Apr 18, 2014

Brains, Balls, and All the Rest: Persillé de Montbriac

One of Gigi's classmates from San Francisco comes to Paris and orders meatballs for dinner. He learns too late that he has, literally, ordered meat balls. As in, testicles. You've heard people say to use your brain. Well, in France, you might be instructed to eat it. Are those things on the left brains? Why yes, they are. And the things on the right labeled "rognon" are the kidneys. Of lambs. In the background is langue (tongue) and in the lower right is humdrum liver.
But wait. The kidneys can get even grosser. These are labeled "génisse" which means "heifer". Even the labeling makes it sound more awful; beef or cow would at least have been more familiar.
Look! Homemade veal head is on special Tuesdays and Wednesdays for only 15.9€ (around $20). What a bargain!
If you want to know where the rest of the veal went, check the supermarket: clockwise: heart, hoof, kidney, and sweatbreads (glands, that is).
Rabbits pop up all over the place, and not just the cute fluffy ones or chocolate ones because of Easter. The grocery store sells whole rabbit in pieces, and at market, I spy uncut rabbits, rabbit livers, and what I assume are rabbit thighs but are actually mis-labeled.
They are rabid thighs, frankly. I suspect this is an epic fail of the stall owner's attempt to shooting for the English word "rabbit" but I still can't quite figure out how he got here instead.

At the grocery store, I can buy Provencal-style tripe and get 20% more of it free! I'm thinking that I probably wouldn't taste it even if they gave me 100% of it free. But nice try.

I am not a particularly adventurous meat eater, but even the poultry aisle can be an education here: canette (baby duck), coquelet (baby rooster -- or "young cockerel" in one dictionary I check), pintade (guinea fowl). There's a reason coq au vin is not called poulet au vin, and that is because traditionally it was made not just with chicken but, specifically, with rooster. Our white, bland chicken breasts are just not the same.
If I buy this guy, will I have to chop off the head myself? (No, the butcher will do it for me, but still...Aaargh!)

But, of course, even a not-terribly adventurous meat eater has to venture out sometimes. This is France, after all, land of frogs' legs and snails.
You may criticize me for being a little squeamish and "safe" with my meats. Well, I've eaten this bulot, or sea whelk. Once you've tried one, then we'll talk.

The way we encourage the tasting of seemingly gross things (and let's face it, most of them have just the texture you're imagining) is by photographing them and assuring the girls that they will earn bragging rights for life. The first and only time Pippa tried a bulot, at age 6, she chewed and chewed and chewed...and chewed. We told her she could spit it out, but she looked up and asked, with her mouth full of what felt like a pencil-eraser, "If I spit it out, do I still get bragging rights?" Why yes! Yes, you do. She got the flavor and the texture and the experience, and that counts in my book. In the photo series, below, the mystery seafood product that I had never heard of and can't remember the name of came off of a massive seafood platter full of things I couldn't name in any language.


All the cute, fuzzy spring animals -- bunnies, lambs, chicks, etc -- have started showing their heads (actually their headless bodies) in the meat aisles. In the butcher, in the grocery store, and on the menus, you will find a farm's worth of no-longer-frolicking rabbit, young chicken, lamb, duck, and veal, and not just in the spring, but pretty much year-round.

After living in Japan, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia, I have long ago given up the idea that some meat, or some part, is morally superior, once you take out endangered/environmental considerations. Why is it OK to eat fish, but not fish eyeballs (which my Japanese and Chinese friends consider a delicacy)? Why are eggs and chickens not just acceptable but "normal," yet the idea of Filipino balut -- a half-developed chicken embryo inside the egg -- is (how shall I say this diplomatically...) utterly vile?


Remember, many of us used to consider octopus and squid gross until we discovered sushi and fried calamari. I admit that there is no rhyme or reason to my meat philosophy: I despise chicken liver and chopped liver (insert shudder of disgust) but adore pâté: goose liver, pork liver, duck liver. In fact, I actually believe it's morally superior to eat all part of the animals (French pigs' ears? Yippee!), so that there's less wasted. But I still don't want to eat it myself. Evidently, I am a morally inferior person.

As we approach Easter, I cannot say (with my Jewish heritage) that I believe this is the anniversary of the weekend when  Jesus rose up from the dead. But I can say with complete certainty that if I were to serve one of these cute animals or unusual animal parts for dinner, this would be the day that Gigi would rise up from the table to go fetch herself some yogurt. She has unilaterally decided not to eat even any form of beef, hamburgers included. She's near vegetarian, with a weakness for pork and a tolerance for chicken and turkey. (When I was a vegetarian, I used to cheat with chicken curries and an annual trip for barbeque ribs, so I guess strict dogmatism does not run in our family...). Pippa, on the other hand, we call "Henry VIII" because not only does she love meat, she particularly likes to hold a bone and start gnawing.

Since I'm the one that does the grocery shopping, however, most of our family's meat intake is chicken, turkey, fish, and occasionally pork, which makes us decidedly very un-French. Originally I said I would kill for ground turkey so I could make meatloaf and chili the way I do in California (though, hypocritically, I wouldn't actually kill a turkey for the ground turkey....). I have since found a butcher who will do this special for me, though it runs about $10 per pound and is out of the way. But at least there's no turkey-neck-wringing or strange gizzards.

THE CHEESE: Persillé de Montbriac

Persillé de Montbriac -- sometimes just called Montbriac or even Montbriac a Pâte Persillée -- is a raw cow's milk cheese from the Haute-Loire in Auvergne. If you speak French, or if you speak fromage, you can tell that it has a "pâte persillée", which basically means a "streaked interior", though the words translate more literally as "parsley paste". The dark crust you see on the outside, however, comes from ash. That's not the persillé that they're referring to. Rather, you need to look inside the cheese, where you can see the hints of the streaky blue. And make no mistake, anytime you see a cheese labeled as persillée, it's a form of blue cheese.

The interior is creamy and mild, and just lightly streaked with blue. The flavor and texture are, pretty much, exactly what you'd expect: buttery, tangy, salty, oozy, but not on the mild side. So much so, that even people who don't like blues might like it. Frankly, they might not even recognize it as a blue cheese.


"Persillé" means both "streaky" and "parsley-ed", as in parsley and butter. This photo, of one of the largest snails in the world, comes with the headline "Imaginez la quantité de beurre persillé qu'il faudrait" -- "Imagine the amount of parsley butter you'd need." Interesting to me is that I see this headline on two different days, and one of the days, it reads "beurre persillée" with a double E at the end of the word, which is the feminine form of the word and incorrect. It does make me very happy to see that even a French publication can make this mistake. And even happier that I don't have to eat this escargot.


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