The defeated Coq au vin


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I have to admit that I have not eaten a lot of coq au vin in my life and have never cooked one. I am a philistine I know, and I should remedy this one day. It is not that I have not cooked stews before. I love cooking a good Steak and Guinness stew, or a boeuf Bourguignon. I love the slow process in which the hard meat gets tender, and the sauce gets thicker and more flavorful as the hours pass, and then suddenly it all comes together and tastes wonderful. Yet Coq au Vin has been curiously absent from my culinary field of action, it somehow feels to me like the kind of food you should eat at a restaurant but not make at home, in my fuzzy brain it has been categorized that way.

Now Coq au vin sounds to me like one of the most French dishes ever, mixing wine, a quintessential French drink, and cockerel. The cockerel being the French emblem, because as I heard it said in France, it will still crow even when standing with his feet deep in the shit, which is somehow a reflection on France’s history and diplomatic posture.


Cocorico!!! Errr I mean don’t drown me in wine.

I just read a story about the invention of the Coq au vin in one of my cookbooks (just browsing, you know, never thought of cooking one, as I explained). And I thought it was a good story so I shall share it.

Around 50 BC, Gaul (i.e., more or less modern-day France) was conquered by the Romans, led by Julius Caesar. During a particularly long siege somewhere in modern-day Auvergne, the encircled Gauls, as Caesar hoped, were starving. However, if the Romans hoped that this would make them capitulate, they had done a slight miscalculation. The leader of the Gauls, to show that their spirits were not broken, sent to Caesar an old and famished cockerel, who despite his ragged appearance was still fighting like a young and fit cock.

The next day Caesar proposed a small truce and invited the Gaul leader for dinner. There he served him a bird drowning in a rich dark sauce. When the Gaul enquired as to what that succulent dish was, Caesar explained that this was his cockerel, which was marinated and then slow cooked in wine.

Now wine at the time was mainly a Roman drink, the Gauls were mainly producing and drinking a type of beer called Cervoise. So drowning the Cockerel in wine was very symbolic.

After Caesar conquered Gaul, all the Gauls got nicely assimilated and became what is known as Gallo-Romans. They started producing wine and, not unlike the Cockerel in the story, blended deliciously into the Roman way of life.

It’s a nice story but (after a bit more research) unfortunately most likely invented in the XIX century and apparently first published in a feminist newspaper called “La Fronde”. Why a feminist newspaper would want to publish an article about a cock that drowns in wine is beyond me.


Laughing Valkyri


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Today we are going to reach gastronomical heights again. Today is an homage to industrial cheese and specifically to the Laughing Cow.laughingcow

I like the loving cow and there have been times when I laughed at it. Obviously as a kid the Laughing Cow was great. Honestly, a red laughing cow, how could one not like that. On top of it, its rich creaminess felt very satisfying and comforting.

Later as an adult, the laughing cow kind of escaped my radar. But there has been one time when I worshipped the Laughing Cow. The good thing about Laughing Cow is that along with Coca Cola and Pringles it seems to be available all over the world. I even found some while travelling in the Stans, you know Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Absurdistan and so forth. My worst memory from the Stans was having two solid (or should I say liquid) weeks of severe Tourista. This is when I was mighty happy to find my secure and safe to eat Laughing Cow!!! Laughing Cow on Pringles may not seem to you like a gastronomical delight but washed down with some lukewarm coke it was the best thing in the world. Laughing Cow saved my life and it is worth me worshipping it for it. Strangely enough, even though I still can eat Laughing Cow today, I find Pringles absolutely disgusting now.

The Laughing Cow also has an interesting background. During the First World War, Leon Bel, a Comte cheesemonger, was serving in a supply regiment of the French army whose logo, painted on the supply trucks, was a laughing cow. This laughing cow was called the Wachkyri (pronounced Vache qui rit, or ‘laughing cow’) as it looked awfully similar to Richard Wagner’s Valkyries. It was therefore meant as a piss-taking logo against one of the cultural emblems of Germany.

Later when Leon Bel invented his melted cheese he reused the logo of his old regiment. And it was a marketing masterstroke. And in case you wonder, Babybel is made by the same company. These guys are geniuses.

In Germany it would be funny if the Laughing Cow was sold as la Wachkyri but it is sold as Die Lachende Kuh… disappointing.







