Bleu d’Auvergne

14 01 2009

I learned from a comment on my last Auvergne post that Auvergne claims 5 local A.O.C. cheeses, more than any other region in France.  They are: Fourme d’Ambert, Cantal (scroll down, it’s the 4-year-old cheese at the bottom), Saint-Nectaire, Salers, and Bleu d’Auvergne.

 A really crappy picture of a wedge of bleu d'Auvergne

Bleu d’Auvergne has been one of my favorite cheeses since I “discovered” it while living in Moulins eight years ago (has it really been that long already?).  Simultaneously creamy and crumbly, its texture is equally suited to smearing on bread or sprinkling on salad (preferably a hefty one like this, maybe with some sliced apples for contrast).  Made from cow’s milk and traditionally inoculated with mold from rye bread (ergot, anyone?), the flavor of bleu d’Auvergne is rich and piquant.  It is sometimes referred to as “poor man’s Roquefort,” given their similarities in flavor and appearance, but I think bleu d’Auvergne is worth seeking out on its own merits.  It is best complimented by full-bodied red wines – Bordeaux is usually a good bet, but wines from the Languedoc will fit the bill nicely, too – or sweet dessert wines such as Sauternes or late-harvest Gewurztraminer.

 Bleu d'Auvergne slathered on pieces of fresh baguette

An interesting side note: in France, the category of cheeses we dub “blue” (or for the cheese snobs out there, “veined”)are called “persillé,” as in “fromage à pâte persillé.”  Literally translating to “parsleyed,” I think it’s a pretty apt description.  I mean, how many “blue” cheeses actually have blue veins?  Plus, the little pockets of mold can resemble flecks of chopped parsley, if you think about it.  Sounds a lot more appetizing, too.

fromage à pâte persillé

I’m submitting this to Chez Loulou for this month’s Fête du Fromage.  Look for the roundup there tomorrow!

Originally published on Croque-Camille.


Getting Some Culture

12 01 2009

It’s time for another round of Awesome Things You Can Find in a French Supermarket.  I love how so many products that are considered “gourmet” or even “health food” in the U.S. are everyday grocery items here.  Here are a couple of yogurts that I picked up on a recent trip to Casino.

Sheep's milk yogurt

Goat's milk yogurt

That’s right, sheep and goat yogurts.  I’m fairly certain you have to go to some kind of specialty shop to find anything like this in the States, but not in France.  Of course, given the sheer size of the yogurt section in most supermarkets here, I guess it’s not terribly surprising.  I prefer plain yogurt (which is what makes the sheep and goat yogurts such a fun change of pace – the goat’s has a mildly “goaty” flavor, and the sheep’s has a pleasant tang and rich texture) and I still have a myriad of choices.  Full fat or low fat?  (Um, full fat, please.)  Hand-churned or mass-produced?  Glass containers or plastic?  Active bacteria?  Sweetened?  Drinkable?  Organic?  Brand-name?  When you add in the fruit options, (strawberry? mango? blackcurrant? apple-apricot? coconut?) the combinations become mind-boggling.

Truly, France is a yogurt-lover’s paradise.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

And You Thought The Holidays Were Over

10 01 2009

In France, they keep it coming right on through January.  The holidays, I mean.

Galette des Rois

First, there’s Epiphany, on January 6th.  This is the traditional day to eat Galette des Rois, or Kings’ Cake.  So named for the three kings who supposedly arrived in Bethlehem a couple weeks late for Jesus’ birthday, the pastry itself is a simple but delicious round of puff pastry filled with almond cream (aka frangipane).  The top of the galette is scored in a decorative pattern (just ask me how!) and there is a “bean” (while it’s called a bean, it is usually some kind of ceramic figure or charm) hidden inside which gives the finder the privilege (or punishment) of wearing the little paper crown that comes wrapped around the galette.  I have recently learned that nowadays, instead of waiting for the actual date of Epiphany to roll around, the French celebrate with their galettes des rois on the first Sunday of the month, which explains why I spent 6 hours last Saturday making them.  You might think that the galette madness would be over by now, but it seems to be going strong and I am told that it continues through the whole month of January.

Check out all the flaky, buttery layers!

Speaking of January, the other important national “holiday” going on is Les Soldes – The Sales!  Twice a year, in January and June) French stores are allowed to reduce their prices as much as they want.  This is supposed to even the playing field between large companies and small businesses, but I’m not really sure how.  Nor do I much care, if it means I can afford to shop at Galeries Lafayette.  In terms of work, Les Soldes don’t affect me as much, although there is definitely an impact on my paycheck.  Heh.  It’s going to be another busy month.

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Regional French Cuisine: Auvergne: Stuffed Cabbage

5 01 2009

Happy New Year, everyone!  I realize I am a little belated in my greeting, but after finally beating the cold/flu nastiness I was saddled with over Christmas, I got smacked with the busiest week of the year at work.  We’re talking 1 am alarm clocks (!), night buses, taxi debacles, 12-plus-hour workdays (I know, I used to have those regularly, but now I’m a spoiled French pâtissière), and weird break-ins at work.  Let’s just say I’m hoping that 2009 gets better, because judging from the first couple of hours, I’m going to have an irritating, frustrating, tiring, frantic, and scary year.

Blanched cabbage leaf

But I’m not here to whine.  Somewhere in the midst of all the hectic end-of-year activity, I had time to reflect on the new year, resolutions, and the like.  Something about the new year does encourage a certain amount of renewed energy and enthusiasm, so I’m feeling pretty excited about this idea I came up with for the blog.  Each month, I am going to highlight a particular region in France, with a focus on the traditional cuisine.  I hope to put up at least one post a week on the featured region, be it about a dish I attempted at home, a restaurant, travel photos (when applicable), or other regional products such as cheese, wine, charcuterie, or beer.  Of course I will also continue to report on my regular food adventures as well, so don’t worry, I haven’t gone completely educational on you.

Cantal entre deux ages

For January, I have decided to start out with the cuisine of Auvergne.  A mountainous region in central France which I called home for seven months in 2000 and 2001, the food in Auvergne is rustic, hearty and delicious.  A stunning number of famous French cheeses are produced in Auvergne, including Cantal (one of the top-selling cheeses in France), Saint-Nectaire, and Fourme d’Ambert, just to name a few.

How would you stuff cabbage?

In my new favorite Parisian dining guide, Hungry for Paris by Alexander Lobrano, the classic Auvergnat stuffed cabbage plays a hefty supporting role.  Owing perhaps to the fact that a large number of Paris’ bistros were opened by displaced residents of Auvergne, the dish features on many menus in as many different forms.  I happened to have a gorgeous designer cabbage lurking in my vegetable drawer a little longer than it should, and I wanted to make something to use it up.  Enter Lobrano and his mouthwatering descriptions of stuffed cabbage.  Trouble is, I’ve never made stuffed cabbage before.  Or even eaten it. 

Read the rest of this entry »

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