Showing posts with label French foodstuffs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label French foodstuffs. Show all posts

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Precious little bottles marked V and H

Once upon a time, a con man in France made money by flogging little bottles marked V (vinaigre) and H (huile) to naive tourists, telling them that they once belonged to the great writer Victor Hugo.

Concerning vinegar, one might imagine that everything in France that can be said and done is a thing of the past. Imaginative rural sisters in the Beaujolais region, Lucie and Chloé (what charming names!) have demonstrated that there’s still room for innovation in this traditional domain. Using their grandmother’s ancient recipe, they created a new variety of vinegar, and they’ve already put 100,000 nice little bottles of their product onto the market. Several big distribution channels have jumped upon their offer. Also a celebrated French chef in Lyon. To say the least, their business doesn’t really have a bitter taste of vinegar.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Walnuts in syrup

As I said in my recent blog post entitled Green walnuts, black hands [display], my first batch of green walnuts in sweet syrup has been put in jars and sterilized. The 10 or so jars are now labeled, and the product is ready to be eaten. It's a purely token production, of course, of a personal and experimental kind. But it might implicate local professionals in the walnut domain.

Last Sunday at midday, I invited Tineke and Serge around for lunch outside in the shade of my giant linden tree. After a Greek salad with feta, and a vaguely Greek main dish of braised chicken and mushrooms cooked with turmeric and ginger, we finally got around to tasting the walnuts as dessert. I believe I can speak for all three of us in saying that this product is delicious... and somewhat astonishing in that it doesn't seem to resemble any familiar fruit.

It's crunchy, and the walnut's inherent bitterness is replaced by the sweet aromas of cinnamon and cloves in the thick pinkish syrup.

I'm convinced that local restaurants would be capable of promoting this delicacy, if it could be produced in large quantities. An industrial producer of sweet walnuts would need to find ways and means of replacing all the tedious manual steps of my cottage-industry approach (such as peeling and piercing the fruit) by mechanized operations. And various quality-control tests would have to be carried out in a laboratory environment, as required by European laws. That, of course, is the stumbling block. I'm unaware of the existence of imaginative and daring local entrepreneurs who would be prepared to invest in the large-scale production and marketing of this foodstuff.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Everyday Breton meal

Maybe (surely) I've retained far too little, sadly, from my relationship with my Breton ex-wife Christine Mafart... apart from two brilliant offspring, bien entendu : Emmanuelle and François. What I'm trying to say is that I never really got around to appreciating the habits and culture of Christine's native region, Brittany, which has always had, for me, the hues of damp mists, granitic churches and tombstones, ignorance, religious bigotry and dull archaic traditions, dominated by the stupid pride of being Breton. Whatever way I try to adjust myself to that Breton environment, I simply can't convince myself that I might be Celtic (which I probably am, funnily enough, in one way or another). I prefer the mountains, clearcut cliffs and the relative sunshine of south-east France. On the other hand, up until my dying day, I shall regret the fact that nobody in Christine's family environment ever had an opportunity of introducing me, ever so little, even superficially (to whet my appetite) to the fabulous maritime environment of this mythical land... but I would need a second life to change things at that level. (In fact, I discovered sailing much later, briefly, out in Western Australia, in 1986.) Meanwhile, I'm thrilled to see that my son is discovering exactly and profoundly the legendary and marvelous Brittany that escaped me.

Having said that, I hasten to add that I've got into the habit of eating Breton delicacies such as their wonderful buckwheat galettes (de sarrasin in French), and I often have the impression that I could survive indefinitely on this meal, particularly since the galettes have become available in supermarkets everywhere.

On a hot plate, after a dab of butter, you spread out the galette and cover it with an egg, a slice of ham and grated cheese. Salt and pepper.

With a spatule, turn over half the galette to form a crescent.

Turn it over a second time, to brown the other side. Apart from exotic seafood such as crabs, lobsters and St-Jacques seashells, this is no doubt one of the finest and simplest tasty dishes that Brittany has to offer.

And its charm lies in the fact that it's such an everyday preparation, involving no culinary effort whatsoever.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Ambassador's wife is peeved

I nearly said she was pissed off... but "peeved" sounds better for the wife of an ambassador. Everybody has known, for ages, that the secret of the fairy-tale cocktail evenings at the embassy is their silver plates piled high with golden balls of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. In the diplomatic words of embassy people, Ferrero Rocher chocolate balls are a sign of good taste.

And what's upsetting the ambassador's wife? Well, the Italian Ferrero manufacturer has another famous product, Nutella, a chocolate-textured sandwich paste for kids, which is even more popular in France than the golden embassy balls. And French lawmakers and the media have been throwing Nutella into the proverbial fan over the last week, because it contains a high proportion of palm oil, now branded as a detrimental ingredient both from a health viewpoint and for ecological reasons.

Here's an image of the fruit of palm trees in Indonesia:

                                                  — photo ATAR/AFP

The production of these fruit has meant that vast zones of the tropical forest have been destroyed. And these forests have been the home of an endangered species: orangutans.

Over the coming week, French senators will be examining a project aimed at increasing the tax on palm oil from its current level of 98 euros a metric ton to around 400 euros. And the ensuing new revenue would be channeled to the French healthcare system. In the political arena, the project for this massive tax increase is commonly referred to as the Nutella amendment. Most people know by now, because of all the bad press, that Ferrero Rocher chocolate balls and Nutella are manufactured by the same company, Ferrero. So, it's only a matter of time before a smart-arse guest at an embassy party is going to bring up this subject, in the hope of gaining attention:
"Do you realize that the company that produces these delicious chocolate balls feeds French kids with a sandwich paste composed of 20 per cent of palm oil, which leads to obesity and the risk of cardiovascular problems? And the production of palm oil results in the massive destruction of tropical forests in countries such as Indonesia."
That sort of talk is fatal at embassy events. It's wet blanket stuff, which detracts from the glitter and glamor of a successful evening. And that's what pisses off the ambassador's wife.


