Friday, May 7, 2010

Spanish strawberries and Norman dairy products

A few days ago, a short break in the wet weather gave me a chance to remove as many weeds as possible from my strawberry patch.

The bushes appear to be quite vigorous, so the yield should be good… like last year. But there won't be any strawberries for a while yet. Meanwhile, I couldn't resist the temptation of buying 2 kilos of giant Spanish strawberries at St-Marcellin this morning.

As expected, they're too big to be particularly tasty. One has the impression that they're full of water, and not very sweet. But they're refreshing, a little like eating freshly-picked fruit that hasn't yet been warmed up by the sun.

Last night, there was an interesting TV documentary about the phenomenon of butter in France. Often, I think back to the excellent butter that was produced in the Grafton area when I was a kid. At our annual agricultural fair, called "the show", private producers submitted their butter for judging. I recall fondly the view of lines of wooden boxes, full of dark cream butter, neatly labeled on handwritten cards with the names and addresses of producers, along with a mention of any prize they had won. The lid of each box was removed, allowing visitors to admire the producer's name and logo, embossed on the surface of the butter, with a patched-up wound where samples had been removed for the tasting and judging. As a kid, I liked butter, but I still couldn't imagine how people would actually judge the respective qualities of all these specimens. Funnily, I still remember that the contents of a box of butter weighed exactly 56 pounds. (I think we must have learned that at school.) There don't seem to be any good photos of Australian butter boxes on the web, but here's a Canadian model, which appears to be identical to those of my childhood.

In yesterday's TV program on French butter, a producer belonging to a cooperative named Isigny Sainte-Mère, in the Norman town of Isigny-sur-Mer [display website], went into a euphoric state when he learned that their butter had been awarded the first prize. This morning, out of curiosity (but no doubt with childhood recollections of Grafton's agricultural fair in my mind), I bought a small block of Isigny butter.

Recalling that I had just bought a box of strawberries, I also reached for a jar of Isigny cream.

As you might gather, I'm a compulsive consumer when it comes to foodstuffs. But those dairy products from the cooperative of Isigny Sainte-Mère are indeed delicious.


  1. This granddaughter and gr-granddau of American dairy farmers who supplied their small town with milk and butter from the 1880s thru the 1930s is just plain embarrassed to admit that I have NO idea how their butter was packaged!

    I certainly don't remember seeing any wooden boxes like the one pictured here, only that one of my mother's tasks as a child was to add a capsule of yellow coloring toward the end of each churning.

  2. My uncles were dairy farmers in South Grafton, New South Wales, and I grew up in a house that was just across the road from their farm. When I was a kid, they still milked the cows manually, and I was able to learn that art. My uncles used a centrifuge machine to separate out the cream, which was poured into metal containers. These were picked up by a truck that did the rounds of all the local dairy farms, and the cream was processed (transformed mainly into butter) at a cooperative. The part of the milk that remained after the extraction of the cream was used on the farm to feed pigs.

    I have the impression that the wooden butter boxes and quality awards had become a once-a-year affair, just for the agricultural fair, and purely for prestige reasons.

    Hey, that capsule of yellow coloring sounds a bit dodgy, no?

  3. Now that you mention it, having to add coloring to butter DOES sound a bit dodgy. Can't imagine why there was a need. The cows grazed in pastures beyond the milking barn, therefore ate grass same as cows on any farm. Hmmmmm....

    My ggf, and later my gf, delivered milk and butter in a horse-drawn wagon to homes all over town beginning at dawn each day, year round. The milk would be transferred into a customer's containers from a large metal can ("milk jug"). At some point, a truck (lorry) replaced the wagon.