Sweet dreams are made of cheese (2)

Sweet dreams are indeed made of cheese and not the stuff of nightmares according to the following article.


“Overall, this study suggests that in changing the levels of tryptophan, cheese can assist in improving our mood and help to promote a good night’s sleep.”

I have never met a Tryptophan is, but if it is in cheese it can only be good.


A slice of cheese…


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I have now sold cheese as a cheesemonger in three different European countries: the UK, France and now Germany. Which apart from helping me brush up my language skills has also helped me realise that just as the single ingredient milk produces thousands of different types of cheeses, the love of cheese produces a thousand different types of customers. In Berlin so far my small experience tells me that most blue cheeses and strong smelly and gooey cheeses are harder to sell than in France or the UK. The one thing though which is striking here is how many people would like their cheese to be sliced. If they do not want it sliced then they want weird cuts because, as they put it, “How am I supposed to put it on my bread otherwise?” (Ah Germans and their bread).

Now one might not see it as an issue, I however have issues with it.

Firstly, slicing cheese takes time, and if there is a queue behind you, it feels slightly impolite towards the other cheese buyers to waste their time. (You certainly have a knife at home and can slice it yourself).

Secondly, your cheese will stay fresher and will not dry as quickly if you buy it whole rather than sliced. DO NOT DISRESPECT OUR CHEESES. #

Thirdly, in case you haven’t noticed, cheese wheels come in a round shape, but people would like square or rectangular shaped slices. Now it is possible to get those nice slices but that means that you have to destroy your cheese/rind ratio. Basically customers asking for sliced cheese will get a good cheese rind ratio (i.e., less rind and more cheese) and leave other customers with a worse cheese/rind ratio. If that does not make sense ask somebody with a geometry degree to explain it to you. Anyhow, that offends my French sense of equality and my German sense of order. Aaahhh it felt good to let this out of my chest.

Oh yes and I forgot fourthly, my wife keeps on buying sliced cheese in supermarkets, she finds it handy… Aaaarggghhhh the things you accept for love. And sometimes (but let’s keep it a secret) I admit that I have bought sliced cheese in supermarkets too. I then have to look around guiltily and make sure nobody recognised me. But this cheese is not for me, I swear my wife and kid made me do it. OK I admit I ate some too. Oh my dear Cheesus, please forgive me because I have sinned and have bought you packed and sliced, and then (h)ate you.


Pieces of evidence.

In the next episode of “How I betrayed Cheesus”, I will tell you of the time I ate babybel and enjoyed it.


My cheese is dead



This cheese is not dead he just smells a bit stronger.


It’s not from me. But I have no idea where I heard it first so I can’t credit properly.


The East German Gherkin


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As I now live in Berlin, I had to rewatch Goodbye Lenin. In that movie the main protagonist, played by Daniel Brühl, is desperately trying to find some Spreewalder Gherkins for his sick mother. Now Gherkins are a delicious healthy food, low in calories and full of vitamin C, but that is not why Daniel is trying to find Gherkins for his sick mother. He does not believe Gherkins have miraculous healing powers…


Hunt for the Red Gherkin

No his mother falls in a coma in East Berlin before the Berlin Wall falls and wakes up after. To avoid submitting his mother to any shock which may be deadly in her condition, he keeps an ideal version of East Germany alive in his apartment. That includes Spreewälder Gurken, which were a big delicacy in East Germany. However like a lot of things from East Germany they became instantly nearly unavailable and outdated once the wall fell, and western goods flooded the stores behind the iron curtain. So our poor Daniel desperately tries to find those Gherkins for his mother. Rest assured the Gherkin hunt is just a subplot of the movie and not the main story of the movie, as you might conclude if you just listened to me.

Anyhow being easily influenced, the next day I had a big craving for firm crispy sour Gherkins. (No sexual connotations attached to this statement. No really none at all you pervs). To my astonishment Spreewälder Gherkins are now to be found everywhere in Berlin stores. They are even now granted Protected Geographical Indication from the EU, recognising the special quality of the soil and climate of the place these Gherkins come from. These Gherkins are grown south of Berlin in the Brandenburg Land (region) and have a history that pre-dates the GDR as they have been cultivated there since at least the 16-17th century.

They are delicious crisp and firm and can be sweet sour or spicy depending on how they are prepared. They are an ideal companion to the German Abendbrot and pairs well with other German comfort foods such as beer, cut meat, German bread, or the only cheese from the Spreewald I have ever eaten, the Schloßkäse, and thus I leave you on a cheesy note as it should be.


