Jun 20, 2014

Brooklynization: Anneau du Vic-Bilh


Wherever I look, Paris is being Brooklynized. Let's put it this way, the alternate title for this posting was: Bagels, and Donuts, and Hot Dogs, Oh My! Toto, we may not be in Kansas, or even Brooklyn, but sometimes it's starting to feel like it.

I'm not the only who's noticed this. Our girls' guitar teacher -- a Brooklynite -- brought over his business, the Park Slope Rock School, to Paris and discovered to his delight that in Paris everything Park Slope and Brooklyn is très, très chic.

We notice more and more bagel stores. I was planning to write a hyperbolic, "there's one popping up on every corner" here. And then -- guess what? -- I found one popping up around the corner.

Some of them are downright horrible; we've had to spit out what we call "fagels", that is to say, fake bagels. I may not be from Brooklyn, but I have New York Jewish blood in my veins, and I feel I can say with great authority that a bagel is not a muffin-textured bread in a circle with a hole in the middle. Even Pippa's baguegel invention (pronounced buh-GAY-gul: her hand-formed braided baguette circle with a hole in the middle) tastes way more like a bagel than some of the fagels to which we've been subjected.

Nothing says "authentic New York bagel" quite like an Indian restaurant called "Le Butter Chicken" serving bagels in Paris.

After some trial and error, we find our hands-down favorite bagels: Stanz, in the Marais, which makes sense, because it's known to be a traditionally Jewish neighborhood. The owner tells me he's gone for a cross between a New York and a Montreal bagel, and I appreciate his approach: It's a little less jaw-achingly chewy than a true New York bagel. Sometimes they put in oddball flavors like spelt with chestnut chunks, squid ink, dill & lemon, thyme & apricot, or Parmesan & basil. But we forgive them -- partly because it is so much fun to say the word "pumpernickel" with a French accent when we order.

Nowadays, I sometimes even see donuts -- American-style, Styrofoam-looking donuts with a sugary glaze that looks almost plastic -- in, of all places, traditional boulangeries and pâtisseriesSacré bleu! I literally cannot imagine who is buying these, sitting next to the delicious, fresh-looking French pastries and viennoiseries. And don't even get me started on the hot dogs, which they sometime put inside a baguette by making an indent into the bread, squirting in ketchup, and then inserting the dog. It's a travesty in so many ways.

This atrocity modern art statue at a rotary in the city of Montepellier (one of many questionable civic choices there) may have some deep meaning, but from the moment it was erected, the locals nicknamed it Donut & Sausage. It's not Paris, but it just goes to show that the donut and hot dog creep is expanding.

And finally, though it has no hole in it, the cupcake may just be the new reigning Paris pastry queen. Every cupcake shop we've seen is precious, in just the way that cupcakes shops are in the United States and, probably, everywhere else in the world. In Paris, we usually find miniature cupcakes, sold at exorbitant prices.

This adorable spot, Bertie's Cupcakery (could it sound any more Brooklyn?!) is on Ile de la Cité, nestled a block away from Notre Dame on a quiet road, juxtaposed next to a café called Au Vieux Paris (Old Paris). I have been told I should try the strawberry cupcake with lemon frosting, next time I want to drop a bundle on a treat.

Though I have never considered us a cupcake, or even cake, family, we have developed a favorite cupcakerie, carefully culled from the, um, one shop we've actually tasted. Berko cupcakes in the Marais (conveniently almost right next to Stanz bagels) are really rather decadent.

We discover Berko's just in time for Gigi's 10th birthday; so if you're wondering why there are nine cupcakes on the plate, a number which is both not ten and divides unevenly among the four of us, it's because that's the biggest box they sell, at about 23€. Possibly because it would bankrupt somebody to buy a whole dozen. One of her birthday presents is everything needed to make mini-cupcakes, including a Berko cookbook. Which means we get to enjoy birthday cupcakes, round two, a few days later.

Too bad I didn't know I like cupcakes when I actually lived in the US. But thanks to Brooklynization, it appears I can develop that habit here.

THE CHEESE: Anneau du Vic-Bilh

Anneau du Vic-Bilh is a raw goat's milk cheese from the Béarn at the eastern edge of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, with a beautiful blue-gray crust that comes from both mold and a dusting of ash. It belongs to that most special, wonderful class of cheese (a class made up by our children): the Moldy Donut. It is in the same vein as other fantastic Moldy Donuts like Anneau du Poitou and Couronne de Lochoise.

Inside, the flavor is perfectly balanced between salty, goaty, and tangy. It's an artisanal, high quality cheese, and the texture is just as luxurious as the taste. Creamy, soft, oozy, and silky. Anneau du Vic-Bilh is a recent creation that is not only hand-made but also always organic, which gives you some idea of just how recent a creation it really is. It is a marvel of a cheese.


Photos taken in NYC: You get the idea.


Not only is an Anneau du Vic-Bilh a new thing, like donuts and bagels in Paris, but it's also in the shape of a ring -- hence our nickname for this sort of cheese, "the Moldy Donut". There are other Moldy Donuts I could have chosen, but Vic and Bilh sound like two guys who would live in Brooklyn and sell you bagels, donuts, and hot dogs. But something as precious as a pretty little cupcake? Fuggedabout it.


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