Aug 25, 2017

Frog in My Throat: Morvan


Let's jump right into it: Why are the French sometimes called "Frogs" -- both lovingly and disparagingly? There seem to be as many reasons as there are, well, frogs in a pond. But the most likely has something to do with the frogs the French eat.

Traditionally, they are eaten as frogs' legs, called "cuisse de grenouille" which actually translates more literally as "frogs' thighs". I think that's about the only edible meat. But for a people who also eat snail, often slathered in butter and parsley, the size of the meat is not a big problem.

In my pursuit of all things French, I guess I need to try some, too, but I must admit I'm happy when my friend orders the Frog Leg Salad so that I can have a taste, without having it be my entire meal.

These little tan bits of meat sprinkled all over the salad is the frog. It's quite a lot of frog, actually. And does it, as people like to say, taste like chicken? I'd say more like a combination of chicken and a rubbery, overcooked white fish. I can't say I ever want to eat more of it, though my friend tells me it's more delicious served as an entire leg, slathered in butter (which seems to be a recurring theme in French cuisine). It might taste better, but I think it would be even hard for me to eat it, conceptually, in that form.

Jumping back to the reason the French are called Frogs: I read many theories, though most involve the eating of frogs. Some point to the British who, starting in the 16th century, started called them "frog-eaters" which got abbreviated.

Or, was it in the 18th century, when visiting French nobles referred to Parisians as Frogs, due to the amount of swamps all around the city (the neighborhood of the Marais, for example, actually means "Swamp") and the frogs in them. And then, the name just gradually spread to all French.

Or was it a nickname given during World War II by American soldiers, in honor of French resistance soldiers who excelled in camouflage and pounced quickly for ambushes?

Or was it during World War II, but as a nickname given to French army officers because of the special buttons used to close their jackets, made of wood and ribbon, and called "frogs".

Or the nickname might go back to the Middle Ages, when the English soldiers thought the Fleur-de-Lys on the French banners looked from afar like squatting frogs.

What we do know is that the French started eating frogs (or at least writing about it) in the 12th century. Monks persuaded the Catholic Church that frogs were not meat but rather, because they lived in the water so much, fish. And thus, they were able to frogs when they were supposed to be abstaining from meat. Devout and hungry peasants, who could get frogs for free, copied the example.

Frogs are not something you see on every menu. In fact, in over five years here, we've barely seen it on any. When we have seen it, it's proudly advertised as a specialty and usually associated (or served in) Burgundy.


Morvan is a raw goats' milk farmhouse cheese from, where else?, the Morvan, which a regional parkland in the Burgundy area. It's clearly a close cousin to a Crottin de Morvan in terms of just about everything (region, production method, milk used, size, and flavor). But it differs a little in that it's a more refined shape, less blob and more puck.

But like the Crottin, the Morvan is delicious, and has the full flavor of the natural setting in which it's made: hints of hazelnut and grass, a medium-strength waft of goat, and a soft, relatively spreadable texture. Because it's a short-shelf-life goat cheese, you'll find it generally in the spring and summer (into early fall, at best).


In the Regional Park of the Morvan, there are woods, hills, and ponds, in which you can certainly find some frogs. The park, for which the cheese is named, is in Burgundy, where frogs' legs are served up as a local specialty. I tasted my frogs' legs salad not too far away. All in all, I'd much rather eat the Morvan cheese than any more frogs.


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