Saturday, May 27, 2017

Époisses (Epoisses) AOC the Premier Cheese from Burgundy (Bourgogne – Franche-Comte).

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

A properly aged Époisses.

Époisses is a strongly flavored, slightly salty, slightly nutty, very creamy, pale beige, 50% fat, cow’s milk cheese made from pasteurized and non-pasteurized milk. The Époisses is also a very smelly cheese, but its smell has no relation to its strong but excellent taste. The rind is shiny, smooth or slightly wrinkled and can vary between a light yellowy orange to a deep orange-red; the older the cheese gets, the more wrinkles will be seen on the rind.
An Époisses cheese that has just been tested.

The origins of the Époisses’ cheese.
The origin of the cheese’s name is a small village called Époisses, part of a commune in the department of Côte-d'Or.  The village has a population of less than 1,000 and is just 91 km (57 miles) from the city of Dijon.

A fromager, a cheese merchant, with an impressive shop in the wine center city of Beaune said the cheese dates back to the 16th century when it was created by the Cistercian monks in Abbey of Notre-Dame de Cîteaux some 30 km from Beaune. He said that the monks from this Abbey taught the farmers’ and their wives, from Époisses, how to make the cheese.  (Époisses is 112 km (70 miles), from the Abbey).
Epoisses on French Menus:

Entrecôte Grillée Sauce Époisses – A grilled entrecote steak served with a sauce made with the Époisses cheese.

Croustades d'Escargots aux Morilles et à l'Époisses Toasted bread served with snails and wild morel mushrooms with Époisses cheese. (A croustarde, like that in the menu listing above, is often very similar to an Italian bruschetta).

Faux Filet à la Crème d'Époisses - A US strip steak (a UK sirloin), served with a cream of Époisses cheese sauce.

Tarte Flambée à l’Époisses de BourgogneTarte Flambée or Flammen Kuechen from the region of Alsace.  (Since 1-1-2016 Alsace has been part of the new super region of Grande Est formed together with the regions of  Champagne-Ardenne and the Lorraine).

The traditional tarte flambée is a rolled out, very thin, pâte à pain, bread dough, covered with crème fraîche and a soft white cheese baked in the oven. The cheese used is a local cheese from the Alsace called bibeleskaes; to this are added thinly sliced onions and lardons, smoked or fried bacon bits all baked together in an oven for about ten minutes. Today many different flavors may be part of a Tarte Flambée, and  Époisses cheese is one of them.
An Époisses ready for serving.

Onglet de Bœuf Charolais Grillé, Sauce Époisses A US hanger steak or London broil and a UK skirt steak. Here the grilled steak comes from the very highly rated Charolaise beef served with a sauce made from the Époisses cheese.
Tartiflette à l'Époisses - Tartiflette began as a whole, baked, Reblochon cheese poured, as it melts, over boiled potatoes with some recipes adding crème fraîche to the cheese. To a tartiflette on the side may be added bacon, local dried meats, sausages or ham. A good recipe has many copies, and the tartiflette noted here is made using the Époisses cheese.

The Château d'Epoisses.
Now a place for meetings and conferences.

The Époisses cheese, like many other French cheeses, was very popular in the 19th century but with WWI, WWII  and the Great Depression farmer's could not make a living and production practically ended.  Then in the 1950’s Robert and Simone Berthaut, at the time artisan cheese makers in the village of Époisses began reintroducing the Époisses cheese. Today the Berthaut’s have a modern dairy and they, along with two other dairies and one farmer artisan producer, makes the cheese which has held  AOC status since 1991.
   The village of Époisses.
While these cheeses are maturing, they are rinsed with water and then dipped in Burgundy's Marc de Bourgogne about three times a week.  (Marc is the French version of Italian Grappa, a brandy made with the grape skins, leaves, etc,  that are left over in making regular brandies). The washing in Marc de Bourgogne inhibits mold growth, and that, in turn, allows in bacteria, which give the cheese its distinctive aroma and flavor to grow along with the flavor added by the Marc. After four weeks the Époisses AOC cheese is considered mature; however, the cheese is sold when the pate inside is still slightly granular, becoming creamier as the cheese matures. When bought in a fromager, a cheese shop, or ordered in a restaurant, if they have continued the aging process correctly, the cheese will have a smooth, creamy pate. The Époisses aficionados consider the cheese perfect when it can be eaten with a spoon

