Saturday, December 20, 2014

When a French Menu is Not an English Menu!

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Photograph courtesy of Daniel Kulinski.

Menu in French

      Menu, in French, indicates a fixed-price menu a “Menu à Prix-Fixe”  with a set two- or three-course  meal. The full French wording is generally abbreviated to the single word “menu” or to the word “formule”.

The word menu in English usage is an “À la Carte Menu” in French.

      The English menu is a list of all the dishes available with separate prices for each item; in France this is an “À la Carte Menu.”  This is generally shortened to “ La Carte.” The word carte, outside a restaurant may also means a card, a list, or a map.

Displaying menus outside restaurants and the ardoise.

      French restaurants must display, by law, their menus outside their restaurant. That means their full à la carte menu as well as any fixed-price menus they offer. However, limited space outside the restaurant often means you need to enter the restaurant to see everything.    Daily specials in bistros and similar restaurants are often written on a blackboard or whiteboard, in French called an ”ardoise”, a slate. The ardoise may be inside on a wall or outside  the restaurant in the street. In large restaurants, the specials may be on a card attached to the printed menu. Smaller restaurants may not offer any written menus at all; their ardoise  is their whole menu.

Two menus with all the options on a ardoise.
Photograph courtesy of Betty Carlson.
Fixed price menus were originally created for the French,
not the visitors.

      Fixed-price menus  were conceived with the local citizenry in mind. They began as light lunchtime menus in business districts.  A fixed-price menu of two or three courses that allowed a good restaurant to offer a full meal at a competitive price, and serve it in less than one hour. Menus are usually good options when compared with the cost of the same dishes offered on a full à la carte menu. Today fixed-price lunchtime menus are often available in restaurants with Michelin stars; sadly, that does not include any discounts on their wines!    Fixed-price menus have become so popular that many restaurants now have fixed-price menus in the evening; that is beside their full à la carte menu. (The word formule may be used interchangeably with the word menu).

A Formule on an ardoise,
The same as a menu.
Photograph courtesy of David McKelvey.
Changes in a fixed-price menu

       It is acceptable to request a change in a fixed-price menu and French diners may do the same.  In restaurants with two or three fixed price menus, most can accept a change of the entrée, the French starter, or the dessert. The main course may prove more difficult.  Most will make the changes with a smile, and for changes taken from a more expensive menu with a surcharge.  NB: Small restaurants that offer a single fixed-price menu may be unable to change anything.
The types of fixed-price menus; all including tax and service.

       There are many types of fixed-price menus in France and it is worthwhile noting some of the differences.  However, all French restaurant menus include all taxes and service charges. For more about tipping in French restaurants and cafes see the post: No Tipping in French Restaurants. The Hidden Joys of Dining in France.
Three key words to look for on fixed price menus:

                                            Choix - Choice. Pronounced shwa.
       Hormis   Apart from. Pronounced or-mi.
              Sauf -  Except. Pronounced as it reads, sauf.
   Three sample fixed-price menus:

Menu 1

     Menu avec une entrée, un plat, un dessert pour Euro € 20.00.
    This menu offers  an “entrée”, the  French starter, a “plat”, the main course, and a dessert for 20 Euros. No changes are offered and the price includes tips and taxes.

Menu 2

      Menu à 30 Euros:  1 entrée, 1 plat au choix dans la carte, 1 dessert. 1 boisson au choix.
      Here   the entrée, the starter, and the dessert are noted without any qualifications; that indicates that no choices are offered for these courses. The plat, the main course may be chosen from la carte, their full menu.  1 boisson au choix  indicates you may choose your  beverage; a soft drink or coffee.  
Plat du jour on an ardoise.
The day’s special.
Photograph courtesy of mll.   
Menu 3
      La Formule à 31 € - 2 Plats au choix dans la carte. (Formule valable uniquement le midi, hormis les dimanches et jours fériés).
       Only two dishes are included in this formule/menu.  You may choose two courses, a starter, and a main course or, if you prefer, a main course and a dessert. All  choices are from their full  à la carte menu. The price is 31 Euros and includes tax and service charges. In brackets the restaurant advises that this formule/menu is for lunchtime only “hormis”, apart, from Sunday’s and Holiday’s when it will not be available.

      When planning a trip to France take National Holidays into account:  See the post
 Once the words choix, choice, and hormis, apart from, and sauf, excluding, are part of your personal French-English dictionary you will have little problem ordering from French fixed-price menus.  

A fixed-price menu.
Photograph courtesy of Sheerluck7.
Requesting fixed price menus and or an à la carte menu:

To request a restaurant’s fixed price menu/s say:  La menu/s a prix-fixe s’il vous plaît.
Pronounced:  ”la menu/s a pree fix sil voo play. (“S’il vous plait” means, please).

To request the à la carte menu say: La carte s’il vous plaît. (Pronounced: la kart sil voo play).

To request the full menu along with any fixed price menu/s say: La carte ou la menu/s a prix-fixe s’il vous plaît. (Pronounced la kart oo la menu/s a pree fix s’il vous play).  However, at lunchtime in a busy restaurant, do not be surprised if their â la carte menu is not available.

La carte and la formule.
Photograph courtesy of CHAMPARDENNAISAXONAIS.
Different types of fixed-price menus:

      Menu "Buffet" le Dimanche   A Sunday buffet menu. The French version of a Sunday brunch, not the same but close.  A French Sunday buffet is an enjoyable and a relatively inexpensive way of dining with the whole family.

       Menu d'Affaires A fixed price business lunch.

      Menu Dégustation - A tasting menu; this may anywhere from four to seven, or even more, small servings.

      A menu dégustation is intended to show off the abilities of the chef. Menus of this type will only be offered in the evening. Traditionally, in France, a menu dégustation has to be chosen by a minimum number of diners and in many restaurants by everyone at the same table.  The reason for having all the diners choose the same meal is to allow for timed service, with all the diners being served each course at the same time.

      French diners accept the rule that timing is an important part of a good meal. For the staff, timing is also important, having different guests, at the same table, eating different courses at the same time can drive even a saintly Maitre D' to distraction.
      Menu de Midi A lunch menu.
      Menu du Terroir – A menu with an emphasis on local products and recipes.
      Menu du Jour - The menu of the day. Often a hand-written list on an ardoise, the blackboard on the wall or a separate card inside the printed menu.
       Menu en Anglais – A menu in English is available.
      Menu Gastronomique – A real Menu Gastronomique, will offer unique and different recipes, dishes that are not seen, tasted or served every day. When the restaurant offers a genuine menu gastronomic, you may have a chance to try some really unique dishes.  Unfortunately, a menu gastronomic may be just a name the chef has allocated to a group of the restaurant’s most expensive options on its à la carte menu combined into six or seven courses. In that case look for other options.
       Menu Midi Another way to note a lunchtime fixed-price menu.
       Menu pour Enfants or Menu Pinocchio  or Menu des Bambins – A child's menu, Many children’s menus have cute names, even though their intended diners may not be able to read! These will usually be dishes enjoyed by young children. They may include chicken or turkey schnitzel, hamburgers, hot dog type sausages. French fries, chips. Some restaurants may  also offer tomato ketchup!
      Menu Servi Tous Les Jours Midi et Soir  sauf Samedi Soir et Jours Féries   A fixed-price set menu that will be offered for lunch and dinner every day  sauf, except, Saturday evenings and Holidays.
       Menu Suivant La Saison -  A menu that changes with the season.  The title implies that the menu has seasonal specialties; I always ask exactly what these are.
       Menu Touristique – A tourist menu.  For years, the French Ministry of Tourism has encouraged restaurants to offer fixed-price menus at competitive prices, especially for tourists.  Caveat Emptor: Before entering a restaurant that provides a menu touristique look inside. If the restaurant is busy, with diners enjoying themselves then enter. If the restaurant is serving greasy hamburgers to a nearly empty hall go elsewhere.

       Menu Végétarien – A vegetarian menu.

