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Jan 19, 2016

Take the Cake (Please): Brun de Noix

THE STORY:

There are plenty of French concepts we get wrong: for example, entrée (not the main dish of a meal, the appetizer!) and à la mode (not adding ice cream to something, but being in style). So it's only fair that the French occasionally mangle their English concepts. Enter exhibit A: le cake.


What, you ask is so wrong with the French cake pictured above -- the raspberry, chocolate, white chocolate and mousse? Nothing at all. But that is not le cake. That is le gâteau (which means "cake"). It's the thing the French call "le cake" that I have problems with. You're all set to bite into something at the buffet table called "le cake" and realize -- too late -- that those things you think are chocolate chips are black olives; what you thought was candied fruit is sundried tomatoes; and the white stuff isn't frosting, it's savory cheese.


No, my French friends, you're borrowing our English word, but getting it all wrong. That is not "le cake". It is "le loaf" or "le cheese-bread" or maybe "le savory muffin".

But at least the French are pronouncing it more or less correctly. If you are ever tempted to Frenchify the pronunciation so that it sounds like "le cock" please do not, as this will lead you to inadvertent racy double entendres, (e.g. "I like 'le cock'", "I don't want 'le cock'," etc.) as we accidentally and hilariously discovered when one of our daughters at a very young age tried to Frenchify the pronunciation.

France has cakes, of course -- beautiful, gorgeous gâteaux.

 

But when they call it "le cake" instead of "gâteau", you'd better beware.

THE CHEESE: Brun de Noix

Brun de Noix is a version of a Trappe d'Echourgnac, a raw cows' milk cheese rubbed during the one-two month aging process with walnut liqueur. It's made in the Machecoul, in the southern part of the Loire, by the lovely Bellevaire fromagerie, which sells it at its many high cheese-end shops around Paris.


It's a pressed, non-cooked cheese, and the end result is a semi-hard texture that melts in the mouth. The flavor is mild and buttery. But it's the purplish-brown exterior that gives it the real flavor. There is no point to this cheese unless you're going to eat the crust. It's not too dry or chewy, and it's what gives the cheese its unusual characteristics -- a walnut-infused sweetness. Every time I bite into one of these (or a Trappe d'Echourgnac, for that matter), I feel like I'm eating a walnut coffee cake. Even though I know it's cheese. It's actually a little bit of a mind-bender, but in a pleasant way.

THE CONNECTION:

You may bite into a French "le cake" expecting it to be sweet, naturally, because it's "cake", and then be startled to find it heavy on the olives and salt and cheese. It's no sweet walnut coffee cake. Ironically, the Brun de Noix will surprise you the other way; you bite into it expecting a salty cheese, yet it does taste somewhat like a walnut coffee cake. Especially the bites on the outside, where the cheese has been rubbed with the walnut liqueur, it has a downright sugary aftertaste. Flavor-wise, I think it's the cakiest of all cheeses.

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