Jul 11, 2014

I Scream, You Scream: Boulette Blanche d'Avesnes


Nothing can beat walking around on a warm day with a good ice cream cone. Unless it's walking around on a warm day with one of the world's best ice cream cones and being able to bypass the hour-long queue to get it.


Why such a wait? Berthillon (pronounced roughly "bear-tea-yo") is listed nearly everywhere as some of the best ice cream on planet Earth, and is in all the tour books. There are ice cream vendors and restaurants all over the island -- and all over France, for that matter -- proudly proclaiming that they sell Berthillon. But the original store is right here on Ile Saint Louis.
Hence, even on cold, rainy days you can always see people strutting around with ice cream cones; it's like being in Boston, or Croatia. But on hot days, watch out: The entire island is groaning under the weight of double scoops.

Our secret to getting by the queues may not be helpful to you, since it revolves around living on the island. The original store, in the middle of the island, sells a rotating variety of 1/2 and 3/4 liter boxes, some of which even come in mixed boxes, with one flavor layered over the other (best combos so far: pistachio/raspberry and almond milk/strawberry). We even have parfait glasses that are parfait (perfect) -- a dozen that we won in the end-of-year school fundraising raffle.

Berthillon does offer Styrofoam cases if you need to transport them far, but we don't bother. We simply walk by the super-long lines, into the separate cash register for the non-cone buyers. I've never had more than three people in front of me for this line. The half liters cost around 9€ and the larger size around 13€. But it's well worth it when you consider a) how many servings you get, compared to the mini-scoops they sell for about 3€ b) how long the lines would be and c) the incredibly quality of the ice cream. I don't know how I can go back to other ice creams. I do miss American mega-chunks a little, I suppose, but the flavors here are so real, and so intense. That's Berthillon's claim to fame, and with good reason. It's sublime.

Creamy flavors we love: Caramel au Gingembre (ginger caramel, tastes like Christmas), Lait d'amande (almond milk), Noisette (hazelnut), Noix de Coco (coconut), Nougat au Miel (honey nougat), Pistache (pistachio), Praliné au Citron et Coriandre (Lemon Coriander Praline -- sounds bizarre, but tastes great!), Thé Earl Grey, Chocolat Blanc (white chocolate), and Chocolat au Nougat. Also excellent if you like very sweet: Caramel, Caramel au Beurre salé (Salted butter caramel). If you like very intense and almost bitter: Chocolat Noir (dark chocolate), also Gianduja à l'Orange, and Gianduja aux Noisettes (dark chocolate with orange and hazelnuts, respectively). The one creamy flavor we've tried so far that we didn't love: Tiramisu (oddly wine-y flavored).
Of the sorbets, which are still creamy in texture but non-dairy, we recommend: Framboise (raspberry), Mûre sauvage (wild blackberry), Myrtille (blueberry), Melon (cantaloupe, and Pippa's all-time favorite, but only offered seasonally in summer, to her chagrin), and Poire (pear) are the absolute stand-outs in our mind. Heavenly. Fraise des Bois (wild strawberry) is very famous but too sweet for my taste. I prefer the plain Fraise (strawberry). Super intense, and perhaps best cut with some vanilla or something mellow: Cassis (black-currant), Cerise (cherry), Framboise à la Rose (raspberry with rose), Fruit de la Passion (passion fruit), Litchees, and Mangue (mango). Nice and mellower: Figue (fig), Mirabelle (French yellow plum), Pêche (peach), and Pêche de Vigne (a French purplish peach).

We always have a nice assortment at our own apartment. We especially have to stock up during this summer, because in the Frenchest way possible, the store closes from around the end of July till the beginning of September. In other words, they shuttering arguably one of the most popular ice cream shops in the world during the height of summer vacation -- when the greatest number of people might actually want ice cream. Luckily, we have a fairly big freezer.

We are trying to work our way slowly, methodically, and joyfully through the Berthillon repertoire. But it's hard, because we all have our favorites we want on hand, and they don't have all flavors at all times during all seasons. The ones I most want to try in the near future: Grand-Marnier, Praliné aux Pignons (pine nut praline), Praliné Amaretto, Abricot (apricot), and Pêche et Feuille de Menthe (peach and mint leaf). Even after those, there will still be at least 33 more flavors we haven't tried. So, take that Baskin Robbins!

THE CHEESE: Boulette Blanche d'Avesnes

The name of the cheese, Boulette Blanche d'Avesnes, already tells you a lot: It means Little White Ball from Avesnes. It's traditionally taken from the same cheese paste as the super-stinky Maroilles cheese, up near the tip of northern France. Traditionally, whatever Maroilles break or are damaged during the manufacture process get mashed up and mixed with herbs such as tarragon, pepper, and parsley. The result is hand-formed into a ball and aged between 2-3 months.

Despite being made from Maroilles paste, this cheese is nothing like a Maroilles, neither in appearance, taste nor texture. The texture is almost doughy and pasty, more like dry mashed potatoes than cheese. The Boulette Blanche d'Avesnes tastes more strongly of herbs than of dairy. It's salty, savory, and seems like the origins for the idea of a processed cheese spread. It's not my favorite (or, frankly, the favorite of any of the 15 people that try it), but I can see the logic of making it to use up the broken cheeses.

Both by name and product, it's clearly related to the Boulette d’Avesnes; it is obviously not the same cheese, however, in that the red version is covered with paprika and the white version is basically just the insides, sold wrapped up in cellophane.


Boulette Blanche d'Avesnes does not taste like ice cream. It's not as delicious as Berthillon. And there is -- thank God -- no Berthillon flavor of Boulette Blanche d'Avesnes. But, Boulette Blanche d'Avesnes sure does look like an ice scream scoop (vanilla chocolate chip, I'd say) sitting atop a cone.


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