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Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Chamois, Isard or Izard; the Mountain Antelope.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated 2016
The Chamois
Photograph courtesy of astazou
   The chamois on French menus is often translated as a mountain antelope; nevertheless it is in fact, a mountain goat, but a very tasty goat at that. The chamois in the Alps, the izard or isard in the Pyrenees and its cousins elsewhere in France are wild, they have never been farmed. Fully grown the Alpine Chamois reaches 80cms high and have 20 cm horns; they are all legally hunted in season.

Where  the French Chamois are found

   The Chamois of the Alps and the Isard or Izard of the Pyrenees are the most well-known. Despite that, there are two other family groups. There are the Vercors Chamois that lives in the Vercors Massif, in the southeast of France and the Chartreuse Chamois that lives in the Chartreuse Massif also in the southeast of France. Outside of France there are family members in nearly all the countries of Europe through to the Caucasus.

The Chamoise and the French kitchen.
   The meat from adult wild goats needs to be well marinated before they are cooked.  The most popular dish prepared for a mature chamois is a civet, a stew. Steaks and roasts come from young animals and in the hunting season, the liver of young mountain goats will be on restaurant menus as a very expensive delicacy. In Southern France cows, cow’s milk and cow’s milk cheeses were rarely part of the menu or the local's diet before the 1930’s. Goats and sheep were raised for their milk and cheeses; and as the young males produced no milk Southern France developed many tens of excellent recipes, for goat; those recipes were long ago adapted for the Chamois.
The chamois in winter.
Photograph courtesy of  JMVerco

The Chamois on French menus:

   Civet de Chamois avec Chou Rouge A stew of chamois served with red cabbage. This one of the most popular and traditional ways to serve mature animals from the hunt.  Without a good marinade before cooking their meat may be tempting but it would also be very tough. Most recipes allow for twenty-four hours, sometimes 48 hours, for the marinating which will be done with the aid of a robust red wine.  These stews will, as may be expected, have a gamey aroma, but that will not be overbearing, and for visitors to France, this will be a rare opportunity to enjoy a memorable dish.

Civet de chamois with spâtzlé dumplings in the Alsace
Photograph courtesy of sprohon

   Filets d'Isard aux Mousserons  A fillet from a young isard, the Pyrenean chamois; served with fairy ring mushrooms.

   Médaillons de Chamois -  Small steaks or slices of meat from a younger chamois. In the French kitchen, médaillons indicate oval or round cuts. 
   La Selle d'Izard Garniture de Saison, le Jus aux Baies de Sureau et au Cassis. The saddle, the back from the izard, the chamois, served with the vegetables of the season and prepared with a sauce made with elderberries and the European blackcurrant. The saddle is a cut from the back with the whole saddle including both sides, together with the loin chops.  When a saddle of a young mountain goat is on the menu it will not be a portion for one or two; the restaurant will offer slices from the roast, and a cut from the saddle is one of the best cuts from young game animals.


A chamois in the trees.
Photograph courtesy of Elsa66.
La Carte de Chasse - the hunt menu.

    When wild game is in season many restaurants will have a menu called the Carte de Chasse, a hunt menu.  The French term for the hunt, la chasse, is also used for sports fishing and the word became the chase in English.   In certain areas, there are restaurants that only open during the hunting season.

 Hunting and photographing the Chamois.

   For those who wish to go hunting or photographing you need to be in very good health as the only way to catch or closely observe these animals is by stalking. That means hunting by foot in the upper reaches of the mountain ranges.   The Chamois find their homes in the mountains and depending on the time of year that can reach up to 2,300 meters (7,500 feet) and even 3,000 meters  (9,900 feet) in the Alps and the Pyrenees.
The Alpine Chamois in the languages of France’s neighbors:

   (Catalan – isard), (Dutch - alpengems), (German -   gämsen), (Italian - camoscio alpino ), (Spanish - rebeco, gamuza, sarrio).
Isard, Izard or Pyrenean chamois in the languages of France’s neighbors:

    (Catalan: isard pirinenc),(Dutch - Pyrenese gems),(German Pyrenäen-Gämse) (Italian: camoscio, camoscio pirenaico, camoscio dei Pirenei), (Spanish - ebeco pirenaico, sarrio)
The Chartreuse Chamois in the languages of France’s neighbors:  
   (Dutch -  chartreusegems), (German - chartreuse-gämse  ),  (Italian - camurça da França), (Spanish - este de Francia  )
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2013, 2016

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

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to astazou who supplied that great first photograph under a Flickr creative commons licence he slso advised me and readers as follow:

    The Isard and Chamoix are 2 different species (or subspecies)

    Thank you astazou. That is information that as a foodie I enjoy; it is more knowledge and even at the table knowledge is power.

    Bon Appetit!