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Apr 4, 2014

Tradition, Tradition: Bouyguette

THE STORY:
 
When my nephews come to visit, they are amused that one of the great stereotypes of France is true. No, Frenchmen aren't wearing handlebar mustaches (except for my nephews themselves, of course, who put their gag mustaches on for photos in front of great monuments). It's the fact that people genuinely do go around holding baguettes.
 

The bread is not just good; it's cheap: subsidized with price caps by the French government similar to the way that milk is in the United States. It's even a French law that restaurants here must serve a bread basket to customers. Which occasionally makes for some interesting combinations when you're eating, say, cous-cous and tagine.
 
 
My nephews love buying bread and walking around with it. So do our girls, for that matter. In fact, it's one of the few foods that it's socially acceptable to munch on while on the streets. When the bread is still warm from oven, it's virtually irresistible. Many loaves don't make it home whole. You can tell how warm and delicious it is by the number of broken-off tops; eating the crouton (that is, the crunchy, crusty end of the bread) is one of the great joys for young kids and grown-ups alike. In the picture above, Pippa can't even wait till we leave the store or take the photo. Her mouth is already stuffed with crouton.
 
 
But here's what I say. Don't ever buy a baguette. At least, not when there's a pain tradition available. Pain tradition is basically what a baguette used to be: made with an old, natural yeast stock that makes the dough rise slowly, allowing fuller flavors to develop. And that's not just lip service.
 
 
 
If you ask for a baguette, it will be about 20 centimes cheaper, but it's not worth the tiny savings. Modern baguettes are made with modern, fast-active, industrial yeast; they rise more quickly and bake more evenly, with a brighter white crumb. The color of the pain tradition is creamier, the texture has more natural (and uneven) air pockets, and the crust is more toasted. In the end, the pain tradition is simply and indisputably more authentic and delicious.
 
 
It's the perfect bread for a cheese platter. But that doesn't mean it's the only bread for a cheese platter, or just for enjoying with your meal. There's also pain de campagne (countryside bread) -- in the photo below, actually made and served in the campagne. This is like a pain tradition in a big ball form, with a more grayish crumb.
 

One of the biggest names in bread is Poilâne, which started off simply but is now one of the most famous and best bread bakeries in Paris (therefore, in France, and therefore, in the world). The original store is in the 7th arrondissement, near the Eiffel Tower, to which they pay bready homage.

 

Yes, the bread is really that delicious. This is not white baguette territory: We're talking dark and nutty pain campagne, but it's even more rustic in texture and color -- yet more refined in its beautiful exterior -- than most bakery's loaves.
 
 
Another nice choice -- for a snack with butter or a cheese platter -- is a nutty bread. Often, French breads have walnuts. That complements the nutty hints in many cheeses, and adds a delicious crunch. I'm a big fan of this combo, but it has to be just the right cheese: for me, it's ideally goat, or a soft spreadable sheep.
 
 
That combination can only be made more delicious if the bread has not just nuts (walnuts, possibly hazelnut or pistachio) but also fruit (raisins or figs). Here, I've got a creamy-crumbly Tour Capriferm goat cheese with an experimental dab of cherry jam in the corner. It is obviously too enticing for me to hold off on taking a bite before I take the photo. Now I know where Pippa gets her impatience from. After the photo, I simply spread on more cherry jam and devour the whole thing. In this case, while the cheese is delicious and the jam brings it up a notch, it's the toasted bread that's the real star of the show.
 
 
THE CHEESE: Bouyguette
 
Bouyguette, which is sometimes also called Bouyguette des Collines (Bouyguette of the Hills) or Bouyguette du Segala, is a fresh cheese made with unpasteurized goat's milk that hails from the Midi-Pyrénées and especially from Tarn. It's formed by hand, which must be a challenge, because it's so wet it's impossible to move it without making fingerprint indents. Then, speaking of indents, it's molded with small netting that leaves the small grid impression on the surface. It's so delicate, I have no idea how it's safely transported up to Paris from all the way down by the Spanish border. It would be like trying to move chocolate mousse -- without a bowl.
 

Bouyguette is so wet and fluffy, it's more the texture of a spread than a solid cheese. It's not processed though; the airy, lightness comes from it being a young, fresh cheese. Though it is aged for two-three weeks, Bouyguette remains extremely mild flavored. So mild, in fact, that you might almost call it bland. In the end, a cheese this fresh is best eaten, to my taste buds, with some flavors mixed in. I supposed it could be salt and pepper, or even capers, or dried fruits and nuts, or jams, or fresh herbs -- especially given that it's usually sold adorned with a sprig of rosemary. But in the end, the added flavor that wins out for me is what nearly always wins out: honey.
 
THE CONNECTION:
 
I can't find anybody to confirm my suspicion, that the similarities between the words Bouyguette and baguette are purposeful: that the cheese is, in fact, named after the loaf of bread whose shape it mimics. But since I can't confirm, you'll just have to decide for yourselves.
 
 
Not only is the cheese named like a baguette, and shaped like a baguette, it also serves somewhat the same function as bread -- as a vehicle for other flavors. 

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