Friday, 16 November 2012

The French Olympic swimmer Yannick Agnel has just broken the European 800 m freestyle record, which is not exactly the usual discipline of this specialist over the range of 100 m to 400 m. When a poolside official asked the jubilant swimmer to sign his doping test, Yannick explained: "I'm only doped on Nutella. So, you might make a note of that in your papers."

Those words are sure to enchant the ambassador's wife, and enable her to come out with witty repartee at her forthcoming parties.

My only regret is that popular Yannick has just dealt a shattering blow to the French combat against products containing palm oil.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Glorious salt marshes of France

The product known in French as fleur de sel is a prestigious gastronomical salt composed of white crystals formed by the evaporating effects of wind upon the surface of salt marshes. I didn't even know that such a product existed until I arrived in France.

The expression fleur de sel might be translated into English as "flower of salt", but those words don't mean much. Besides, I don't believe that anybody talks of "flower of salt" in English. So, I'll stick to the French expression. Here's a packet I bought a few days ago:

Think of it as super salt. The fleur de sel crystals are expensive, of course, because they're collected manually. When you sprinkle these extraordinary gastronomical gems on meat, for example, they add a wonderful salty crunchiness to the eating experience. Chefs add fleur de sel to their preparations at the last minute, so that the crystalline structure is not destroyed by the cooking.

The most celebrated French salt marshes are those of Guérande in Brittany. For countless ordinary shoppers in France, salt and Guérande are synonyms.

But the most ancient salt marshes are those of the Roman city of Aigues-Mortes, on the edge of the Camargue delta of the Rhône.

Most often, the salt marshes are a dull blue.

Their geometrical splendor stretches to the horizon.

Periodically, harmless algae add a glorious pink hue to the salt marshes.

Who would have said so: Salt is beautiful! And tasty, too.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Say cheese

Living in France, one ends up acquiring a taste for particular varieties of cheese, and usually settling upon a group of favorites. As I've often said in this blog, it could hardly be otherwise for somebody like me who's settled not far from St Marcellin. For some time, I've narrowed down my all-time favorites to three varieties: one made with cows' milk, and the other two with sheep's milk.

In view of its round shape and orange color, mimolette might appear to be a Dutch cheese. In fact, it's a traditional product from the region of Lille in the north of France. The name "mimolette" is a corrupted derivative of the French adjective mollet that designates the soft texture, say, of a soft-boiled egg. It's a fact that the dull three-months-old cheese is of an unpleasant plastic nature. A year later, it has evolved into a hard tasty product with the texture of white milk chocolate. The orange color comes from a natural colorant, achiote, which is the same agent that is used in English cheddar. As for the hard crust of mimolette, its curious moonlike aspect is obtained—believe it or not—by the intentional inoculation of flour mites... which also enhance the flavor of the cheese. [I've no doubt said enough, there, to turn my Australian and American readers off mimolette forever! Incidentally, mimolette is imported into Australia by wholesalers named European Foods, whose elegant website can be accessed by clicking here.]

World-renowned Roquefort is an ancient blue cheese made from ewes' milk, which is produced in a limited region of south-west France, in the Aveyron department. Although milk is collected from many farms in the vicinity, the actual ripening of Roquefort is carried out exclusively  in the tiny village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, in the caves of Mont Combalou, whose fissured rock walls give rise to a unique system of natural ventilation.

Finally, my personal cheese champion of champions is Ossau-Iraty, also made from ewes' milk, produced in south-west France at the foot of the Pyrénées. In the name of the cheese, Ossau designates a mountain in the Béarn province, whereas Iraty is a forest in the French Basque region, and these two landmarks delimit the official territory in which this cheese is produced. The environment looks much like this:

Over the last few years, I've acquired a taste for this extraordinary smooth cheese, whose milky flavor has an indescribable nutty redolence. Here's a slice I bought yesterday at the local supermarket:

I've often talked about this cheese with people in shops, because I've never understand why such a fabulous product seems to remain relatively unknown. This morning, I was thrilled to discover that, in Britain recently, Ossau-Iraty was crowned the 2011 world champion cheese. Click here to access the relevant page of the Guild of Fine Food.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Deadly palm oil

In certain domains, the environmental and well-being awareness of my Australian compatriots is far in advance of the French situation. It's only recently that stickers announcing the absence of palm oil have started to appear, here in France, on certain packets of sliced bread.

In Australia, on the other hand, a dynamic consumer movement opposing the palm-oil industry has existed for quite some time.

The product is potentially "deadly" both for human beings with cholesterol problems, and for the jungle creatures (such as orangutans) affected by deforestation followed by palm plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

To be perfectly coherent in the environmental combat against palm oil, we should even abandon a splendid old French product: traditional Marseille soap. Now I have a friend down there, in Marseille, who won't be too happy when she hears me saying that. In fact, Natacha recently gave me a stock of this fine soap that's large enough to keep me clean for years to come.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Not found in France

I've often been intrigued by the absence, in France, of certain foodstuffs that are popular in the English-speaking world. A striking example is the cut of meat known (in my native Australia) as a T-bone steak. In France, there's another missing meat product: bacon, as served up with eggs for breakfast. The French do indeed eat a pork product referred to as bacon, but it's not exactly the genuine stuff. The following interesting video presents the manufacture of bacon in the USA:

As far as I know, there are no factories of this kind in France… but I may be wrong. I should ask for on-the-spot information—the complete in-depth bacon story—from a Franco-Australian observer who happens to live in the pork-production center of France: his native Brittany. I'm referring to my son François.