Apr 17, 2016

Nuts to That!: Mystère de Chèvre au Miel et aux Pistaches


It's part two in my series "Unsafe, Uninsured, Unconcerned, and Politically Incorrect" and I'm going nuts. Nuts for nuts in France, that is. You see this bowl of peanuts? I put it out for a party with about 30 invitees, including at least a dozen children. I didn't even ask the parents if any children have nut allergies. Somebody pinch me; I must be dreaming.

But that's really is the way it is, here in France. Sure, they've heard of allergies. One unfortunate child in Pippa's elementary school was allergic to milk, sugar, and eggs. That makes French food pretty difficult, but since lunch periods are long here (usually an hour and a half), he could go home for lunch. And when he wanted to bring in a treat for his birthday, he would bring in bread made in a cake pan to share with his friends. When it was somebody else's birthday, and they brought in cake, soda, and candy to share, he would have nothing. Yes, I'm sure it's sad, but he never played the victim, and neither did his family. They didn't ask for special treatment, or for all the children to bring in allergy-friendly treats. He just knew that he had allergies and couldn't partake and didn't make a big deal of it. The other kids liked him, played with him, and he was included in every other way.

Yes, I realize this is probably making me sound heartless. I'm speaking as a parent who doesn't have to deal with that on a daily basis. I have friends and cousins whose children have serious allergies, and I'm sure it's a little heartbreaking to see your child excluded at treat time. And I do have sympathy for dangerous, even life-threatening allergies, honestly. Here in France, the more severe the allergy, the more carefully the student avoids the offending ingredient. But there's an enormous difference between the US and France in both the frequency of food allergies and the response to them.

Every year in early January, for Galette des Rois ("the Kings' Cake") holiday, the schools -- from elementary all the way up through high school and all over the country -- regularly serve the galette des rois, the classic almond-paste filled pastry. Somebody may have an allergy to almonds and nuts here, but in five years, I've never heard a word about it. The schools just blithely lay out hundreds of slices of flaky almond pastry and the kids greedily gobble them up.

Pippa puts nuts in her after-school bag of snacks, to eat on her way to gymnastics, several times per week. She frequently shares what's in there with her friends on the bus or in the gym. I wonder how much trouble she's going to get in when she goes back to the States and does the same?

On a slight tangent: One of Gigi's teachers regularly uses slang curse words to call the class idiotic. He occasionally makes up inappropriate nicknames, calling one boy "Nutella" because of the color of his skin. If you're horrified, you'll be happy to know that all the students -- even the French ones -- are horrified by this, too. But the response is so different here. The kids bond over it, siding with the boy, of course. There are no parents involved, no school boards, no official reprimands. While the best thing would be to not have a racist jerk for a teacher, I feel like there's some educational value in being exposed to different kinds of thought (even abhorrent ones), and then learning how to disagree, coexist, and even thrive despite them. Gigi says the boy seems unfazed by it, and they all roll their eyes together. Perhaps it helps that he is not the only one singled out; the teacher throws around his discrimination indiscriminately.

I know you don't want to hear it, but even besides its obvious offensiveness as a racial epithet, Nutella is "politically incorrect" in and of itself, on several fronts. First of all, it contains a small amount of hazelnuts (both less hazelnut and chocolate than you would hope, given that it's supposed to be a chocolate-hazelnut spread) and so can't be served to people with nut allergies. Also, it's made with palm oil and so is environmentally unfriendly, a comment that clearly marks me as American.

Not only are there noticeably fewer food allergies and intolerances here, there are also fewer food "requirements" -- that is, when you invite people over for dinner, you don't actually need to ask (and they generally won't tell) if somebody is vegetarian, lactose intolerant, avoiding gluten, into grapefruits, not into grapefruits, trying to eat like the cavemen, or trying to avoid foods with the letter "A" in them. Basically, you invite people (adults and kids) over, you serve them what you want to serve them, and they politely eat whatever portion of it they want and are able to enjoy. I regularly invite a dozen French or French-raised kids over and have never, ever heard from a parent or child about what they can or cannot eat. The Americans that visit us are another story entirely.

It may be politically incorrect to say it, but in France, the world does not revolve around one person's dietary restrictions or voluntary eating habits. Yes, as a guest, it means I might have to eat rabbit. But as a hostess, it's a blessed relief.

THE CHEESE: Mystère de Chèvre au Miel et aux Pistaches

Mystère de Chèvre au Miel et aux Pistaches is a very big name for a very small, golf-ball sized cheese. It means, aptly, "Mystery of Goat Cheese with Honey and Pistachios". There is no mystery about why it's so freakin' delicious: it's a soft, mildly tangy goat cheese molded into a ball with a honey-coated pistachio crust, all conceived by one of France's (and, therefore, the world's) best fromagers, Laurent Dubois.

The goat cheese itself is high quality, made with raw milk and aged briefly to bring out the grassy flavors. Like many chèvres, it's a spring specialty, which is really emphasized by the gorgeous spring color.

Often, I like to jazz up a mild goat cheese with honey or fruit gels, but on this one, it's already done for me. If you've ever wondered why the French consider cheese to be dessert, this is your answer.


I serve this cheese, as part of a cheese platter, to some friends visiting from San Francisco. Luckily, I am able to feed them without worries about allergies, diets, or pickiness, though that is not always the case with our American visitors.


Mystère de Chèvre au Miel et aux Pistaches is clearly not the cheese for you if you have nut allergies. Or lactose intolerance. Or an allergy to milk proteins. You should avoid it if you're pregnant (unpasteurized, soft cheese, made with raw honey) or if you're an infant, an elderly person, or somebody with a compromised immune system (the raw honey again). The Mystère de Chèvre au Miel et aux Pistaches should also remain a mystery to you if you are allergic to delicious soft cheeses. Or to all things French. Or to the color green. Other than that, you're safe, and you should definitely go out and enjoy this cheese, if you are lucky enough to find it in season at a Laurent Dubois fromagerie.


  1. Although goats milk contains lactose most people with lactose intolerance can eat products containing goats milk. Most are sensitive to only products made with cows milk.


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