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Friday, January 1, 2016

Valençay (Valencay,) - The Valencay AOP Cheese and Valençay AOP wines.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
The Valençay Cheese.

The Valençay Cheese.
Photograph courtesy of Frédérique Voisin-Demery

The Valençay AOP cheese and the Valençay AOP wines took their name from the small and attractive town of Valençay in the Valley of the Loire. The valley has beautiful countryside with amazing chateaus and some of France’s most beautiful villages. Many of these are within 50 – 80 km (30 - 50 miles) of Valençay.

The town of Valençay is in the department of Indre. Indre together with the department of Cher were created from the old Province of Berry during the French revolution. Berry has its own cuisine and though rarely heard today it also has its own language with both its cuisine and language called Berrichone.  (For more on Berry and its cuisine click here). To find Indre and Cher on a map look at the region of the Centre; it is close to the center of mainland France.  Centre includes the departments of Eure-et-Loir, Indre-et-Loire, Loiret and Loir-et-Cher as well as Indre and Cher,

          Frances  mainland regions                                        The departments in the Centre region


                    The Valençay Cheese (Valency Cheese)
Valençay is a mild, tasty, smooth, creamy non-pasteurized goat’s milk cheese with 45% fat. A pasteurized version of the Valençay cheese is available for export, but in my side by side blind tastings the non-pasteurized version nearly always won. Both of the versions of this cheese are at their best when just ripened, and that’s after about five weeks of aging when the edible rind becomes blue-grey. The blue color develops naturally as the cheese ages. The farm made cheese, marked “Fermier” is covered with a charcoal powder before sale though the rind remains edible. When I have the opportunity, I scrape off most of the charcoal and enjoy the rind. The dairy produced cheeses are marked “Laitier” and are covered with a vegetable ash.
The Valençay cheese looks like a truncated pyramid and its weight varies between 250 grams to 300 grams with a base 6cm by 6cm. Also available is a Petit Valençay, which weighs approximately 110 grams. Both are good sizes to take home from a visit to France. Request a cheese that will be ready in one week and have it vacuumed packed. The cheese will be perfect if placed in refrigerator when you return home within 48 hours and it will keep well until the week is up. Keep it refrigerated, not frozen. Take it out of the refrigerator one hour before serving. (For more about buying and taking French cheeses home click here). When taking this cheese back home with you make sure you buy one that explicitly says pasteurized. Declare it and the customs will not argue with a pasteurized cheese.
Valençay cheese on sale.
Photograph courtesy of twostella il giardino dei ciliegi
Fresh goat’s cheeses will be off the market between January and February. These two months are the birth times for most goats, and then the nanny goats need their milk for their young. However, matured cheeses will often still be available.
Valençay is not alone in this region with a famous goat’s cheese. The whole region around Valençay is famous for its goat’s cheeses. Look out for the local Crottin de Chavignol AOP,  Pouligny Saint Pierre AOP;  Selles sur Cher, AOP, and the  Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine AOP. 

A few of France’s many goat’s cheeses.
Photograph courtesy of Marc Kjerland
The Valençay cheese and its shape.
The Valençay cheese itself is considered a new cheese as it is only 200 years old! The cheese’s shape, with its truncated pyramid, has many stories about how it arrived at its final shape. The stories told and retold about the shape include a tongue in cheek story that includes the Emperor Napoleon I.  In that story Emperor Napoleon I cuts off the cheese’s pointed top with his sword since the points reminded him of the sails of the British ships that destroyed his navy in the Battle of the Nile. Nevertheless whatever the reason for the flat-topped pyramid it is the shape of the cheese today and its taste remains none the worse for it.

Valençay is famous for its cheese, and in the immediate area, there are many other excellent goat’s cheeses without those valuable AOP initials.  These other cheeses are on sale in local fromageries, cheese shops, and many, on taste and texture alone, are truly worthy of their own AOP.  However, small production and limited marketing mean that these cheeses are just enough to supply the locals and visitor’s needs. Even if an excellent cheese deserves an AOP, it still has to meet minimum production requirements.

Valençay cheese on French Menus:

Polenta Crémeuse au Fromage de Valençay et Flan de Sucrine du Berry. Polente is the French version of the North Italian dish of cornmeal polenta.  For much of European peasantry, polenta was a cornmeal and corn flour dish that was brought from the New World and easily adapted to France’s agricultural needs. Cornmeal saved many peasants from starvation. Today polente in France has become a fashionable side dish. Here a creamy polenta is made with Valençay cheese and served with a flan made from the Sucrine du Berry.  The Sucrine du Berry is a baby Romaine lettuce; it is crisp and sweet and sold as the “Little Gem” in North America. In France, the Sucrine du Berry may be in your salad or part of another dish. Restaurants in Berry, the area where this baby lettuce was first grown in France may also offer Soupe à la Sucrine du Berry, a little gem lettuce soup. For more about Berry’s cuisine click here.

Salade Berrichonne (Œuf poché au Valençay), Lasagnes aux Ėpinards et au Valençay. Toast de chèvre chaud.- A salad Berrichone, (eggs poached in a valencay wine) served with lasagne, the wide flat pasta interleaved with spinach and warm Valençay goat cheese.

