Quotes

Feb 28, 2015

Look Deep Into My Eyes: Raclette Braisée

THE STORY:

It's not what you say when you toast somebody in France that's so important, it's what you do. The French toast with a "Santé!" ("Health!") or "A votre santé!" ("To your health!") or the more cryptic "A la votre!" ("To yours!").


While you say this, you raise your glass to make your toast. You clink glasses with your table-mates. But above all (above all!) make sure that you look directly into their eyes when you do so. This is critical -- do you hear me? critical! -- because if you fail to look into somebody's eyes at the moment of toasting, French tradition say that you will have bad sex for seven years. And the French really cling to their traditions.

I know, there's that old adage that sex is like pizza, and even when it's bad it's good. But that's an American adage. The French don't give a rat's pitootie about pizza, or about bad sex. There's sex, and then there's good sex, and they want the good kind, thank you very much.

Because the French take their wine, and their sex, very seriously, they honestly do make very sure to look each person in the eye as they clink their way around the table. They look so pointedly at you that you sometimes need to remind yourself that they're not actually planning to have sex (good or otherwise) with you, personally. Or, maybe they are: they're French after all. Cheers!

THE CHEESE: Raclette Braisée

This version of a raclette cheese, Raclette Braisée, comes pre-toasted, or braisée. A cows' milk cheese, like all raclette cheeses, this one is pasteurized and comes from the Lot-et-Garonne department in the Aquitaine region in southwestern France. This is generally far from the Alpine country where you'd expect to see raclette cheese, but it works anyway.


The toasting, in this case, refers to the smoking of the cheese while it's being aged. It imparts a lovely, mellow smoky flavor that goes perfectly once the cheese is re-toasted into oozy sheets melted over baked potatoes and ham, raclette-style. It can be eaten cold, and it's not even bad that way, but I'm not sure why you'd want to, when it's made for melting.



THE CONNECTION:

Not only is raclette a great dinner to toast your friends around (though not a dinner that's exactly a boon "to your health!"), this particular raclette is, itself, toasted -- braisée, that is. While we eat our Raclette Braisée toasted on the little device for the home cook, I would have loved to have it toasted by a toasty Alpine chalet fire before we toasted over it.

Feb 26, 2015

When Worlds Collide: Venaco

THE STORY:

During a conversation in which we are lamenting the gray weather -- and gray mood -- in Paris (it doesn't help that there's a flu epidemic, too, and literally everybody we know either is, has just been, or is just about to be sick), the French woman says, "It's too bad that we have that Germanic joie de vivre. And yet," she continues, "we'll cross the street anywhere, no matter what color the light is, just like the Italians. It's like we got the worst of each."


An interesting thought: what have the French absorbed from their neighbors? Of course, there's a huge difference in the French from Provence vs. the French from the North. So, for the purposes of this musing, I'm thinking specifically of the Parisian and near-Parisians:
  • Germanic joie de vivre, but not the Germanic nose-to-the-grindstone work style. This, of course, shows in the GDP and economic reports.
  • A Germanic love of Freud, psychology, and the embracing of angst.
  • The Italian appreciation for wine, food, and a long meal, yet a near Germanic-level avoidance of vegetables.

  • It may not exactly be joie de vivre, but the French certainly have the more Mediterranean appreciation for a vacation. Long vacations, and as many as possible. This may also be reflected in GDP and economic reports.
  • A Swiss/Germanic style of bureaucracy. This is mostly a legacy of Napoleon (who was a Corsican, and therefore culturally more Italian), but that doesn't make it any less Swiss/German feeling now. Things do not get accomplished on a handshake or a bribe but rather when filled out in triplicate and filed properly, with official ID photos cut to the prescribed millimeter. Which is not to say a bribe and a handshake can't help matters along, at times.
  • Driving, especially around the complex star-intersection round-abouts is definitely Italian.
THE CHEESE: Venaco

Venaco is a farmhouse cheese from Corsica named after the town of Venaco in the middle of the island, where it is made. In Corsican, the cheese is called Venachese, meaning "From Venaco".

It's a farmhouse cheese that can be made from raw or pasteurized sheeps' milk, and sometimes sheep and goats' milk combined. It comes in a roundish square block (or a squarish circle?). Sometimes it's tall-ish. Sometimes it's flat-ish. Which is to say that there's a fair amount of variety in the Venaco versions I see. But one thing is always the same: an orange rind -- lightly ridged and reeking of sweat-socks, a delightfully frightful odor developed during the four months of aging.

