion makes us want to spontaneously devour it.


An act of defiance against the consumer culture, l’Arte Povera movement was born at the end of the sixties. The movement is a spiritual one, even if the materials used are considered by most to be garbage. Artists began using completely natural, unrefined, or discarded objects; art made from “nothing”. A mix between the natural and the cultural, fermentation and mold, methods and traditions; this Povera of Camembert, Chaource et Brillat-Savarin is simply a pile of supple, soft cheeses with creamy centers. Si- milar to Salvador Dali’s Melting Watch (which he is rumored to have created after enjoying a particularly delicious Camembert), these mini stacks are powerless under the excessive weight of cream and fat. The soft cheeses melt together in a beautiful and unexpected shape, finally fusing to create a form that is completely organic. A veritable pièce montée, creamy, soft and vivacious; it’s an expression of the unique sensuality of cheese.


It might be hip to be square, but not if you’re talking about cheese. Rarely rectangular, this French delicacy (of which there are 1,200 different varieties) is usually circular or cylindrical. We consistently transform these curves into angles, cutting them into shapes with right angles – squares, rectangles, triangles – making slicing and eating them easier. The master cheesemonger is like a designer whose focus is on form and function, and his cheese board becomes an ode to constructivism, bringing it ever closer to the world of architecture. The 1919 Bauhaus manifesto proclaimed: “The building is the ultimate goal of all ne art!” Each wheel of cheese echoes this sentiment. In place of the Legos or Lincoln Logs of our youth, on our plates we can create our own structures made of avors, shapes and colors with pieces of cheese, stacking cubes, rectangles or slices into exceptional towering buildings.