Quotes

Aug 24, 2015

Everything But a Bee in Her Bonnet: Fédou

THE STORY:

Did you hear the screams from your place? That was Pippa, blackberry picking. Normally, you expect some pricks and scratches when you pick blackberries, due to the brambles, but in the countryside outside of Beziers in southern France, Pippa gets way more than she bargained for, when she sees (and feels!) three spider wasps (Argiope bruennichi) biting her leg -- each spider around the size of my hand when you include leg span.


Photo taken by Laure Latham of Frog Mom

We see some of the spiders as we're picking, but Pippa must have walked through a low web. All of a sudden, she comes screaming down the hill she's on, in full hysterics (in the most Victorian sense of the word). It's like a scene from a horror film, except we can't understand at first what has happened, through the screaming and the tears.

Photo taken by Laure Latham of Frog Mom
 
It's hard to see the puncture wounds from the aptly named wasp spiders, but she's got five of them on her legs (we believe two from each spider, but one guy only got one fang in...). I'm relying on my friend Laure, who's an outdoor enthusiast and author, not only for the secret location of the blackberries (and for fabulous blackberry recipes) but also for the photos. I don't actually get many photos of the great wasp spider incident day, because I'm dealing with my daughter, who is understandably traumatized. She was already fairly terrified of spiders before, even the itsy bitsy and very harmless kind, so I'm not sure what effect this will have on her arachnophobia for the rest of her life. At least she won't have to worry about them everywhere she goes: they live in central and northern Europe, northern Africa, and parts of Asia.
 
Photo taken by Laure Latham of Frog Mom
 
We hightail it to a pharmacist, who gives us a wide range of painkillers and advice for medicine we already have in our arsenal. That includes a topical FlashSédermyl, which seems to alleviate the pain, some Kids' Benadryl in a travel-sized container, the prednisolone (which we happen to have because Pippa recently had an ear-ache so severe, we had to call a doctor at 3am for an emergency house call: total bill 78 euros). And let us not forget the Apis, which is a tube full of sugary little balls that would work perfectly well as ice cream sprinkles. They are almost certainly a placebo, and of course are Pippa's favorite medicine, but the French believe in them wholeheartedly. 
 
 
One of the few photos I do take is of my little Pippa -- still very sad, but much calmer now -- sitting in the pharmacy. Earlier this morning, she and her friends were playing with make-up, and the timing seems pretty funny that the one day she's wearing mascara in her life is the one day she cries uncontrollably for half an hour. It seems clear that the mascara is not waterproof. Or, at least, not hysteria-proof.
 

And then, in one of those turn of events that you would declare "totally unrealistic" if you read it in a book or saw it in a movie, while I am snuggling with Pippa to get her to sleep, she shows me an unusually itchy, big red bite on her other leg. There's a smooth black bump right in the center. Poor kid is bitten by three wasp spiders and a tick on the same day! Anthony gets the tick out, no problem. I would do it if I were the only one with her, but other than that, I happily pass the baton because I have entonophobia -- fear of ticks, that is. After having a tick or two myself when I was a kid, from our family dog, my recurring childhood nightmare involved a tick that would suck so much blood, it would grow and grow in my room until I was about to be crushed, at which point I would have to jump out of my second story window, and would wake up in a panic just before I crash landed. So, really Anthony, you get the tick out.

 
They do have Lyme disease here in France, though I'm told it's more prevalent where there are deer, and we're not in deer country. In any event, we're watching for the bull's-eye marks around the bite and for flu-like symptoms, but so far it all seems clear.
 
 

But the big mystery remains: why are the bugs all going for Pippa? And on the same day, no less? All we can tell her is that she is simply too delicious.

THE CHEESE: Fédou

Fédou is a mild sheep cheese typically made in Hyelzas, a small village a couple hours due north of Beziers. It's usually an artisanal cheese, made with raw sheep's milk.



We buy ours, however, in Jausiers, at the Ferme d'Abriès at the northern tip of the Mercantour National Park in southeastern France, which is several hours east of Hyelzas. Their version is a farmhouse cheese, still made from the raw milk of sheep. These sheep, in fact:



At this farm:



Fédou is a soft, thick, and creamy cheese that is very mild -- almost no farminess or sheepiness about it. It's more sweet than salty. And while it doesn't have any sort of compellingly addictive cheese flavor to it, it serves a lovely base for other spreads, jams, and flavors.

THE CONNECTION:

There are too many reasons to pair this cheese with this story, just as there are too many bugs biting poor Pippa. First of all, the cheese is about the size of a wasp spider, if you include the leg span. It's even striped, like the bug. Simultaneously, it has a nifty bull's-eye ring marking on it, which is what we are fervently hoping we will not see around Pippa's tick-bite.



We buy and eat this cheese with our friend, Laure, the Frog Mom who is our guide to blackberries in Beziers and photographer for the day. She also happens to make some really delicious home-made jam, including strawberry-elderflower (my favorite) and fig. It's a joy to eat fresh blackberries or blackberry jam with some mild Fédou, as long as you don't get bitten by spiders collecting them.
 

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