Saturday, January 14, 2017

Oignon or Ognon – An Onion. Onions on French menus. France’s most famous onions and their history.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Making the dining public aware.
In France vegetables and fruits are grown for taste not just for price or size.  Specific fruits and vegetables are an important part of many French recipes, and it is no surprise when one of  France’s much-appreciated onions is mentioned by name on a menu.  No other country has so many chefs investing time and energy to find particular carrots, leeks, tomatoes, shallots, onions or other vegetables, herbs, cheeses, or wines that are part of a menu listing. The French diner expects a chef who recognizes a vegetable’s distinctive qualities to be a serious gourmand himself, or herself. The chef is expected to advise the visitor to be aware when a particular taste from a member of the cast supporting the main dish is singled out.   Onions especially play a vital part in French cuisine, just think about French onion soup which is now part of the world’s cuisine.

In this link, I am noting three onions that are at the top of the list on French menus but be aware that there are other onions out there fighting for their place in the history of French cuisine.
The Oignon d'Auxonne - The Auxonne Onion.
 (Auxonne is pronounced Aussone).
A much-appreciated onion from around the town of Auxonne which is set next to the Saône River in the department of the Côte-d'Or, Bourgogne, Burgundy.  If you have come to Burgundy for wine and are near to Dijon, once so famous for its mustard, then the nearby town of Auxonne offers its onions as an equally valid reason to visit the area. (Beautiful Dijon has many reasons to visit it but Dijon mustard is no longer made there). Auxonne is just southeast of Dijon and about 30 km (19 miles) away by car. In Auxonne they claim they have best onions in the world and to protect the good name of their onions is their Confrérie de l'Oignon, the brotherhood and sisterhood of the Auxonne onion. The Confrerie will entice you with onion festivals and Cuisine Bourguignonne. N.B. Burgundy, since 1-1-2016  is part of the new super region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté
The onion from Auxonne
The Oignon d'Auxonne on French menus:
Soupe Gratinée Traditionnelle à l'Oignon d'Auxonne – A traditional onion soup made with Auxonne onion,  browned under the grill with cheese added just before serving.
Oignonade Auxonnaise -  A local dish made with Auxonne onions lightly fried and then cooked in the local Aligoté white wine with chicken breast and added cream. It is a large dish which will be served with slices of fried bread and ham and a poached egg. Added potatoes appear to be optional.

Truitelles Juste Rôties, Fondue d'Oignons d'Auxonne, Sauce Vin Rouge – Young trout, usually rainbow trout, lightly roasted and served with the onions of Auxonne cooked to the consistency of a jam and flavored with a red wine sauce.
Promoting the Auxonne Onion
The onion growers and merchants of Auxonne promote their onion through their Confrérie. Confréries, today, are brotherhoods and sisterhoods dedicated to particular foods and wines.   Apart from promoting their chosen product and creating a brand they work to keep their customers safe from less worthy competitors. 

Members of the Confrérie de Oignon d'Auxonne

For the members of the confrerie, there can also be lots of fun in organizing a parade to march through the town with all the members dressed up in would-be ancient costumes that include clogs and floppy hats. As you travel in France you may see Confréries who have taken to the streets to defend the original Tarte Tatin, Fresh Mayonnaise, a particular garlic, or a special liquor, amongst many other products.There are over 600 wine and produce confreries in France with many towns supporting three or more.  The Confrérie de Oignon d'Auxonne have a French language website that can be viewed in English using the Bing or Google translation apps.

The Tourist Information Office of Auxonne has a French language website which may also be viewed in English with the Bing or Google translation apps.  The landing page I have noted for this website begins with a recipe for Oignonade Auxonnaise:
The town of Auxonne is less than an hour away from the border of the department of Jura.  The department of Jura is famous for its cheeses that include Comte and Le Morbier, its unique yellow wine, its straw wine, its Macvin liquors and its Cremant sparkling wine along with its famous winter sports centers.

Oignon Doux des Cévennes AOP - The Sweet  Cévennes Onion. 
The Cévennes onions.  
The white onion called the Oignon Doux des Cévennes AOP is a sweet and tasty onion that is practically hand-raised and indeed hand-picked on the narrow terraced slopes of the Cévennes mountains.  The terraces built on these mountains is another separate and interesting story. This onion is indeed sweeter than other onions and is one of the few that will not bring tears to your eyes when you peel them.  For chefs the Oignon Doux des Cévennes offers a unique opportunity to use an onion that offers a taste somewhere between shallots and onions. The Oignon Doux des Cévennes is one of only two onions that have been awarded the AOP for their unique and consistent quality.

Terraces used for the Cevennes’ onions.
The Oignon Doux des Cévennes AOP on French Menus: 
Cervelle de Veau, Écrasée de Pommes de Terre, Jus aux Oignons des Cévennes – Veal brains served with hand-mashed potatoes and flavored with the natural cooking juices and the sweet onions of the Cevennes.
Soupe d'Oignons Doux de Cévennes et Lait de Chèvre – Onion soup made with the sweet onions of the Cevennes and goat’s milk. This will be a very different take on the traditional French onion soup and an interesting one.
Terrine de Campagne et sa Confiture d'Oignons Doux des Cévennes – A country pate served with a jam made from the sweet onions of the Cevennes.
Originally this onion was, and sometimes still is, called the l’Oignon Doux de Saint-André, the sweet onion of Saint-Andre. The name Saint-Andre belongs to the group of monks who began this onion’s cultivation in the 16th or 17th century. The onions are today grown by farmers in the département of Garde in the region of Languedoc-Roussillon.  Many of these onion growers, and their neighbors, also grow the much appreciated Reinette du Vigan apples as well as the Belles de Bancels, which is a well thought of potato. N.B. On 1-1-2016 the region of Languedoc-Roussillon along with the neighboring region of the  Midi-Pyrénées became part of the new super region of Occitaine.

