Posts Tagged ‘food’

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Words & Wine 2010

July 16, 2010

Recently, we completed our second Vine & Wine tour.  Unfortunately I was unable to accompany the group on many of the outings.  Here are a few of my highlights.         

The first winery of the week was our neighbor, Domaine Gallety.         

Alain Gallety gave us a full tour of the caves.

 

          

One of the first producers of the AOC Cotes du Vivarais.  Their exclusivity means they are always sold out of wine to our disappointment.  So we are thrilled when they open a bottle each of their two wines, ‘Domaine Gallety’ and ‘Sy’rare’, a play on words since Sy’rare is 100% Syrah grapes and only a small amount is produced each year.         

The winery visit was followed by a tour of Viviers, a medieval village which retains most of its original buildings.         

The cathedral of Viviers, the smallest cathedral in France.

 

 After our tour, the group enjoyed a gastronomical lunch at Relais du Vivarais.  The group was off to visit  Mas d’Intras.  It was a day for local wineries and it ended with a tour and tasting at our own winery, Notre Dame de Cousignac.        

        

 We prepared dinner of wild boar.  Surprise, the meat had fur and a hoof until shortly before our guests ate it.  I’m not a fan of wild boar but Raphael prepare this one perfectly.        

        

Unfortunately this was my last outing with the group until Cassis.  I missed Avignon and Chateauneuf du Pape with a tasting at Ogier;  I missed Die and Jaillance and the restaurant Le Caveau;  Jaboulet and Lyon and the amazing dinner at L’Escalin.        

And then finally Cassis.        

        

        

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Fruits of summer…

July 13, 2010

 We’ve been instructed by Raphael to save fruit seeds.  Since the winery has gone bio, or organic, we’ve seen a  resurge of wild fruit trees that he remembers from childhood – those magical days when he used to run free in the vineyards and pick apricots, plums, mirabelles, and vine ripened peaches.   Raphael wants to plant the seeds.  He wants to create an orchard of wild fruit trees. 

 The organic rules mean the vines are no longer treated with herbicides or pesticides nor do they cut the overgrowth surrounding the vineyards.   Walking among the vines with the girls, baskets swinging from their hands, Raphael showed us all the wealth that lay hidden in the woods bordering the vines.  With the scents of wild fennel mixing with the ripeness of the fruit, we devoured one type of rare variety after another.  “Mmm!  It brings back memories of when I was young.”  Raphael’s exclamations came to me from the midst of the brush into which he scrambled to find the trees and bushed with the ripened fruit.  More fruit made it into the girl’s mouths than their baskets.  We managed somehow to return home with baskets of varying shades of plums and mirabelle’s.  Our guests will be enjoying fruit for the next few breakfasts – unless we eat them all first!

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Fin gras…

April 16, 2010

The mascot wearing the ribbon of excellence or as Raphael called it, the cow thong..

Our sejour into the high Ardeche last week was not just an afternoon playing in the cold.  Our destination was the village of St. Eulalie where the first annual Fin Gras du Mézenc beef tasting was being held and to which Raphael was invited as an honored taster.  I was along for the sight seeing and the lunch, of course.         

The Fin Gras du Mézenc is one of three appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) for beef in France.  The cows are raised by a unique group of ‘eleveurs’ who’ve been living on this land and raising cows for generations.  Their heart is in the land so much so that the president of the AOC joked that his wife claims he spends more time and gives more love to his cows than to her.        

The cattle farmers, butchers, restauranteurs, tasters and meat.

The legend of Fin Gras says that on the first day came the mountain fires:  the volcano’s lava fertilized the land.  The second day brought rain which fertilized the green pastures.  Next the wind blew drying the hay.  And finally came the monks who built farms where they lived out the frozen winter months with their cows.  And so began the Fin Gras.         

