Apr 28, 2017

Tastes Like Chicken: Palouze des Aravis


Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In this story, it's the egg, but not a regular egg. Then it's the chicken, which isn't real chicken. So when is an egg not just a regular egg? When your French friend serves you quails' eggs for breakfast. They taste pretty much just like chicken eggs, though the shells are a whole lot prettier.

And as for that chicken: the French enjoy not merely chicken but rather a plethora of poultry; they feast on fowl; they binge on birds. Yes, they mostly taste like chicken.

If you're squeamish about your meats, then menus here are a minefield of chickens that are not chicken. You'll often see "volaille" used interchangeably as "chicken", though it really means "poultry." So be on the lookout for "Suprême de Volaille" on a menu, which is chicken breast, plain and simple. But probably not plain, because this is France. So almost certainly served in a sauce. When you buy chicken breasts raw, they are called "blanc de poulet" (literally "white of chicken").

You can also get nice, plump chicken breasts as part of your poularde, that is, fattened chicken.

There's duck of course: both confit de canard (essentially fried duck leg and thigh) or magret de canard (sliced duck breast). You will also see "canette" (duckling) on the menu and in the regular poultry isle of the grocery store. "Canette" also means a drink can, so you might see it on the menu in the beverages section, too. But you'll never see "Suprême de canard". Only chicken breasts reign supreme.

They do sell turkey (dinde) here in France, which is always nice for Americans as we come up on Thanksgiving. But more often than turkey, you'll find "caille" or "pintade" on menus, at butchers, and even in Picard, the frozen food store.

These are not considered exotic foods but rather other, perfectly acceptable, normal versions of poultry to enjoy. Pigeon is a little rarer (I mean less common, not less cooked) but still available in fine restaurants.

The finest French restaurants used to serve the infamous dish "ortolan" (a bunting), a tiny songbird that one ate cooked -- bones, beak, head and all -- until it was banned because the species was becoming endangered. When I say "one ate" I mean someone else ate, because it may taste like chicken, but you wouldn't catch me near it. I'll stick with chicken.

Even among chickens, you can get it right, or you can cock it up. You know that famous French dish "Coq au Vin"? We usually translate it as "chicken in wine sauce," but in fact the word "coq" means "rooster" and it used to indeed be made with rooster -- tougher and darker but supposedly more flavorful than the hens we usually eat. And that is one of the reasons it was stewed slowly in wine sauce, to break down the tough meat.

Older French people, especially those who grew up on farms eating true Coq au Vin lament that the stuff we eat nowadays doesn't come close for flavor. It's hard to imagine how different one chicken could be from another chicken, given that all the birds that aren't even chicken at all taste a lot like...chicken.

Your guide to volaille (poultry):

caille = quail
canard = duck
canette = duckling
coq = rooster
coquelet = young cockerel, baby rooster
dinde = Turkey (so a Turkey from India would be a dinde d'Inde)
orolon = bunting / song bird (now illegal to eat in France)
pigeon = pigeon
pintade = guinea fowl
poularde = fattened chicken
poule = hen
poulet = chicken
poulet de Cornouailles (or poulet Cornish) = Cornish game hen, which you'll never find in France
volaille = poultry, but often used synonymously with chicken

THE CHEESE: Palouze des Aravis

Palouze des Aravis is a farmhouse, raw cows' milk cheese that comes from the Aravis area of the Alps. In the local, traditional dialect, "palouze" is a hard disk, which sums up the shape pretty well. In fact, the particular specimen I find is a slightly fatter disk than usual. Usually, the disks are the height of a focaccia, whereas mine is almost fluffy like a two-layer cake. But the outside is pure Palouse des Aravis: gray, thick, dried-out crust that looks like a boulder.

It's a summer cheese, meaning the milk comes from the cows who are spending their summers grazing on the green hills in the mountains. You can certainly buy it beyond the summer season, however, because it's aged at least 5-6 months. This a great example of how historically cheese was a way of preserving milk and summer flavors for the cold winter months. You can imagine milking the cows in the July, getting all sorts of grass, herb, and flower flavors in the milk, then enjoying the cheese in the freezing cold of February.

The milk is uncooked, then the cheese is pressed to eliminate a lot of the liquids. That beautiful crust is washed only once at the beginning of the aging process, then allowed to dry out, toughen up, and develop natural molds.

The exterior belies what's inside. While a Palouze des Aravis certainly can be super aged and dried out (getting thinner as it goes, generally), mine is still plump and moist. For a hard cheese, that is. There's a hint of creaminess as it warms up in the mouth. The flavor is buttery and sunny, with some of those classic sweet, nutty, grassy hints of a good mountain cow cheese. It's got character but is by no means a super powerful or stinky cheese.