Other sweet onions, if not so famous come from the communes of Gannat of  Allie in the Auvergne- Rhône-Alpes These other highly rated sweet onions are called the Oignons Doux du Bourbonnais, the sweet onions of Bourbonnais.
The Cevennes Tourist Information Office website changes to English when inside the website you click on the language of your choice and you may learn more about the sweet onions of the Cevennes. 

The Cevennes has their celebration, the Foire de la Pomme et de l’Oignon Doux des Cévennes AOP, the fair of the apples and sweet onions of the Cevennes, on the fourth Saturday and Sunday every October.  At their fair, they also celebrate their Pélardon des Cévennes AOP goat’s milk cheese and their tasty chestnuts.

The Oignon Rosé de Roscoff AOP -  The Pink Roscoff Onions. 
Roscoff onions
The pink onion of Roscoff called the Oignon Rosé de Roscoff AOC was the second French onion to be recognized with an AOP for its unique and consistent quality. The word rosé in the name is a reference to the color of the outer onion skin, not the onion inside.  These are onions with a light taste and smell; much appreciated in the French kitchen as they do not overpower delicate recipes.
 Strings of Roscoff onions
The small town of Roscoff that gave this onion its name is in the département of Finistère, in Bretagne, Brittany. Of interest to the Britains who may be visiting  Brittany are the names given by the Celts who fled England when the German tribes, the Angles and the Saxons, followed by the Romans and the Vikings, (all at different times), invaded and created havoc in Britain. The sensible Celts set out for quieter shores and created their new Bretagne. Bretagne means Britain, and Finistère is the name of the department that translates as Land End.  Land’s End is the name of the Headland in Western Cornwall in England; the Land’s End of Britain. The Celts brought a great deal of their culture with them including the Druid drink  Chouchen; then during the summer solstice there are Druid ceremonies in many places and visitors may watch or join in.
Galettes de Sarrasin à l'Oignon Rose de Roscoff Buckwheat crepes made with the pink onions of Roscoff. 

Le Pavé de Lieu Jaune aux Oignons Rosés de Roscoff – A thick cut of Pollock, the fish, prepared with the pink onions of Roscoff. (Pollock, also called Pollak is a member of the cod family).
Terrine de Lièvre, Confit d'Oignons Rosés de Roscoff – A hare pate served with a slowly cooked onion jam made from the pink onions of Roscoff. Hares in France are mostly farm raised and generally much preferred over the stringy wild variety. Wild Game is, in season, legally hunted and that includes rabbits and hares; however, a wild hare would be marked as "lievre sauvage” on a menu.
The Pink Onion of Roscoff, for many Britain’s over a certain age, is already a well-known onion. Long before the common market Roscoff farmers brought these onions to England to sell directly.  Beginning in the 1850’s and through the 1970’s the locals from this town and the area around came over the channel by ferry and rode around Britain on their bicycles selling plaited strings of this onion; the vendors were called, by the British, Onion Johnnies.

Onion Johnnies from Roscoff in Bristol in Southwest England.
As a child I remember these visitors being welcomed with English tea or a glass of water.  We bought their long strings of onions and hung them in a cool pantry.  These onions kept very well or at least until we finished eating them! The onions sold by the Onion Johnnies were considered the best onions that anyone could buy; little did we know that the Oignon Rosé de Roscoff would later become one of France’s two AOP onions. At least the children of those onion Johnnies who cycled all over Britain to sell their wares are now set for life; they are recognized as the growers of the best onions in France
The town of Roscoff is also well known in Scottish history.  While evading the navy of her cousin Queen Elizabeth I of England Mary Queen of Scots landed in Roscoff. That was in 1548 when she came to France as a child bride. Then Mary was six years old, and she came to meet her future husband Francis, the Dauphine of France, the eldest son of the King of France.  Francis himself, at that time, was four-years-old. Mary then grew up in the French court and she and Francis were married when he reached sixteen. Nevertheless, history changed quickly when Francis ascended the French throne as King Francis II in 1559, with Mary his Queen Consort of France.  Within a year of becoming King of France Francis died.  That was not a very satisfactory solution in the world of French dynasty building, and Mary now widowed, returned to Scotland. The rest of her sad life is another story; it ended with Queen Elizabeth I chopping her first cousin’s head off after imprisoning her for something like 15 years. I believe that at the time, Queen Elizabeth I  said, predating Don Corleone:  ” this is not personal, it’s business.”

If you are in the area of Roscoff on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday in August do not miss out on the Fête de l'Oignon de Roscoff. Then, or at any other time, visit its Maison des Johnnies et de l’Oignon Rose de Roscoff, that is the Roscoff Museum honoring its Onion Johnnies and reporting the history of the Roscoff onions.

During the year local restaurants offer onion themed menus and much more. Roscoff is also an important fishing port and the freshest Brittany fish and seafood will be on the menus alongside the Roscoff onions. If you are in Brittany to watch the Paris-Brest Bicycle Race then Roscoff is only 50 km ( 31 miles) away.  Roscoff is also a major ferry port. If you are taking your car to France from England, take the direct ferry from Plymouth in the UK or in Ireland take the ferry from Cork.

The English language  website of the Tourist Information Office of Roscoff is:

Onions in the languages of France's neighbors:

(Catalan - ceba), (Dutch – ui, ajuin, juin), (German -  zweibel), (Italian - cipolla ), (Spanish  - cebolla).



Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

1 comment:

  1. Caramelized onions, buttery Basmati rice, and melty Gruyère—what’s to not like about this combo.Best recipes of onion french onion rice