The unique taste of the beef of Fin Gras comes from the hay.  The cows, coming from a variety of races, are nourished on the plateau on top of Mout Mézenc where a specific weed called cistre grows wild in the prairies.  It’s the cistre that gives the beef of Fin Gras du Mézenc its particularity which is threaded through the meat from the ‘persillade’ or the natural marbling of fat.  Most cows graze in the spring and summer and are fed a light diet of dry hay through the winter months.  Cistre, called the fennel of the alps, is thought by most cattle farmers to be a bad weed for the cows since they never touched it while grazing in the pastures.  It is usually removed from the hay before dried.  In addition, many endeavored to creat a new flora in their grazing pastures by planting grain that produced acceptable hay.  However, the cattle farmers of Mézenc decided to leave the cistre in the hay and by doing so discovered that the cattle love the weed when dry and devour it with gusto throughout the winter months making this the most fattening up time of the year.  This cistre gives the meat a unique indescribable flavor and makes it one of the most expensive and tender meats in France.         

The beef tasting consisted only of Fin Gras de Mézenc meat.  The tasters were a select group of butchers, chefs, restaurateurs and wine makers.  Raphael was actually representing Goûtez l’Ardèche which holds its own select tastings of products before admitting them to the organization.  The tasters job was to evaluate and describe in distinct language the scent, visual, and taste of the meat which was tasted on three levels.  The first was a bouillon, or in fact 17 different bouillons.  For each, the criteria were exactly the same;  the meat used to cook the bouillon was cut from the same part of the cow, it weighed the same, was cooked for the same amount of time (6am to 10am), and in the same amount of water.  The single difference was that each cut of meat used for the bouillon cam from a different cow (age, breed and location, mainly altitude and type of prairie).         

M. Vidal, president of the Toques d'Auvergne and Bernard Bonnefoy, president of the AOC Fin Gras du Mezenc smell the bouillon.

I sat, fascinated by the intentness of the tasters.  It wasn’t unlike a wine tasting.  They examined the color of each bouillon, moving the bowl to see how the fat swam in the liquid.  A spoon was filled and the bouillon dripped back into the bowl to check its texture and consistency.  Noses approached, circling over or dipping deeply into the bowl, sniffing lightly and intently at the fragrance.  Cups were filled, once again the bouillon was sniffed, sipped and frequently spit into a plastic bowl placed on the table for that purpose.  Notes were taken on each bouillon.  Some were retasted.  It took a while for each taster to make his way through all 17 bouillons  and as the hour approached lunchtime, the scent of coking beef teased my gurgling stomach.  Raphael let me taste the one he marked as his least favorite and the one marked as his preference.  It was easy to note the distinct difference between the two.  The first was very fatty and tasted that way, had little smell and, contrary to the large amount of fat which I thought would bring taste, was watery.  The second was thick and just the smell made you want to cut into the steak it came from.  Upon tasting, it was full of flavor and I could say, full bodied like a wine.         

The spitting.

The second tasting was a selection of carpaccio marinated in olive oil, vinegar and sel de cistre, which I was unable to try due to being pregnant.  There were also 17 carpaccio meats using the same standards as above.  This tasting went much quicker and was less involved although once again, the amateur tasters biggest comment was that they blended together after a while.  But for the professional : differences were made between texture.  According to Raphael, some were so tender, they cut with just a fork and were melting in the palate like excellent smoked salmon.  I’ve never been a fan of carpaccio but I have to admit, it looked quite good thinly sliced in various shades of pink – about the only difference I could see between them.         

The evaluating.

The final event was performed with all the pomp and circumstance of a wine tasting but there was no actual tasting involved.  It was more of a viewing – of côte de boeuf or rib eye steak.  Each butcher supplied his or her own piece of meat, presenting it in full description and then cutting it on a butcher block.  The threading was pointed out and the type of preparation for sale each butcher used was explained.  The majority of the taste testers were unable to make a significant difference between the cuts of meat, except maybe the amount of marbling in each piece.  It was the butchers who really supplied the knowledge to define differences.  One butcher asked me to touch his meat.  (No, not a come on.  For goodness sake, I’m over 7 months pregnant.) And then touch another cut of meat.  If it is oily to the touch, he explained, it is a good meat, gras or fatty, but in a good way.  A meat that is slightly dryer to the touch has more nerves and tendons and will be less flavorful and more tough and chewy.  A good tip except that I don’t imagine my local bouchère would appreciate me asking to touch her steaks before making my choice even if France is keen on allowing consumers to sample their wares before purchase.         