Quiche de Valençay au Parfum de Basilic.  A quiche made with Valençay cheese and flavored  with basil.

 Boudin Noir au Valençay, Purée de Pommes de Terre Black pudding, the much loved UK, Ireland and French pork blood pudding sausage served with here with Valençay cheese and mashed potatoes. For more about Boudins on French menus and the Boudin Noir in French cuisine click here.

The Valençay Wine and Cheese and their AOP status.

In 2004, the Valençay wine was given AOC/AOP status. That made the Valençay town and region the first place in France to have both an AOC cheese as well as AOC wines. At the time of writing Valencay remains the only name with an AOP for both a wine and a cheese.
Valençay Wines
The Valençay AOP wines are whites, roses and reds. The white wines are mostly Sauvignon Blanc with the blends including Sauvignon Gris, Chardonnay and sometimes the Arbois grape. The rosés are made from Gamay, Pinot Noir and Pineau d'Aunis. The Reds use the Gamay, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir grapes. With all these grape types only 240 acres are included in the Valençay appellation and so from this tiny area come a very wide range of wines.  When you try a Valençay wine, you had better have done your homework or have a knowledgeable sommelier as the wines produced under the label Valençay are incredibly varied. Valençay wines are not a single type of blend.

Aging Valencay wines.
Valençay wines on French menus:
Salade Berrichonne, Œuf Poché Sauce Valençay Toast de Chèvre Valençay Chaud, Lardons Légèrement Fumés, Lentilles Vertes du Berry. The Berrichonne salad here is prepared with an egg poached in a Valençay wine sauce served with toast and warm Valençay cheese. The dish is accompanied by slowly smoked bacon pieces and the famous green lentils of berry. Dishes with accents from the old Berry province will be on the menu as Berrichonne. Despite the two-hundred years that changed the name of the province the people also still call themselves Berrichonnes.
Entrecôte Sauce Vin Valençay à la Moelle, Pommes Frites. An entrecote is a rib-eye steak in North America.  In the UK this will be a rib-eye, a fore rib or the UK sirloin. (USA sirloins are a different cut). Entrecôte is a French name and means between the ribs, and that it is. A French entrecote steak is usually prepared without the bone and is one of the tastiest steaks that any restaurant can offer.  Here the steak is prepared in a Valençay wine sauce with added bone marrow and served with French fries, the UK chips. (To order your steak cooked the way you prefer click here.)
Tournedos de Lapereau Farci Sauce au Valençay Rouge.  A tournedos is always described a thick cut but a thick cut comes with the eye of the beholder. This tournedos is prepared with a Valençay red wine sauce and comes from a young, farm-raised rabbit that is served with stuffing. From a young rabbit, the tournedos is not going to be a large serving.  Ask for more information on this menu listing.

If you are looking for wines from Valençay as well as the area around the town then you had better have done your homework. Your homework will need a very up-to-date book on Loire Valley wines. In the Loire Valley, there over 69 appellations and producing them are hundreds, if not thousands of vintners. In a restaurant, which in any case will not offer all the 69 different appellations, ask for their carte du vins, their wine-list. Then to reduce the myriad choices look for their white, rosé and light red Sancerre wines, the wines of Anjou, Saumur, and the Touraine. In a restaurant a good sommelier along with your book and a clear budget will aid in choosing the better vintners and the affordable years. I am not a wine maven and without a book, I would not remember 10% of the vintners, let alone the years with the best vintages.
The Crémant de Loire
The Crémants de Loire are great white and rosé sparkling wines, many come from the area around Valençay, these are excellent, and mostly inexpensive wines. These wines have an 8% alcohol content and are made in a similar manner to champagne-style wines.  Choose a brut, dry or ultra brut, very dry, either two or three years old and you should have a good inexpensive wine that will go well with nearly everything. Choose a cuvee, a wine from mixed years; you do not need a vintage for these wines. The Crémants de Loire represents almost 50% of all the Crémant wine production in France. This is a wine to drink freely and enjoyably and with 8% alcohol it is very easy to drink not wisely but too well!

The Crémant de Loire
Despite the large production of the Loire Crémant, the quality of most of its wines is high and the prices are mostly low.  N.B. See the listing at the end of the posts on Crémants or Champagne for choosing the sweetness of dryness of sparkling wines.  All sparkling wines have very different dry and sweet meanings to regular wines; a semi-sweet sparkling crémant wine drips with sugar, you have been warned.
Over a three day period, Valençay has its wine and cheese fete. It is usually held in the last days of May and the beginning of June. However, dates have been known to move a little every year so check with the French Tourist Information Office in your home country before leaving home or look at the Valençay Tourist Information Office website;
The French-language website may be easily be understood using the Google and Bing translation apps.