The Jean-Paul Sartre Cookbook


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I find myself trying ever more radical interpretations of traditional dishes, in an effort to somehow express the void I feel so acutely. Today I tried this recipe:

Tuna Casserole

Ingredients: 1 large casserole dish

Place the casserole dish in a cold oven. Place a chair facing the oven and sit in it forever. Think about how hungry you are. When night falls, do not turn on the light.

While a void is expressed in this recipe, I am struck by its inapplicability to the bourgeois lifestyle. How can the eater recognize that the food denied him is a tuna casserole and not some other dish? I am becoming more and more frustrated.

An extract from the “Jean Paul Sartre Cookbook”, a great parody. For more take a look at the following websites: Explore and  Pvspade.


How Not to Eat Baguette in France


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It seems crazy indeed, but it is actually very easy to have trouble finding a good baguette in France. All you have to do is come in August in a non-touristic area, and you will notice that all the bakeries (and for that matter all independent stores and restaurants) have a sign saying that they are on holiday.

And holiday here really means leaving for at least 3 weeks it seems.

My baguette is gone on holiday.

My baguette is gone on holiday.

So in the meantime you have to walk much further away to get a baguette, but walking more than 15 minutes to get a proper baguette in France seems criminal to me. Alternatively you can starve, or be French and go on holiday yourself to a place where bakeries are open. I went through a mixture of all three solutions.

My local bakery opens again this week and I am very excited indeed. Finally my cheese will see its best friend again. Toast and biscotte are ok, but nothing beats a crispy baguette.

It seems only fair though that baguettes are not available due to nice labor laws allowing for long holidays, when you consider that according to legend labor laws made the creation of baguettes possible.

In 1920, a labor law forbade bakers to start working before 4am. Great for the bakery employees, but terrible for bread, as bakers now didn’t have time enough left to bake the classic round loaves in time for breakfast. So clever bakers started to bake baguettes, which take much less time to raise and bake.

Labor laws helped create a French cultural icon, and then took it away from me last month. Now that’s ironic.


France’s flag made from Blue cheese, brie and grapes.


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For flags from other countries follow this link.


My Favourite Food Patron Saints


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Saints in Roman times and the Middle Ages had great stories attached to them. Here are some of my favourite food patron saints.

Saint Lawrence was a Deacon of Rome in 258, a time when Christians were not really venerated in the eternal city. He made the mistake of distributing riches to the poor. This attracted the attention of the Roman emperor, who ordered him to hand over those riches to him. Lawrence, who was actively looking for martyrdom, presented some beggars, crippled, orphans etc., to the emperor, saying that these were the greatest treasures of the Church. This pissed off the emperor just a tiny bit, so he decided to kill Lawrence by grilling him above some nice hot charcoal. After being grilled for a while Saint Lawrence was nicely burned, but had one last witty remark in store: “This side is nicely burned, you can now turn me over and then eat.”

This judicious culinary remark makes him, ironically, the patron saint of cooks and broilers.

Saint Corentin of Quimper was one of the founding saints of Brittany. He used to live as a hermit, and while these days in France being a hermit makes you an antisocial freak, in those days it helped you become the first bishop of Quimper. While a hermit, he used to eat fish every day, thanks to a miraculously self-generating fish that appeared to him daily in a fountain. He used to cut off a small bit and then release the fish; it would regrow and come back the next day.

Obviously that makes him the patron saint of seafood.

Saint Fortunat and Sainte Radegonde. Fortunat was a poet and a bon vivant, who ended up becoming the chaplain of Radegonde’s monastery. She used to cook food for him, and he praised her cooking in his poems. He is known to have said, “There is no more sincere love, than the love of good food.” Now that remark is only a sin if stating the obvious is a sin.

Saint Fortunat and Sainte Radegonde are the patron saints of gastronomes, probably absolving them of their over-joyous love of good food and life.

The patron saint of cheesemongers is Saint Uguzon. He was a shepherd in Italy who used to happily give away his cheese to less fortunate people. Unfortunately his boss saw this as an annoying anti-capitalist habit and killed him. Bosses are harder to please than God sometimes.

My patron saint conclusion is that Our Lord Cheesus wants you to share, loves life and food, and has a sense of humour even in tough times!