        

The event ended with a marathon meal beginning with a blend of all the best bouillons, followed by an entrée of thinly sliced beef, not much more cooked than the carpaccio, a tartar of lentils and a rillette of beef.  The main course consisted of three different cuts of beef prepared the best way for each cut.  Surprisingly, the most well cooked was the most tender perhaps because it was covered with a sauce made of bouillon and dark chocolate.  (After seeing the movie chocolat, I’ve always been curious about the marriage of meat and chocolate.  This was my first chance to taste it and it works.)  Local cheese was next and finally a chestnut mousse for desert.  Each course was accompanied by wine supplied by the wine makers present.  We brough a fruity Côtes du Rhône, and much appreciated Vin de Pays de l’Ardèche, and a Côtes du Vivarais white.  The restaurant where the tasting was held is a client of ours and happily supplied one of the best wines of the event, our 2001 Ardèsc, which was so smooth and nicely aged in the high altitude.  Speaking of altitude, these cattle farmers love a good meal with a good wine followed by a good after dinner drink, in this case, a liqueur made by the President of the AOC from the cistre.  This was some of the best meat I’ve ever tasted but by the end, I had eaten enough beef to last me for a while.         

In the bag, the hay and cistre mix. In the jar, the sel de cistre.

The Fin Gras du Mézenc have recently opened a museum and visiting center in the village of Chaudeyrolles where you can learn about the Fin Gras through different presentations, visits to farms, and cooking demonstrations.  There is also a promenade among the cows with 8 stops depicting the rhythm of the farmers. If you go there, don’t forget to buy a jar of sel de cistre, or salt of cistre. Spread on top of any beef steack, it will give a uncomparable taste.  And most restaurants in the region offer a meal with the meat of Fin Gras du Mézenc.        

Restaurant of the president of Toques d’Auvergne        

VIDAL  43 260 SAINT-JULIEN CHAPTEUIL

Hotel du Nord  Marie Andrée & Serge Mouyon  –  07510 Sainte Eulalie

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Goat’s cheese that ‘Piques’

March 29, 2010

Les chèvres

During a dinner with guests this weekend the subject of conversation turned to food as it often does during a French meal -goat’s cheese to be precise.  We share the same enjoyment of Picodon, a goat’s cheese made primarily in the departments of the Ardèche and the Drôme.  Our friends live in the Drôme and we live in the Ardèche.  The two departments go way back in rivalry but our talk did not lend itself to an argument over who makes the best cheese – which can also occur in friendly French dinner conversations.  Although we have our favorite producers in the Ardèche, Xavier mentioned that they had been to a local producer of fromage de chèvre last week- one I’ve visited and love as well.  He reminded me that now, spring, is the best time to buy goat’s cheese.  The highly fragranced cheese is ripest in the spring for two reasons.  Typically goats feed on sparse grass and brush in rocky mountainous regions, a landscape typical to both departments.  In spring however, the goats are being nourished by the greenest grass of the year having just come out of the most humid season, winter.  Secondly, it’s the season of reproduction and the goat’s milk is especially nutrient rich in the first months after the babies are born.         

With goat’s cheese on my mind, this morning when Raphael asked me to run some wine and soil samples to the wine university of Suze la Rousse  for testing I found myself with the perfect excuse to stop at the Fromagerie Gerfand.  Frequently the best way to find a good cheese is just by stumbling upon a tiny family run farm on a back road in Provence.  The Fromagerie Gerfand is en route to the village of La Garde Adhémar in the Drôme.  There are no large signs advertising the tiny boutique.  One could easily miss the hand painted sign off the main road announcing vente à la Ferme, a farm shop selling fromage de chèvre, Picodon, and other local products.             

