May 29, 2015

Surely, the Corniest Post: Rond Cendré


Surely, this is the corniest post I've written about France (and I won't call you Shirley). When we had a French exchange student stay with our family nearly 40 years ago, we served him corn on the cob at our house in upstate New York. François was aghast, horrified, disgusted, and probably insulted, too. We had just served him pig slop, as far as he was concerned.

When François saw us all eating it, and we assured him it was delicious (ooh, nothing like high season sweet corn), he gave in and tried it. It was, as you can imagine -- but only if you've ever tried American sweet corn in season -- a real epiphany. Corn on the cob! It's delicious! Sweet, juicy, almost more fruit than vegetable. Almost more dessert than side dish.

But now that I'm in France, I kind of see François' point. My fruit seller, whom I adore and who gives me consistently great produce and steers me towards what's in season, recommends the corn on the cob. Not just recommends, she actually raves. I've been disappointed by French corn before, but optimistically -- foolishly, it turns out -- I buy a few ears. Once again, this is the sort of starchy, flavorless, chewy corn on the cob that, well, we would have fed to our pigs as slop in upstate New York, if we had had pigs. To add insult to injury, it's much more than a buck-an-ear, and I pay around three-bucks-an-ear for the privilege of not enjoying it. And this, mind you, is the "good" corn that's being sold for human consumption now that, 40 years later, the French have started to incorporate the American idea that corn is not just for animal fodder.

But in France, perhaps, it should be. So disappointing. If only somebody could ship me sweet corn. Sigh. The only way to get good, sweet corn here for salads or recipes is in cans (organic or not). But on the cob? Surely not.

THE CHEESE: Rond Cendré

Rond Cendré, which means simply "Ashed Round", is, naturally, a round, ashed cheese. It's made from raw goats' milk in Charentes-Poitou, my favorite go-to region for goat cheeses. It's a small, thick disc with beautiful silver-white-gray-black mold and wrinkly toad skin.

A Rond Cendré is a classic goat cheese, with a mild-medium goat taste that gets stronger with age. There's a nice balance of salty and floral, all in a cheese with a sliceable, thick, solid, yet still creamy texture. Like most goat cheeses, it starts to appear in the spring and is available mostly during the spring and summer, disappearing, to my chagrin, in the fall.


At first glance, there's little reason to pair the Rond Cendré with a story about corn on the cob. But I have my reason: Just as the French have historically considered corn to be unsuited for human consumption, I know many Americans would consider a blackish-wrinkly-moldy cheese to be unsuited for human consumption. In this respect, both cultures are just plain wrong, because both of these summer treats are well-worth enjoying, if you get them in the right place at the right time.


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