Mar 26, 2014

The Ultimate: Bleu du Vercors

This is not an ironically titled posting. It's our last night in la Dordogne, and our dinner tonight at Le Clos Saint-Front in Périgueux is so extraordinary -- specifically because of the best children's menu in the history of the world -- that it deserves the title "ultimate". As usual, we failed to make reservations in advance, but we luck into a table at Le Clos, the second restaurant we try. And it makes me glad the first one turned us away.

To get there, you must first wind your way through the cobblestone medieval labyrinth of the old town of Périgueux, till you find this charming 16th century stone building with a magical garden. The highlights of our adult meals are my dessert -- a caramelized apple millefuille with speculos (like graham cracker) ice cream -- and the appetizers -- scallops and aspargus in a morel cream sauce for me and, for Anthony, foie gras three ways. In case you're wondering, that's 1) confit with a mango jam 2) sautéed with a mango sauce, and 3) in a warm soufflé with green apple.

But the pièce de résistence is the children's menu which is carefully crafted during a thoughtful, sincere conversation between our server and each of the girls. For her courses, Pippa selects beef with caramelized potatoes, and one scoop of surprise ice cream -- the surprise being that it is three scoops: cassis (black currant), salted caramel, and mint chocolate chip. She gets to help slice the meat, in a purely ceremonial way of course, when it arrives at the table.

Gigi chooses cannelloni stuffed with smoked seafood in a cream sauce, and lychee panna cotta with raspberry sauce. I am convinced she will not like her main dish, since she's not normally a seafood lover, but darn if it isn't the single best thing at the table. We all love it, including her. To top it off, the kids' desserts come on huge, showy platters elaborately decorated with their names in raspberry coulis, melted chocolate geometric designs, and battery-powered, changing-color glow sticks.

The adult three course meal is 40, which is an incredible price for what it is (even more so from a Paris perspective, where 40gets you nothing special at all). The kids menu is an amazing 12. Honestly, I myself would be thrilled with the kids' menu, which comes with the same 2 amuse bouche we receive, one of which is a tomato-coconut soup with blue cheese. Pippa loves it, despite the fact that she officially does not like tomatoes, coconut, or blue cheese. Go figure. It is so filling, the girls can't even finish their meals. But desserts, naturally, get finished down to the last drop.

And while we're talking about the best, the most, the ultimate: Here's La Cathédrale Saint Front de Périgueux, alternatively referred to as Saint Etienne de la Cité. She's from the 12th century roughly -- having been built and destroyed several times since the 6th century -- is protected by UNESCO, and I feel confident calling her one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen. I think the only other ones that might compete for sheer loveliness are Sacré Coeur in Paris and St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. Of course I'm partial to Notre Dame as well, given that it's now in my backyard, and it's impressive. It's grand. It's elegant. It's iconic. But I don't think it has that soft and lovely quality the other three have. In case you're wondering, yes, I called this church a "she". In my mind, Sacré Coeur is also a "she" (whereas St. Basil's would be a "he"). Perhaps it's because of all the boob-shaped cupolas.


And finally, the ultimate photo on the ultimate night of our time in la Dordogne, and it's a picture of the ultimately bizarre house, spotted in Périgueux. It looks like the ultimate interior design nightmare: Whatever you do, don't put the furniture against the walls.

THE CHEESE: Bleu du Vercors

Bleu du Vercors, also called Bleu de Sassenage or Bleu du Vercors-Sassenage, is a blue I've never heard of before, yet it's supposedly one of the best-known blues in France. It's been produced since at least the 14th century, when it was mentioned by the Baron Albert de Sassenage in a document dated June 28 1338, authorizing the residents of Villard-de-Lans to sell this cheese. Since then, it's been mentioned in literature in the 17th century and poetry in the 19th century. This blue received its AOC in 1998.

Traditionally, Bleu du Vercors was made of a mixture of cow, goat, and sheep milk. Nowadays, it's made with a mixture of three cow's milks, coming from three cattle breeds: Abondance, Montbéliarde, and Villarde. It takes 40 liters of milk to make one 4kg (9 lb.) round of cheese. The cow's milk combo is aged for two months in a cool, humid cellar, resulting in a smooth-rind, golden-colored cheese lightly streaked with blue mold. It's absolutely delicious, with a medium-strength blue tang.


This blue does not come from the region -- it's territory is all the way across the country in the Alps. But it is one of the oldest, most famous, and most elegant of blue cheeses. Could it have been the blue mixed in with the coconut and tomato amuse bouche? Who knows. Is it the ultimate blue cheese? I'd actually choose a Bleu de Severac or Roquefort instead, but ultimately, it's up there.


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