I turned right at the next road and was relieved to see a more formal sign marked fromagerie.  The narrow, unpaved road only allows one car access in either direction at a time.   It is lined by blossoming almond trees and an expanse of vibrant green fields conjuring images of Ireland.  As I neared the farm the land became wooded and rocky, typical terrain for goats.  With my windows open I drove along to the music of bells and bleating.  I smelled the animals before I saw them;  a parade of goats leaving the barn and running towards the fields.  I pulled in front of the small shop and was greeted by a barking dog, definitely a farm dog with his matted and muddy white hair.  Could this be how people perceive my children I wondered, after they’ve spent the day roaming the winery, climbing tree and having mud pie battles as they did last Sunday?  The bark was for show apparently, as the friendly dog trotted up to the car, tail wagging as I opened the door.  He was rewarded with a scratch behind the ears.             

There were probably 20 different kinds of goat’s cheese on display in the boutique.  Everything from fresh creamy goat’s cheese, one of my favorites to spread on crunchy bread, to the aged Picodon, hard and crumbly with its green tinge and spicy bite.  There were bouchons, named after wine cork for their shape, fromage de chèvre à la figue, with pâte de coings (quince paste), swimming in olive oil and herbes de Provence, covered in pepper corns and wrapped in leaves.  Not to forget the Picodon’s all in varying degrees of aging.              

The vitrine of Fromage de Chevre. Picodon is the little round cheese.

 Once the cheese of peasants, Picodon has become one of the most popular goats cheeses in France and is seen on the tables of the best restaurants in Provence and surrounding regions.  The name comes from local dialect and means to pique.  Best translated, pique means spicy or having a bite.  It holds the label AOC, or Appellation d’origine contrôlée, which means that a product is protected by standards authentic to a certain region.  The AOC label is a guarantee of the product’s quality, its location, and the artisanal knowledge, usually passed down through generations of family, of the producer.  A goat’s cheese must be aged at least 14 days before it is considered a Picodon.            

As I chose my cheese, I watched the production through the small window in the rear of the store.  Two woman and a man were busy ladling liquid cheese into faisselle pots, small plastic molds with holes in the bottom where Picodon is aged.  I chose 4 cheeses;  one the oldest Picodon, for Raphael.  I’m sure it piques quite nicely.  Unfortunately, I will not be able to enjoy the spicy fromage de chèvre for a few more months.  It is unpasteurized and not permitted while pregnant.            

A selection of goat's cheese.

Recipe:  Tarte au Picodon et aux épinards        Spinach Tarte    

Either buy or make a tarte pastry.  Recipe for pastry follows:            

1/4 cup butter            

a pinch of salt            

3 soup spoons of olive oil            

3 soup spoons of water            

Mix ingredients mold into a ball.  Let sit at room temperature for two hours.  Then shape the ball into the bottom and sides of a tarte pan and pre cook for 15 minutes.            

2 and a half pounds spinach leaves            

4 young Picodons or creamy goats cheese            

3 egg yolks            

1/2 cup crème fraîche/heavy cream            

1 tsp. grated nutmeg            

pinch salt and pepper            

The day before, boil or steam the spinach leaves.  Drain and let sit overnight.  The allows for evaporation of most of the water.  Otherwise, the mixture is too liquid and the pastry doesn’t become crispy.  Spread the spinach on the bottom of the pasty.  Mix the eggs, cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a bowl and pour over spinach.  Cut the cheese in the strips or cubes and disperse over mixture.  Cook for 20 to 30 minutes at 380°F.

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Crêpes for prosperity and happiness?

February 8, 2010

Waiting for crêpes at a crêpe stand on the streets of Montelimar.

 

February 2nd was not just the Day of the Sonogram.  In France, it is La Chandeleur, better known as Crêpe day.   (So I’m a little late with this post having been sidetracked last week by babies and dogs.) 

Before it became crêpe day, however, La Chandeleur was a Roman celebration during which the Romans walked the streets by night waving candles in honor fo their god Pan.  In the 3rd century the celebration was Christianized by Pope Gelase who organized candlelight processions of believers to the village church in celebration of Christ’s being presented in the temple 40 days after his birth.  Years later, the peasants got it into their head that if they didn’t make crêpes on the Chandeleur, all the wheat would go bad.  Thus, La Chandeleur became the day of making and eating crêpes and somewhere along the way the religious celebration of the day became lost.   