Washing and dipping an Époisses.
The sizes of Époisses

The cheese comes in two sizes and is sold in thin wooden boxes.  The smallest is about 10cm across and weighs between 250 and 350 grams (between 9 and 12 ounces). The larger size depends on the producer and may weigh from 700 to 1100 grams (25 to 39 ounces).

Pasteurized and unpasteurized Époisses cheeses.

One dairy (Gaugry) and the Bartkowiez farm produces Époisses in unpasteurized versions while the other two dairies make the cheese with pasteurized milk and that is the version that is sold to the USA. The UK permits the import inspected unpasteurized cheeses from members of the European Union.
The cheeses of Burgundy.
Burgundy is more famous for its wines than its cheeses, but five cheeses made in Burgundy have been granted AOC status:

Chaource, AOC/AOP; a cow’s milk cheese. (Le Chaource originated in the town of Chaource in the department of Aube in the region of the Champagne-Ardenne.  (Champagne -Ardenne since 1-1-2016 is part of the new super region of Grande Est, to the North of Burgundy-Franche-Comte).
Charolais  AOC/AOP; a goat’s milk cheese.
Époisses, AOC/AOP; a cow’s milk cheese.
Mâconnais, AOC/AOP; a goat’s milk cheese
Soumaintrain AOC/AOP; a cow's milk cheese.

There are many other fine cheeses in Burgundy without an AOC on the label. Look for cheeses like the Ami Du Chambertin (cow's milk), Montrachet (goat's milk) and the Aisy-Cendre (cow's milk) among many many others. To enjoy the cheeses of Burgundy on a picnic, and there are at least fifty different cheeses to choose from, buy three or four cheeses along with a baguette and a bottle of a cold Burgundy white wine. N.B. When buying four different cheeses for your picnic, do not buy more than 30 grams of cheese per person or you will have a lot left over; I speak from experience.
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Pêche – A Peach: the Fruit. Peaches in France. Peaches on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

The story of the peach.

An extensive variety of peaches are grown in France; their flesh may be anything from practically white like the Pêche Blanche to others with a flesh of the deepest yellow along with others that are almost orange or red or come with red streaks. 

Like many other fruits, the peach originated in China and traveled to Persia and ancient Egypt. It is unclear who brought the peach to France, but the honor is generally given to the Mediterranean’s wholesalers, the Phoenicians, or possibly the Greeks when they began to create settlements in the South of France. (The Greeks arrived 500 years before the Romans and built on the Phoenician trading post the City of Marseille). It was the French or British who brought the peach to North America.

Fresh peaches.

In village markets, you may also come across old, rarely seen, heirloom varieties of peaches and vine peaches.  These heirloom peaches may be on a restaurant's menu or in a farmer’s market.  Each variety of peach has its own taste and texture and its own short season so that even with France’s beautiful, warm, Mediterranean fruit factory, you will only see fresh, French, mainland peaches between the June and September. At other times of the year, peaches may be flown in from France’s overseas departments. The many varieties of peaches are all perfumed with a broad range of bouquets, and they vary from the size of a medium-sized apricot to the flat peach, the pêche plate; peaches that look like miniature car tires and on to other varieties.

Peaches in the market.

Hotels may offer fresh peaches with yogurt for breakfast, or a café may offer you a baguette and butter with a homemade confiture de pêches, a peach jam. A restaurant’s digestif, an after dinner drink, may well be a crème de pêche, an alcoholic peach eau-de-vie.

Peaches on French menus:

 Pêche Blanche – White peaches. From the outside, some white peaches may not look very different to regular peaches; however, the texture and different taste make a huge difference. 

