Jul 3, 2014

Cloudy With a Chance of Caramel: Chèvre Christiane


There's always the next "it" French treat -- whether it's crêpes, croissants, or cream puffs, or madeleines, meringues, or macarons. Well, I can tell you what the next big thing is: Aux Merveilleux. Loosely translated, this means "In a Marvelous Way". Well, eating them certainly puts me in a marvelous way.

They are less expensive and easier to make than make many of the other French treats, particularly macarons. So in this way, they're the perfect export. On the other hand, they don't transport well at all -- delicate and smushable as they are -- so you can't export them far, without an actual store-front nearby. Fréderic Vaucamps has been making them for 30 years, and there are now several branches of Aux Merveilleux de Fred in Paris, and more recently in Belgium and London, too.

The dessert, which hails from northern France, is made with a sandwich of two meringues filled with a flavored fluffy cream filling. Then the whole sandwich is coated in a mountain of more of the fluffy cream. The entire snowball is then coated in a crunchy topping that complements the filling flavor: chocolate shavings, nuts, or crispy crunchy crystallized meringue.
The flavors are Marvelous (chocolate), Incredible (white chocolate), Unthinkable (coffee), Eccentric (cherry), Magnificent (crushed candied almond and hazelnut), and Without Underwear ("Sans-Culotte" -- caramel). I couldn't make this stuff up.

Biting into one is, almost literally, a heavenly experience. It genuinely feels like you're eating a cloud. A delicious, lightly sweet, creamy-crunchy cloud. The stores seem to have a similar ethos, and they all feel like you've just passed through the Pearly Gates -- spacious (even in the midst of high rent areas), sparse, elegant, and presided over by an imposing crystal chandelier.


I told my LA chef friend, Nathan Lyon, and his girlfriend Sarah about the stores before they came to visit Paris, and by the time they got here, they had already found the first inroads into the US. Le Mervetty is now open for business in Beverly Hills, and with any luck, there will be a branch of either shop -- or something new -- near you soon.

THE CHEESE: Chèvre Christiane

Chèvre Christiane is a fluffy ball of raw goat's milk cheese. One of our guests, Nathan's girlfriend Sarah, describes it as "ethereal. Like home-made whipped ricotta." The taste is mild, and in many ways it serves best as a vehicle for other flavors on top. The ball of cheese is decimated by the cheese-tasting party, especially Gigi, who goes at it like a savage every time somebody steps away from the cheese knife.

Chèvre Christiane is ethereal in more than one sense. The bite of cheese doesn't just melt in the mouth, it disappears in the mouth. And the whole ball of cheese disappears nearly as quickly from the plate. Even more than that, you will only ever see it rarely and briefly. My best guess is that somebody named Christiane makes a few balls of this as a farm-house, home-made cheese, and that you're not likely to find it in many (even any) stores. I happen upon it once in all my time here, and can't find it again, either, so don't feel bad.


Biting into Chèvre Christiane is like biting into an Aux Merveilleux, in that both are ethereal, fluffy, heavenly clouds.


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