Crêpe making comes with its own superstitions and traditions.  The most important is the tradition of the golden coin.  This one was definitely one I had to try.  So for the afternoon gouter, the girls and I tried out the crêpe tossing tradition.  The first crêpe made on February 2 must be flipped holding the pan in the right hand while holding a golden coin in the left hand.  For lack of a golden coin, I held a gold colored 50 centime coin in my left hand so already I was one point down.  The next step was really the big issue.  If the flipper successfully lands the crêpe flat in the pan the person will have happiness until the following year.  Raphael wandered into the kitchen just as I was preparing for the toss and flip stage of the crêpe making.  Observing my lack of technique, he insisted he show me how to do it properly.  First you need to slip a spatula around the perimeter of the crêpe to loosen it.  As it fully cooks, the crêpe will loosen on its own and it’s ready to be flipped.  Raphael got it flat on the first try.  Then to show off he flipped it back.  What kind of luck does one get if the crêpe lands half over the side of the pan, sticks to the pan and when you try to remove it, rips in two?  It’s a good thing I don’t believe in superstition.  

But that’s not all.  The first crêpe is not to be eaten.  After a successful flip, the gold coin is rolled inside the crêpe and the entire family must somberly proceed to the master bedroom where the crêpe, with gold coin, is placed on the highest armoire until the following year.  The remains of the previous years’ crêpe, after the rodents and crawly bugs have had their share, are tossed in the garbage and the gold coin is given to the first poor person to pass through the door.  No matter how much the girls wanted to make this procession to my bedroom, I was not about to leave a piece of food on top of my dresser for a year, with or without gold coin.  It’s bad enough I periodically find various pieces of cookie and other undistinguishable food items in corners of rooms, under cushions, in shoes (don’t ask), a present from a child.   If all these rituals are followed, the family is guaranteed to have money all year long.      

Crêpes are not just a treat to be enjoyed on February 2nd.  In Paris, and other cities, Crêperies are like a crêpe café, small restaurants that specialize in, well, crêpes.  Salty crêpes are filled with egg, ham and cheese.  Sweet crêpes, the kind eaten on La Chandeleur, are filled with anything from simply sugar or jam to Grand Marnier and even maple sirup (although I haven’t yet found a really good maple sirop in France).  Here in the south, a popular filling is crème de chatagne, a rich chestnut cream often mixed with vanilla.  But by far the most popular filling is Nutella, a nutty chocolate spread.    

And so begins a month of crêpe eating.   

Pate a Crêpe   

About 2 cups flour (If the batter is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of water at the end)   

1 tsp salt   

1 Tbls vanilla extract and 2 Tbls sugar   

3 eggs   

2 cups milk (For a richer batter use 1 cup milk and 1 cup liquid cream.  For a lighter batter use 1 cup milk and 1 cup water.  But really, if you’re going to eat crêpes anyway, go for the richer batter.)   

1 Tbls melted butter   

1 Tbls oil (anything but olive)   

In the south, we also add a splash of orange flower water, eau de fleur d’orangier.   

Put all the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Add the eggs and beat with a whisk.  Mix all the liquid ingredients (except the orange flower water) in a separate bowl.  Slowly whisk the liquid mixture into the dry mixture until it is smooth.      

Refrigerate the batter for at least one hour but the longer the better.  It will thicken up slightly.  This is a good time to d the orange flower water or rum or water if you prefer.   

Tips: 

While there are special crêpe pans, a skillet works perfectly.  Pour a little oil, about a tablespoon and a half to two into the pan and spread around the entire bottom with a paper towel.  This removes any extra oil.  Between each crêpe, rub the oily towel on the pan.  Make sure the pan is very hot before you begin making the crêpes.  Use a soup ladle to pour the batter into the pan then immediately twist the pan around until the batter covers the entire bottom.  It  might take one or two crêpes before you get the right amount to batter into the pan for the perfect thickness.    

Yum!