Aging Valencay wines
Photograph courtesy of Alyse & Remi

The town of Valençay

The town of Valençay

The attractive small town of Valençay is walkable; it has less than 3,000 inhabitants. The town has an old car museum the Musee de l'Automobile de Valencay; mostly the cars are pre - 1939.  N.B. The museum is closed from mid-November through Mid-March. The town also has a also a museum of sugar art:  The Musee du Sucre d'Art is attached to a local pastry shop, La Pâtisserie Chichery. Around Valençay the villages have a farmer’s market one morning each week and the tourist Information office English language website has the dates and times.
Their English language website for the car museum is:

A Panhard-Levassor X-17-SS, 1912.
From the Valencay Car Museum
You can see their short English language description for the sugar-art museum at:
For those who wish to sample the local cuisine there are some  30 plus restaurants in and around the town.

The Chateau de Valençay.

The Chateau de Valençay.
Photograph courtesy of François
Talleyrand was the Chateau’s owner and France’s first consummate politician, more about that further down this post.  Nevertheless, Chateau de Valençay was not built by Talleyrand; however, he was its most famous owner and nearly everything that the visitor will see will be related to Talleyrand.
The Chateau is open from the beginning of April through to the first few days of January and is even open on France’s sacred museum Mondays.  However, French dates and hours occasionally move around so do check the dates and times with the Chateau’s English language website:

Talleyrand was born Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord (1754 – 1838). Talleyrand served all master’s and promoted at varying times opposing ideas. Talleyrand was also an ordained Bishop of the Roman Catholic Church but turned against the Church with the revolution’s anti-clerical bias. For a politician in the 18th and 19th century Talleyrand made tens of millions; today that would be billions. Talleyrand, essential as he was at the time, would today be in jail for insider trading, bribery, breach of trust, accepting bribes, demanding bribes, along with money laundering and much more!

The Chateau de Valençay.
Photograph courtesy of ho visto nina volare

Under King Philippe XVI Talleyrand, the last king before the revolution was a deputy of the National Assembly. Then after the French revolution in 1789 France was ruled by a new National Assembly and there Talleyrand participated in the writing the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.  The writers of that French declaration included some famous Americans citizens led by Thomas Payne as well as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.  A very very similar deceleration would become the US Declaration of the Rights of Man and formed the first ten amendments to the US Constitution.
With the final dissolution of the monarchy Talleyrand fled to the USA to escape the search for aristocrats. The guillotine had begun executing aristocrats and Talleyrand had foreseen the danger that he was in.  Talleyrand returned to France after Robespierre himself had been executed, and the terror had ended.
On 9, November 1799 General Napoléon Bonaparte who had returned from Egypt and  one month earlier created a new government. Of course, General Bonaparte was the first Consul and of course, Talleyrand was his first Foreign Minister.  
Five years, later on, the 2nd November 1804, Napoléon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor Napoléon 1 and his wife, Josephine Empress. The new Emperor’s first appointment as Foreign Minister was…. Talleyrand.

In 1804, Talleyrand bought, with a monetary gift he received from Napoleon the beautiful Château de Valençay.  In this Château Talleyrand employed the man who would become the most famous chef of the 19th century, Antonin Carême. Talleyrand believed in a well-set table along with excellent wines to win over politicians and the prominent visitors to France. Carême and his cuisine brought many who were the power behind the thrones of foreign rulers to Talleyrand’s table.  Emperor Bonaparte so admired Talleyrand’s political successes that in 1806 he made him a Prince of Benevento in Italy. It was a title of no real value but it sounded important; however, that that title ended with Napoléon I’s first defeat in 1814. 

Talleyrand nevertheless had differences of opinion with Napoléon I long before his defeat and exile.  Talleyrand resigned his post of foreign minister in 1807 and then with time on his hands and money in his pockets in 1812 Talleyrand bought a permanent home in Paris on the Place de Concorde, Paris. That was a town palace that became known as the Hôtel de Talleyrand. After WWII, that palace was the headquarters of the Marshall Plan, and the building is still owned by the United States.  The building is now fully restored to the former glory seen under Talleyrand and may be visited; just ask directions to the Hôtel de Talleyrand on the Place de Concorde, Paris. 
 With Napoléon’s defeat in 1814 Talleyrand once again changed sides as well as political philosophies; this time, he supported the return of the French Bourbon Kings. The first French King after Emperor Napoléon I was Louis XVIII (1814-1824) and he made Talleyrand the chief French negotiator at the Congress of Vienna in 1814.  When Napoléon I returned in February 1815 and reached Paris in March 1815 Talleyrand remained a private citizen.  Then in 1830 a new King from the Orleans branch of the royal family King Louis-Philippe (1830 - 1848) came to power and Talleyrand, now aged 76 became the French Ambassador to the United Kingdom (1830-1834). Talleyrand died aged 84 and when on his deathbed he repented all his sins and received absolution from the Roman Catholic Church.  Talleyrand is buried in the grounds of the Château de Valençay.
For those seeking a quieter vacation near Valençay:

For those seeking a quieter vacation near Valençay the River Naon south-east of the town is a favorite site for amateur fishermen and picnics. Fishing permits cost some 12 Euros per day and all the equipment for a fisherman from worms to rods are available close by.

A night view on the River Naon.
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015

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

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