White peaches
Pêche Melba  -   Peach Melba; a real peach Melba is made with fresh peaches served on a bed of vanilla ice cream accompanied by a fresh raspberry sauce and possibly kirsch.  This recipe was created in honor of Nelly Melba, an Australian Opera singer at the Savoy hotel in London in 1892. While the site of this dish’s creation was not in France, the chef was French.  The chef was Auguste Escoffier; Escoffier created many other recipes in Nelly Melba’s honor, and Pêche Melba will, in season, be on many French menus.

The beginnings of Peach Melba.
Photograph courtesy of Heather Sperling

Pèche Plat -  A flat peach.

Flat peaches

Rôti de Magrets aux Pêche de Vigne - Roast duck breast prepared with vine peaches.

Sorbet à la Pêche - A peach sorbet.

Pêche du Jour – Catch of the day.  The word for Pêche is also used for fish, and a pecheur is a fisherman.  Read the menu carefully.

Pêches du Roche - Fish from the rocks; this covers many types of small fish, a great many of which are used in fish soups.  Be careful with the word Pêche.

Visit the King’s Kitchen Gardens, the Potager du Roi.

The King’s Kitchen Gardens are just around the corner from the Château de Versailles and an essential part of any visit to the Château. You will be told by the guides, correctly, that in the 16th and 17th century France was considered the world center for peaches. The peach was one of King Louis XIV 's favorite fruits. (King Louis XIV September 1638 – September 1715).

A view of the Chateau of Versailles from the Potager du Roi.
Over time and my various visits to the gardens I have asked and received answers including the fact that the King had over thirty different varieties or peaches cultivated in his the Potager du Roi, at Versailles.  That was thanks to his gardener, Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie (1626 - 1688). The garden Quintinie began was continued after his death by his sons. Today the gardens are both an agricultural training school and a place where visitors may see how the gardens looked 400 years ago. (N.B. Quitinie had previously designed and prepared the gardens for the Chateaux de Vaux-le-Vicomte, but that is another story).
When visiting the Chateau de Versailles find a spare hour to visit the Potager du Roi. It is a ten-minute walk from the Château, and will also be a fascinating visit.  Even more to the point, here is a solution if you are thinking how you are going to spend your time while you wait an hour or more for your tour of the Chateau! The guides are in the gardens are knowledgeable, and you may see and hear about heirloom fruits that you will be unlikely to hear or see anywhere else. Entrance is 4.50 Euros during the week and 7.00 Euros on the weekend. 

The gardens have their own French language website that can be easily understood using the Bing or Google translate apps:

Buying peaches.

Chefs are very careful when choosing peaches; peaches may improve their color after they are picked but they do not get any tastier. When buying your own peaches, unlike some other fruits, the touch of your hand tells you nothing about the taste.

The greatest cocktail made with peaches is Italian.
Nevertheless, there are excellent French copies.

The Bellini- This Italian cocktail is made with fresh white peaches and that excellent Italian sparkling white wine Prosecco de Valdbienne. It is named after the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini.  The Bellini cocktail was created in Harry’s Bar, Venice, Italy by its owner Giuseppe Cipriani.  Harry’s bar and Giuseppe Cipriani, are even more famous for the creation of the dish called Carpaccio. Like the Bellini, the Carpaccio is also named after a Renaissance Venetian painter, in this case, Vittore Carpaccio.  In France, excellent Bellinis are made with Champagne or a Crémant instead of the Italian Prosecco.
Sky High Bellini
Languedoc-Roussillon, now part of the super region of Occitanie, produces nearly 50% of France’s peaches followed by the Rhône-Alpes now part of the super region of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes with Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur in third place.  In the world of peaches China takes first place, producing more peaches than the rest of the world combined.

Nectarines and peaches

Brignon and Brognon are the French names for nectarines. This is not a post on nectarines, but they are an offshoot of peaches. Certain peaches carry a recessive gene which can create nectarines on a branch of a peach tree or a whole tree of nectarines where peaches were expected.  This recessive gene affects the color of the nectarines as well as their sweetness and texture/.