The wine list is: La carte des vins.
Connected posts:

Bryan G Newman
Copyright 2010, 2012,2014.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Crottin de Chavignol AOP. One of France’s outstanding goats’ milk cheeses.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

Different ages of Crottin de Chavignol.
Photograph courtesy of Sunfox.
A creamy, 45% fat, goats’ milk, cheese, made with non-pasteurized milk. The Crottin de Chavignol  is sold with varying degrees of maturity, the minimum is ten days. Ten days will produce a mild flavored cheese and then it may be served warm in salads. The young cheese has a  white rind and as the cheese matures, the rind takes on a bluish tinge.   The smallest of these cheeses weigh just 60 grams and are about 5cm (2”) wide by 2.5 cms high (1”)  (Crottin de Chavignol is pronounced krotan de chavinol)

The goats of Chavignol.
Photograph courtesy of etnobofin
 A Maître Fromager, a cheese master, who was also the owner of an excellent cheese store told me that the blue rind is the first sign of a strong and mature cheese. When the rind begins to turn blue it will be about three months old. Then the cheese will be sharper and slightly crumbly and  that is when it should be purchased to take home or on a restaurant's cheese trolley.  A good fromagerie, a specialist cheese store, may offer good customers a sliver of this cheese at two or three stages of maturity and point out the different ages of each.

The village of Chavignol.
Photograph courtesy of epeigne37.
The cheese may be on the menu:

Salade de Crottin de Chavignol, (Salade Verte, Crottin Chaud, Tomate, Magret Fumé). A Crottin de Chavignol salad. A green salad, warm goat’s cheese, tomato, smoked duck breast.
Three ages of a Crottin de Chavignol.
Photograph courtesy of   touring_fishman.
La Tarte au Crottin de Chavignol – A cheese tart made using the Crottin de Chavignol.
Le Burger au Crottin de Chavignol – A cheese burger made with the Crottin de Chavignol.
Crottin de Chavignol Chaud sur  Pain Poilâne Toasté. Crottin de Chavignol served on toasted Polar bread also called Swedish bread or Nordic bread. This is the traditional a rye flour flat bread with dimples
Crottin de Chavignol sur  Toast au Miel d'Acacia et Pignons de Pin. Crottin de Chavignol served on toast with Accacia honey and pine nuts.

The village of Chavignol
The village of Chavignol  gave the cheese its name and remains a small and beautiful village in the département of Cher in the région of the Centre. The department of Cher is part of the old province of Berry in  the Loire valley and home to many famous wines and cheeses.  Berry has five excellent goat’s and cow’s milk cheeses including the Crottin de Chavignol AOP; there is the Valençay AOP; the Pouligny Saint Pierre AOP;  the Selles sur Cher, AOP, and the  Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine AOP.  The village of Chavignol is just down the road, 5 km ( 3 miles) from the small town of Sancerre so famous for its Sancerre wines 
The town of Sancerre.
Photograph courtesy of etnobofin.
The Fete du Crottin de Chavignol, the Chavignol cheese fair, is held on the first Sunday in May.  Chavignol uses its position very well and the fair is set in between the village and the neighboring  town of Sancerre in the caves de la Mignonne.  Even if you missed the Fete du Crottin de Chavignol the town of Sancerre has about  ten  fêtes, itself.  The fairs are spread out over weekends between April and August  and celebrate  local wines and cheeses and other local produce. One fete that should not be missed celebrates Sancerre wines and oysters.
Most of the Chavignol cheese is produced in the immediate vicinity of the village. However, for historical reasons some of the cheese is made just over the border in the neighboring departments of Loiret and Nièvre in Bourgogne, Burgundy.
The Tourist Information Office for Sancerre and Chavignol has an English language website:
Getting to Chavignol and Sancerre
Bourges, the old capital of  the historical Province of Berry is now the capital of the department of Cher. From Bourges, itself a beautiful and very interesting city, to Chavignol or Sancerre  it is just 46km  (29 miles). It takes less than one hour by car or bus from Bourges; however, avoid the train  which is indirect and takes over three hours with changes.
The meaning of crottin
The word crottin is part of the name of many small goats’ cheeses.  The rather unfortunate translation of this word into English is a little piece of animal dung!  Do not worry; the small goats’ cheeses with crottin as part of their name are mostly excellent.  A few hundred years ago, when the local farmers were handing out the names for tiny cheeses they did not have a public relations expert at hand.  They looked at the cheeses size and playfully associated the shapes with names that they knew. Who expected these cheeses to be sold around the world and become part of the cheese course in three star Michelin restaurants?

The Wines of Sancerre.
Photograph courtesy of The Wine Maestro.
Connected Posts:   

Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2012, 2014.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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