Nov 23, 2013

Happy Saint Kevin's Day: Saint-Clément

I volunteer in Pippa's class for a Thanksgiving Day presentation, complete with art supplies so the kids can make handprint turkeys. One of the girls tells her mom, my friend Béatrice, that they learned about St. Kevin's Day at school. Béatrice keeps (jokingly) wishing me a Happy St. Kevin's Day, which at first I think may be a real holiday, since every day, literally, is a Saint day in France.

(The little red guy underneath Pippa's 2nd grade hand turkey is saying "Help! You're eating my friend. Which is a turkey!!" And this is our carnivorous child.)
We can't celebrate Thanksgiving on the real day this year, November 28 (also known as Thansgivukkah), because Anthony will be out of town. Also, Thursdays are hellish for us, since there's no vacation this Thurs or Fri in France, so while living in Paris we never celebrate on the correct day. Next weekend is out both because Anthony won't be back and also because Pippa's school is having a parent dinner in honor of the patron Saint day for the school.
It turns out that while each day is devoted to Saint Somebody -- be it Vincent, Séverin, or François-Xavier -- "Kevin" (which the French consider the ultimate stereotype of an American  name) is just not one of them. When I finally ask Béatrice why she keeps wishing me a Happy St. Kevin's Day, she explains that's what her daughter hears during my classroom presentation:
     Thanksgiving =
     Sank-givin =
And if you say that all with a French accent --  because it's hard for the French to say "th" -- you will see that it actually does sound a lot alike. It makes perfect sense!
We're missing our friend Kim and Tom's annual Friday night Thanksgiving dinner, sandwiched between real Thanksgiving and the school parent supper, because we will have friends in town. Kim and Tom serve a classic dinner with a whole turkey, except that in order to fit the whole turkeys in the small French oven, they have to go all Mark Bittman and remove the bones before roasting.
We can't fit a whole turkey in our oven, either, and I'm not about to spatchcock it (Bittman's method). But turkey leg-thigh sections and breast-roasts are surprisingly easy to find at the Monoprix (France being Europe's leading producer and consumer of turkey), so I just roast my turkey in pieces. Thanks to all the foreigners around, the Monoprix even sells cranberries during the holiday season. And sweet potatoes are everywhere, despite the fact that I don't actually know any French people who buy, cook, eat, or like sweet potatoes. 
Our menu: turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, sweet-potato souffle, cranberry-orange sauce, brussel sprouts, sausage-apricot stuffing, and apple crumble for dessert. Because I don't like pumpkin pie. May St. Kevin, the patron saint of cranberry sauce and gravy, watch over you and your turkeys.
THE CHEESE: Saint-Clément
Saint-Clément is made from raw goat's milk from the Perigord, one of our favorite regions in all of France -- a region dotted with castles, duck, and foie gras, among other delights. It belongs to a special class of cheese that is near and dear to my family's heart: "Moldy Doughnut."
The Mouldy Doughnut is virtually always the family favorite on the cheese platter, and Saint-Clément is no exception. Why must it be a Moldy Doughnut? Why not a Moldy Brick? I don't know: Why is a bagel or a real doughnut better because of the hole? It just is. It's the hole that makes it.
Cheeses that belong to the official Moldy Doughnut category (such as Anneau de Poitou or Rouelle du Tarn) universally share certain characteristics: tangy, exceptionally creamy cheeses with more than a hint of the goat, but less than the whole herd.
You won't find this cheese in the dictionaries and not even online, and I found out why. Alex, one of my favorite workers at my favorite cheese shop (the Laurent Dubois store at Maubert Mutualité) explained to me, after some very fruitless searching on my part, that this cheese has only been around about 10 years. Not this specific cheese, mind you. This actual cheese has been aged about 10 days, give or take. A small producer invented it about ten years ago, and he only supplies it to high-end cheese retailers. And it's so beloved (Alex says people often can't remember the name but come in begging for "the square cheese with the whole in it"), that it flies off the shelf. So not only will you not find it in the encyclopedia, or books, or online, but you probably won't find it in the stores, either. Good luck, though, because it's delicious!
First of all, given how hard it is to find this cheese, I'm awfully thankful to have tried it (and not once, but twice!). But more than that, not only do Saint-Clément and Saint Kevin sound similar, but it turns out that today -- the day we have chosen for our alternate Thanksgiving -- is actually the day that honors Saint-Clément, the patron saint of metalworkers and blacksmiths. May he look over all your ironworking needs.


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