Friday, July 30, 2010

The Gourmet - Muriel Barbery

At the moment I am reading The Gourmet by Muriel Barbery. I read her other book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, in English and loved it. I am now reading the Gourmet in French- it is also a great read, especially for foodies!

"France's greatest food critic is dying, after a lifetime in single-minded pursuit of sensual delights. But as Pierre Arthens lies on his death bed, he is tormented by an inability to recall the most delicious food to ever pass his lips, which he ate long before becoming a critic. Desperate to taste it one more time, he looks back over the years to see if he can pin down the elusive dish. Revealing far more than his love of great food, the narration by this larger-than-life individual alternates with the voices of those closest to him and their own experiences of the man. Muriel Barbery's gifts as an evocative storyteller are put to mouth-watering use in this voluptuous and poignant meditation on food and its deeper significance in our lives. A delectable treat to savour." Amazon

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cantal, Fig and Apple Tartine

Ingredients :

  • 4 slices of crusty bread (ideally "pain de campagne")
  • 4 fresh figs
  • 1 apple
  • 8 slices of Cantal
  • 20g of chopped hazelnuts

  1. Preheat the oven to 210 degrees.
  2. Wash the apple, core, and cut into thin slices (skin on).
  3. Cut the figs in half.
  4. Arrange the apple slices on the bread and then the figs halves. Sprinkle over the chopped hazelnuts and top with the slices if Cantal.
  5. Bake in the over for 5 minutes, or until the Cantal has melted and the bread has toasted.
Source: Other Cantal recipes available (in French).

Cheese of the Month : Cantal (PDO/ AOP)

Cantal cheese is a firm cheese from the Cantal region of France. It is named after the Cantal mountains in the Auvergne region. The Auvergne region is absolutely beautiful and I would recommend it to anyone.

“Life in Cantal is played out against a stunning landscape of immense power and beauty. Home to natural riches as varied as the dramatic gorges of the Lot and Truyère, the ancient woodland of La Châtaigneraie, the wild moorland of the Aubrac and the boundless emerald green pastures of Salers. But above all Cantal is a land dominated by mountains. Long before the first signs of man, streams of molten lava erupted from the earth’s core to form an immense volcanic crater. For eons this vast mountain of fire dominated the land until an ice age once more froze the surface of the earth. Giant glaciers ripped through the vast volcano, tearing apart the walls of the crater, gouging out steep valleys and sculpting the sharp summits and ridges of the Monts du Cantal.”

Anyway, back to the cheese. Cantal is one of the oldest cheeses in France. It benefits from Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Cantal is shaped like a cylinder, and is one foot in diameter. Cantal is made from raw or pasteurised cow's milk of the Salers breed.

For Cantal, the milk of cows that are fed on hay (during 15 November to 15 April) is used; the summer milk of the same cows grazing on mountain meadows makes the Salers cheese. This semi-hard cheese is aged for several months. The flavor is similar to Cheddar, with a strong, tangy butter taste and grows with age. A well ripened Cantal has a vigorous taste, while a young cheese has the sweetness of raw milk. Its smell is of earth and pasture lands, and is reminiscent of the rich pasture land of the Auvergne region it originates from. According to the time of aging, three varieties are distinguished:
  • Cantal jeune (aged 1-2 months)
  • Cantal entre-deux or Cantal doré (aged 2-6 months
  • Cantal vieux (aged more than 6 months).
These are all available as "fermier" and "laitier". Most (>80% of production) Cantal is of the first two varieties. Cantal vieux is already a hard cheese, if kept properly, it can last up to a year and a half without spoiling. It is not produced in large quantities. Much loved in the Cantal region, Cantal vieux is quite rarely exported due to its strong taste, and can usually be found only in specialist stores.

If you like Cheddar, you will love Cantal. My favourite variety is Cantal Vieux as I find it has more flavour (similar to a mature cheddar). It can be used instead of Cheddar in recipes. See above for a recipe using Cantal. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The best thing since... sliced cheese!

This has to be one of the greatest inventions ever, I can't believe no-one had thought of it before. Good old Dutch. I don't think they are selling them in the UK yet but there is a French website selling them :

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

La Bénédiction des Fromages

« Dignare sanctificare anc creaturam casei quam ex

adipe animalium producere dignatus es. »

Seigneur, le vent de mer sur les prés de Dixmude

A salé l’herbe haute où rêve un bétail rude.

Dans les champs ardennais votre grâce préserve

les pâtures qui font là-haut l’orgueil de Herve

et l’arôme des bois odorants les effleure.

Ils nous donnent le lait, les crèmes et le beurre.

Bénissez aujourd’hui, Dieu des prés, les fromages

dont votre peuple obéissant vous fait hommage !

Qu’ils soient gras ou légers, ronds comme des boulets,

ou plats comme ceux qui crevaient et s’écoulaient ;

que l’odeur des brebis ou des prés s’y renferme

qu’ils soient battus, Seigneurs, dans la cour de la ferme

et que leur bords durcis soudainement s’argentent

dès l’aube, sous les mains rougeaudes des servantes ;

de l’alpage, qu’ils soient portés, surs et verdâtres,

vers les marchés, sous le manteau mouillé des pâtres ;

qu’ils viennent du Jura, du Cantal ou de Parme,

qu’ils soient pétris par la dextre auguste des Carmes,

que s’incruste à leur face une crosse d’abbesse,

qu’ils fleurent les parfums des herbes de la Bresse,

du plat pays, des Vosges, de la Brie,

de Roquefort, Gorgonzola ou d’Hespérie !

Bénissez-les, Seigneur ! Bénissez le Présent,

Le Chester roux et le Gruyère larmoyant,

le Kantercaas et les rondelles de Mayence

où se mêlent les grains d’anis et les semences,

l’Edam, le Pottekees, fromage des Marolles

et ceux auxquels on dit : « Monsieur » comme à des hommes.

Thomas BRAUN.

Recueilli dans La poésie francophone

de Belgique 1804-1884,

par Liliane Wouters et Alain Bosquet,

Éditions Traces, 1985.

Organic Food Festival

I really enjoyed the Real Food Festival at Earl's Court in May. So I was delighted to find out that the Organic version will be held in Bristol in September this year. Should be another great day of free samples, wine tastings and general foodie fun.

Spicy Plum Chutney

Makes about 3 pounds

1.5kg of ripe plums
2 pounds of bramley apples, peeled and chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
450g cooking onions, peeled and chopped
200g sultana raisins
2 star anise
4 cardamom pods, bruised with knife

2 tbsp panch puren (Indian spice mix)
200g granulated sugar
400ml white wine vinegar
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
200ml port

Stone the plums and chop. Put them into a large saucepan with the garlic cloves, onions, apples, sultanas, star anise, cardamom pods, sugar and 300ml of the white wine vinegar. Season with some salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Simmer for 25-30 minutes, until tender. Add the remaining white wine vinegar and the port. Cook for a further 30 minutes, stirring often, or until thickened. If it still seems a bit runny, simmer for another 10-15 minutes.

Place into hot sterilized jars, dividing it equally amongst them. Place a disc of waxed paper directly on top of the hot chutney. (Alternately melt some paraffin wax and pour this immediately over top of the hot chutney. I bring mine over from Canada and it is for the express use of sealing jams and preserves.) Seal with airtight lids and store in a cool dark place for at least one month before using. This will keep up to six months if kept out of sunlight. Refrigerate once opened. Will keep for a further 2 months in the refrigerator.