Peaches in the languages of France's neighbors:

(Catalan -  presseguer or bresquiller), (Dutch - perzik), (German - pfirsich ), (Italian - pesco),  (Spanish - melocotón),

(Hebrew -  afarsek  -  אפרסק), (Latin - prunus persica ).

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2017.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Soissons - Soissons. Soissons the town and the Soissons the Bean. The Haricot de Soissons on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
The Haricot de Soissons

The Haricot de Soissons is one of France’s largest dried white beans and very popular. When this bean is included in a dish, then its name will be on the menu.  In restaurants in and around the town of Soissons, the local organization promoting this bean is the Confrérie du Haricot de Soissons. The men and women members of the confrerie and will visit all the local restaurants and make sure that cheap imports are not on the menu.  (The members of the Confrérie du Haricot de Soissons are also very involved in promoting the local language called Picard so the younger generations will not lose the writings and history of the area. Picard is an early forerunner of modern French.).

Haricot de Soissons on French Menus:

Cassoulet au Confit de Canard et Haricots de Soissons – A slowly cooked stew of duck confit prepared with the large dried white beans from Soissons.  This cassoulet is one of the few that does not come from the south of France.

Civet de Chevreuil aux Haricots de Soissons et Petits Légumes - A civet, a traditional French stew, here made with roe deer and the Soisson’s beans and young vegetables.
Pintadeau Sauce au Vin Blanc et Haricots de Soissons.
Guinea fowl with a white wine sauce and the beans of Soissons.

Haricot de Soissons qui Accompagne des Jarretons de Porc  – Slowly cooked, probably braised, pork shanks cut across the bone and cooked with the white beans of Soissons.
Haricots de Soissons Mijotés, Saucisses au Piment d’Espelette -
The beans from Soissons slowly cooked and served with sausages with the Espelette pepper.
Rillettes de Truite Fumée et ses Toasts, Salade de Haricots de Soissons – Smoked trout made into a fish paste and served with toast accompanied by a salad with the beans from Soissons.  (Rillets, may be made with fish, duck, goose, and pork are not to be confused with rillons or rillots which use a very different method of cooking).

Velouté de Haricots de Soissons au Chorizo, Œuf Poché. A velvety soup made with the Soissons beans served with chorizo sausage and a poached egg.

Gibraltar made Soissons Famous.

Soissons was internationally famous before the first bean was grown in the region; then, in 1729, an international conference was held there.  The conference aimed to end a number of international problems but mainly the Anglo-Spanish War.  At that conference among various agreements Spain agreed to Great Britain’s sovereignty over Gibraltar; Spain has regretted that treaty ever since.  Eating the Soissons beans probably creates digestion problems for Spaniards.

Where is Soissons

Soissons is a town and commune (a commune includes an administrative and commercial area around a town or village); the town is in the department of Aisne in Hauts-de-France in northern France located on the Aisne River. (Aisne was previously in the region of Picardy but on 1-1-2016 became part of the super region of Hauts de France, The Heights of France was created when the regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Picardy were joined).  Soissons is about 108 km (68 miles) northeast of Paris, one hour and ten minutes by a TGV fast train. Soissons is also one of the longest inhabited settlements in France from before the Romans and Julius Caesar who arrived in C.E. 47. 

Visiting Soissons?
Fête du Haricot de Soissons
The fete of the Soissons bean led by the members of the Confrérie du Haricot de Soissons and their children. Bean counters are at the back of the parade.
The fete is held over three days beginning on the fourth Friday in September. N.B. Always check the dates with the Tourist Information Office.

The Soissons Tourist Information Office has a French language website; nevertheless, using the Bing or Google translate apps make the website understandable and useful.

The Soissons Cathedral, correctly called the Cathédrale Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais was begun in the mid-1100’s and completed in the latter part of the 13th century. Some of the stained glass windows date from the 13th century.
Soissons Cathedral
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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017,
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman