Maroilles, or the Forbidden Cheese

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I bet you can smell me through the screen.

I bet you can smell me through the screen.

Some cheeses are just too good to be true, and one of them is Maroilles. It’s a cow’s milk cheese, it has a washed rind, a nice gooey texture, and it smells… Oh yes, it smells…

Leave it for a couple of hours in your fridge. Wait until your wife/husband opens the fridge — and you will then realize it’s too late. Maroilles will be banned from the fridge, and you will be forced to eat it very quickly or else be banned from the house along with your stinky cheese. Saying it is not stinky but merely smelly won’t help you at that stage.

This sad story is unfortunately true, as it happened to me.

But I still got to eat my Maroilles, so the story has a happy ending.

My wife is obviously not from the north of France, where this cheese was originally created by monks more than a thousand years ago. It is said that inhabitants of the north of France eat it for breakfast, spread on bread which they can dip in their coffee. Now that is hardcore cheese eating. I would drink it with some amber beer and eat it later in the day. That is, if it were allowed to stay with me for so long.

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American Sauce

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My wife was surprised the other day to see a sauce called American sauce. Now what would that be?

It’s a sauce used for lobsters or seafood, made with tomatoes, shallots, lobster stock, white wine and herbs.

But why is it called American?

It was invented in the 19th century by a French chef, Pierre Fraise, who had spent a long time in America. One day some customers came for a late dinner. As he didn’t have a lot left in the kitchen he drew up a quick recipe with some lobsters and a sauce. He called it Le Homard à L’Américaine (American Lobster), probably in memory of his time spent in America, but maybe also to explain to his customers why they’d never heard of such a sauce.

But it seems some chefs might have been a tad unhappy to cook lobster the American way, seeing that for most of them only France had a proper gastronomic culture. So some, either purposefully or not, misheard and started calling it sauce a l’Armoricaine. Armorique refers to the coastal region of Brittany, where you can indeed get a lot of good seafood.

So now you can find the same sauce, under two different names. To be accurate, in Brittany, you should be eating an Armoricaine Lobster a l’Americaine.

French or American? Show me your papers!

French or American? Show me your papers!

Crazy dog

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In England, people rarely feel free to approach and speak to strangers. One exception would be if you are walking a dog, or a baby, in which case strangers think it’s ok to tell you how cute/adorable/lovely etc. they are.

We had a baby — my wife still refers to him as “my baby”, but really he is not one anymore. So we had a baby and he had some plushed animals. One of those animals was a weird looking dog with a too-big eye, a mirror on the belly, hands full of stars, circles, squares, and holding various objects meant to develop the senses of a baby brain. Basically if it felt weird and made noises, our dog would have it.

We lived in Brixton, in London, when our baby was born. Brixton has a vibrant night-life, and if you decided to walk your baby at 6 AM because he wouldn’t sleep any more and you needed to re-energise yourself, you would meet all kinds of people dripping out of clubs, pubs or parties. Maybe it’s what politicians have in mind when they talk about social diversity.

On one of those walks that my wife did, my baby had taken his dog with him. And one of those partygoers, looking way too tired and drugged up, came up to the buggy, looked startled, and in true British fashion commented on… wait for it…. the dog. “Woooaawww that’s a cool dog, man!!!” He then walked away, happy to have met a dog friend. This dog became known to us as the crackhead dog.

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I’m your best friend! Come talk to me!

Limousin

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I just went to the Limousin recently, and here are some pictures of that lovely area in France.

It’s known for its Limousin cows, apples, and a lot of meat-related products (sausages, Boudin, meat and potato bakes). Or so my brother-in-law, who is a butcher there, says…

I highly recommend the area if you like nature walks followed by good comfort food.

Ketchup as part of your five a day!

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I just read the following in an article on Mental floss:

In 1981 the Reagan administration was searching for ways to cut school lunch costs while still providing students with the full nutritious lunch consisting of milk, meat, bread, and two servings of vegetables. USDA bureaucrats hit on the idea of counting ketchup as one of the servings of vegetables under the logic that ketchup was cheap and kid-friendly.

It might be a well-known story for Americans but to Europeans that is quite interesting.

Reagan was probably misunderstood: he just loved children and didn’t want to see them suffer from the evil broccolis and zucchinis. Or maybe it was a long-term strategy to turn children against their parents and convert to Republicanism.
I should never tell my boy this story or he may become a Republican. He loves ketchup a bit too much.

Charlotte’s Beer

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DSCF3888Nantes is not a big beer-producing region, as it’s mainly known for its lovely crisp and earthy Muscadet white wine, which pairs well with the mussels and seafood they are so fond of here.

Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to discover a small micro brewery in Nantes called Charlotte’s beer (Les biéres de Charlotte).

Charlotte makes (last time I checked) 4 beers, which you can buy either on Saturday at the market “place de la Petite Hollande” or at the production site on some days (check Charlotte’s website for more information), and in some local shops.

My favorite of her beers is the “la Carlotta,” which is a strong and full of flavor beer, which you can also drink in some bars including one of our locals, “Fées maisons”.

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Buffalo Mozzarella

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Here is A New York times article by Sam Anderson, explaining why it is bloody complicated to make Buffalo Mozzarella cheese.

Consider, first off, the conditions in Italy, which are basically perfect. Water buffalo have lived in the hills around Naples for around 1,000 years. One Italian cheesemaker told me that the animals first came to Italy when Hannibal used them to carry his war treasure back from Asia — a story that is historically dubious but does manage to capture the cheese’s almost mythic exoticism. After so many centuries of practice, modern Italians have buffalo dairying down to a science: animal genetics, human expertise, farming infrastructure — it’s all in place and perfectly integrated. If you walk into a shop in Naples and ask for mozzarella, you will get a ball of buffalo milk that probably congealed only hours before.

Could there be anything more divinely refreshing on a hot summer day than fresh mozzarella, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, paired with a cool dry rose wine?

Oh and thank you Hannibal for giving me surrealist visions of elephants crossing the Alps, and bringing us Mozzarella.

Brillat-Savarin and cheese

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A dessert without cheese, is like a beautiful one-eyed woman”

“un dessert sans fromage est une belle à qui il manque un oeil

Quote from Brillat-Savarin, author of “The Physiology of Taste” (!9th century).  This book, more than any other since, elevated food and gastronomy as an art form and a way of life.

What a charmer, I would say!!! I can’t help imagining him trying to woo a woman by comparing her to cheese.

Your eyes (both of them) are blue as the veins of a Roquefort, and bedazzle me with their intensity.”

“For a kiss from your fruity lips I’ll gladly wait as long as I do for a Comté to age.”

“So soft and sweet is the touch of  your skin, like a young and fresh Valencay.”

“And with your feet, ripe as Camembert, my cheese platter would be complete

Brillat-Savarin remained unmarried his whole life. I wonder why?

PS: Androuet, a famous french cheesemonger, makes a very good cheese named after Brillat-Savarin.

La belle de Nantes

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Beauty of Nantes

I was leisurely shopping at my big supermarket, mainly to get coke, milk, pasta, canned goods, toilet paper and the like. That particular supermarket has a cheese counter, which is something that gets sadly less and less common in France, as it is easier for supermarkets to sell everything prepacked. So I was there looking at their cheeses, even though I didn’t really need anything, as I had some Tomme, Roquefort, and fresh goat cheese already in my fridge. But I can’t help it! Those little cheeses with their weeping eyes, are begging to be taken away, and I can’t be cruel and leave all of them abandoned, my heart is too weak.

And then I saw her, “La belle de Nantes” (The beauty of Nantes), she looked appealing, local, raw, organic, and yet strangely exotic and unknown to me. I knew this fresh-looking dame would have to be mine. So I grabbed some. And I waited patiently till I got home, then I trembled with excitement as I took my knife, cut a slice and put it in my mouth. Would I be deceived like so many times before or could it be true?

But no, she holds her promises, creamy and melting and yet with strong mature flavors, I was taken and in love.

And because I am not jealous and like to share, here is the website of the producers’ farm, with some nice videos of their cows (in french I am afraid): www.paysansfromagers.fr

I believe they sell their cheese on the farm, so if ever I go there I’ll be sure to let you know.

PS: Note to my wife. This meant nothing!! you are still the big cheese of my heart.