This connection is a very big stretch, because this cheese tastes nothing like chicken. But at the very least, in a kind of anagram-ish way, you can at least use the letters of Palouze to spell out "poule" meaning "hen". Yes, that's honestly the reason I chose this cheese. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Apr 21, 2017

Smells Good: Carré de Vinage


Sometimes, something can be right under your nose, and you won't even notice: for example, the Fragonard perfume museum in Paris, on a gorgeous little alley right near the Opera, where I've been countless times.Yet my path to get to this museum was circuitous, in that it took a young Princeton alumni moving to Paris to study perfumery, reading my blog, and contacting me in order for me to hear about it. But now that I do know, Paris (and my world) will never quite smell the same.

Apr 14, 2017

Keeping It in the Family: Belle-Mère


In the Albanian language (or so I am told...), a brother-in-law that is your sister's husband is not the same word as a brother-in-law who is your husband's brother. That makes sense to me, because they're different relationships, so why should they have the same name? English always seems to have a deficit of relationship names. Well, it turns out, French is even worse.

Apr 7, 2017

Pretty City, Sometimes Witty: Le Saint Mont des Alpes


My grandfather would have said, "You seen one town, you seen 'em all." And that's true if you're looking at this bunch of towns' signs, for they all say Montreal. This tiny little village in Burgundy is one of seven Montreals in France, part of the Association of Montreals of France. Not only is it not the only Montreal, it's not the only town association, either. There's also the Most Beautiful Villages of France, Little Towns of Character, and let's not forget Towns with Raunchy Names.

Montreal in the department of Yonne (Burgundy area) is a charming place that dates back to medieval times, much of it built in the 11th through 13th centuries. It's hard to say which is the oldest of all the Montreals, but it's easy to say which one is not the oldest, and that's the biggest and most famous one you're thinking of in Canada.


Like Montreal in Canada, it's got a heavily Catholic history. The Notre Dame in this Montreal is considered one of the town medieval architectural gems, called out by the famous French Reniassance architect Violett-le-Duc.


This particular Montreal is closely linked with 16th century French King Francois I, which explains this salamander -- his royal symbol.

There is an organization for Petites Cités de Caractère -- Small Towns with Character -- such as Apremont in the Vendée. They're not kidding, by the way; just like the villages on the Most Beautiful Villages of France list (not one of which has ever disappointed me in the slightest), these little towns are carefully selected and are, indisputably, charming.


Cabourg, a small town on the Normandy coast, is very proud to be part of an association, or two, or five. There's the Flowered Villages, FamilyPlus (Destinations for Children and Adults), Internet City 2015, Lions International, and Golden Flower 2013.

Though I am a sucker for the charm of all these hand-picked small towns, my favorite association of cities may just be the Association of French Villages with Raunchy and Singing Names (Association des Communes de France aux Noms Burlesque et Chantants), which had 38 member towns as of last count. The list includes:
  • Arnac (sounds like arnaque, which means Scam), Arnac la Poste (Scamming the Post Office), and Saint Arnac (St. Scam)
  • Bèze (sounds like baiser, which means to f**k)
  • Coubisou (Neck-kiss)
  • Bouzillé (sounds like bousiller, which means to screw up)
  • Corps-Nuds (Naked-Bodies)
  • Monteton (My Nipple)
  • Saint Barbant (Saint Boring)
  • Vinsobres (sounds like Sober Wine)
  • Trécon (sounds like Very Idiotic)
  • Poil (Hairy, also slang for Naked)
  • Les Léches (the Lickers)
  • Longcochon (Long Pig)
  • Beaufou (Handsome Crazy)
This one is not raunchy, and not part of any association that I can tell, but I find it a pretty interesting name, especially for a town in Normandy. Since "Guerre" means "War", first you are in War and then, since it's a tiny town, after just a very brief interval, you are out of War. All Wars should be this way.


In this same spirit in Paris, you can look up at the street signs. Here are my favorite pair of street names: the Rue des Mauvais Garcons (Street of the Bad Boys), and the Rue des Bons Enfants (Street of the Good Children). Not surprisingly, they never intersect.


THE CHEESE: Le Saint Mont des Alpes

Le Saint Mont des Alpes is a hard mountain cheese made from raw milk from Tarine or Abondance cows in the department of Savoie. It was originally made by a smaller coop but in 2013 was purchased by Monts et Terroirs, larger coop created in 1954 and now part of an even larger French dairy coop that owns the brands of Yoplait and Candia. They also own the brand Entremont, and you will sometimes find Le Saint Mont des Alpes under both brand names: Entremont and Monts & Terroirs.

It's a smooth hard cheese that is almost crumbly, but not quite. It's a mild mountain cheese, with sweet hints of nuts and grass. Le Saint Mont des Alpes has won several medals, over many years at various contests, and most recently a gold in 2016. But it's not the kind of cheese that hits you over the head with flavor and character. It's a mild, and mildly sweet, cheese and can often be found in grocery stores.


The cheese is not a royal mountain -- a mont real -- but at least it's a sacred, sainted mountain -- a saint mont. The one I buy is made by Monts & Terroirs (Mountains & Territories), but it's also made by EntreMont (BetweenMountains). The nearest Montreal of France is not far away, in the department of Ain.

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