 

It's a creamy cheese, one that would get downright oozy if it sat out in a warm room before I took the photo. There's that slightly rancid-sweet funk of a stinky cheese that you either love or hate. Although this is not strictly true as I'm not normally a huge orange stinky cheese fan, but every once in a while, I welcome the intensity. The version I try is pasteurized and, perhaps, a little mellower for it, in which case I think I'm happy to not be eating the raw version.



THE CONNECTION:


This is a French cheese with an Italian sounding name made in what was formerly part of Italy, and while one of the versions I photograph is made at a farm called Germain, we actually consume it with friends in Switzerland. So, it seems like an appropriate cheese to talk about which aspects of neighboring cultures the French resemble, for better or worse.

Feb 24, 2015

Dragons, Sheep, Lions, Drums, and Cops: Tomme Chèvre Ariégeoise

THE STORY:

It's that time of year when I like to really mix my cultures -- celebrating Chinese New Year in Paris.
 
 

This year, what really strikes me is the incredible number of officers and security guards lining the parade route. It's as if we've come to see a police parade. I can only assume that this is in response to the Charlie Hebdo attack, because it wasn't like this last year.


Feb 22, 2015

Process vs. Product: Tomme de Chèvre du Béarn

THE STORY:

Things you get point marked off for at American elementary school on your math test:
  • Getting the wrong answer.

Things you get points marked off at French elementary school (and sometimes middle school) on your math test:

Feb 20, 2015

Physalis, The Phrenchest Phruit: Fote des Bergères

THE STORY:

Aah, the physalis -- the Phrenchest phruit you've never heard of. It's the exact size and texture of a firm cherry tomato. It's tangy and acidic, and not much sugarier than a (sweet) cherry tomato either. It's so much like a cherry tomato, in fact, that it's hard to think of it as a fruit (and don't even start with the "but tomatoes are a fruit" argument).


Feb 18, 2015

Dinner Time: Raclette Vin Blanc

THE STORY:

I don't mean to complain about French dinner invitations. I am always happy to be invited to dine elsewhere. But the timing presents some challenges for this American family. For example, this Saturday, we are invited to a French person's house at 8pm. That means we will show up at 8:05 and be the first people there, possibly awkwardly so. The French will show up around 8:30 and there will be at least one guest who doesn't show up till 9pm. We will wait for them.


Feb 16, 2015

I Am Very: Chèvre Fermier du Tarn

THE STORY:

I am very dog. I am very strawberries-and-cream crêpe. I am very tropical beach.


I am not very spider, very hot dog, or very snow camping.

 

If you haven't already figured it out, "je suis très ..." -- meaning "I am very..." -- is a common French way to express just what it is you are really a fan of.

This only fails to work on rare occasion: If, say, you're a fan of the French, or of the French language, you might be tempted to say, "je suis très français," but that would just mean you actually are very French. Rather, you could say, "je suis très langue française" -- meaning "I am very French language." Well, actually, I don't know if you could say it, but I certainly can, because I am, indeed, very French language.

THE CHEESE: Chèvre Fermier du Tarn

As the name suggests, this is a farmhouse goats' milk cheese from Tarn. It's made at the Collines aux Chèvres farm, which not only houses a herd of 200 goats grazing on a large property, but also regularly hosts interested visitors and students on field trips, in this case literally in the field.



The farm sits in the department of Tarn, just outside of the town of Andouque, in the Midi-Pyrénées. Their fresh-air, well-petted goats produce a thick, creamy cheese, mild and sweet and buttery, with just a hint of salty-citrus tang.


THE CONNECTION:

As you must know,  je suis très fromage. I am very cheese. But, more specifically, I am very goat cheese. There are some cow and sheep cheeses I find sublime and will rave about till the cows (or sheep) come home. But in general, when I walk into a cheese store, I instinctively turn towards the goat section and am, in particular, tempted by soft and creamy goat cheeses -- either spreadable or melt-in-the-mouth. They may not always be the strongest or more unusual tasting cheeses, but they're just like candy to me -- buttery, creamy, tangy, salty, herbal, with just a small savory, gamey edge.

 
Design by Free WordPress Themes | Bloggerized by Lasantha - Premium Blogger Themes | Customized by Mihai