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Jun 28, 2014

Flower Power: Tommette de Provence aux Baies (et aux Fleurs)

THE STORY:

Traveling at the beginning of summer, we are treated to the full glory of two of the most iconic flowers of Provence: lavender and sunflowers. It's so breathtaking, it's almost dangerous; driving along the road, one or another of us is apt to scream "STOP!" for a photo op.


The Abbaye de Sénanque is probably the most famous destination for seeing the lavender fields, since you also have the benefit of the background of the beautiful 12th century abbey.
 
 

The inside is almost as picturesque as the outside. Almost. In any other season, it might even be lovelier.
 
  

But if there's one thing that just takes your breath away here in Provence, it's the fields of sunflowers. When you see a big field like this gleaming in the sun, you really must pull over and celebrate the moment. My friend Trina knows how to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.


Each and every field of gleaming, golden flowers makes us feel as if we are in a Van Gogh painting.
 
 

At one roadside photo op, Trina's husband James goes and makes a joke about me cavorting topless among the sunflowers. And, well, perhaps you know how much I love to titillate (pardon the pun) and how little I care about modesty. So I actually do it. Oh, don't get your knickers in a twist. James graciously returns to the car and Trina's the one who takes the photo, even though, frankly, we're all such old and good friends, I can't imagine any of us would really have cared. Nice sunflowers, eh?


Besides the iconic lavender and sunflowers, we're treated to poppies, rhododendron, and a host of other flowers I can't name.

  
 

The neighboring Abbaye de Silvacane is less interesting inside and out than the rather more purple Abbaye de Sénanque. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have its charming flower power to add, with the lovely water lilies.


THE CHEESE:

The Tommette de Provence is not so much a cheese as a blank canvas for all of Provence's herbs and flowers. It is generally sold as a Tommette de Provence aux Baies (bay leaves and berries), but it can just as easily (and more colorfully) be topped with edible flowers and flower petals, especially lavendar. Or, for more zing, herbes de Provences, shallots, or peppercorn. It is a fresh cheese and is made, sold, and eaten rapidly (within a week or two, at the most). If you buy the petal covered cheeses, make sure you eat them just as rapidly: Picked flower petals don't age as well as cheese.



The cheese originated in the Alpes Côte d'Azur area of Provence, and has a summery lightness about it, both in texture and flavor. It's fluffy and fresh, almost like a mousse. And the taste is simple, creamy, a little lemony, and only mildly goaty. But of course, with the herbs on it, the flavor is much, much more intense.



This it not just a smaller version of a Tomme de Provence. Unlike that cheese, Tommette de Provence  has no crust and is not aged. The texture is very different, like the contrast between butter and a light, creamy mousse. Okay, it's not that different. But still, it's not the same cheese on paper, nor is it the same by sight or taste.

THE CONNECTION:



I see and taste these gorgeous cheeses at one of the many Provence markets we stumble upon. Not only have I never seen a tray of cheeses so floral and gorgeous, I've never even imagined it. It's like the breathtaking, beautiful fields: I just have to scream "STOP!" and take a minute to smell (and taste, and photograph) the flowers. And with that, I say au revoir to Provenceneyland™: land of lavender, sunflowers, flower-covered markets, flower-covered old villages, flower-covered fields, and even flower-covered cheese.

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