A baker takes advantage of the sub-zero temperature of Paris…
Roquefort cheese is produced in the southwestern region of France and is designated as AOC, the first product ever to do so in 1925, and is a designation meant to denote quality and provenance from a certain region made in a certain manner. Cheese experts (and me) agree that Roquefort is one of the top, all-time-greatest cheeses in the world. And I was excited to explore using it in this delicious ice cream.
Roquefort is a raw-milk cheese, aged between 3 to 9 months in caves. It gets its unique flavor and mold as a result of some very old rye bread; jumbo-sized loaves are baked, then left to sit for two months, during which time they become encrusted with mold. The mold is scraped, then introduced into the caves, where the cheese becomes encrusted by the greenish powder, then inoculated with the spores (called penicillium roqueforti) by resting the wheels of cheese on spikes. That’s why often you see ‘lines’ of mold in Roquefort, as in many other bleu cheeses. But unlike other bleu cheeses, Roquefort has a very special, sweet and tangy flavor that lingers and excites.
Roquefort goes very well with winter foods, such as pears, dates, oranges, toasted nuts like walnuts and pecans, sweet Sauternes, or with bitter seasonal greens like frisée, radicchio, or escarole. A simple winter salad can be made with chunks of Roquefort, slices of ripe Comice pears, leaves of Belgian endive, and a drizzle of good walnut oil. But sometimes Roquefort’s best enjoyed just smeared on a piece of hearty levain bread…and that’s lunch.
When you buy Roquefort, it should be moist and creamy without any red mold and the cut surface should glisten with milky freshness. It usually comes with a piece of foil around its exterior, and whether or not to eat the rind underneath is entirely up to you (don’t eat the foil…especially if you have lots of dental fillings.) If the rind looks dark and funky, skip it. It’s probably going to be too pungent and dank-tasting. But most of the time it’s fine to eat and as delicious as the rest of the wedge.
In France, there’s a few brands of Roquefort to choose from. But I don’t think I’ve ever had a Roquefort that was not wonderful, so it’s hard to go wrong when buying from a reputable cheese vendor. You can also use a nice bleu or gorgonzola cheese in its place.
Here’s a recipe of mine that will surprise you: Roquefort and Honey Ice Cream.
Try roasting some pear slices in the oven with some strong-flavored honey and spices and maybe a strip of lemon peel. Serve warm, with a scoop of this ice cream melting alongside. I also like this with a spoonful of dark honey on top, with a sweet dessert wine, like Barzac or Sauternes, to accompany it.
Roquefort and Honey Ice Cream
One quart (1l)
Adapted from The Perfect Scoop (Ten Speed Press)
- 6 tablespoons (120 gr) honey
- 4 ounces (110 gr) Roquefort
- 1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
- 1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
- 4 large egg yolks
- a few turns freshly-ground black pepper
1. In a small saucepan warm the honey, then set aside.
2. Crumble the Roquefort into a large bowl. Set a mesh strainer over the top.
3. In a medium saucepan, warm the milk.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly.
5. Scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.
6. Over medium heat, stir the mixture constantly with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the spoon.
7. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cheese. Stir until most of the cheese is melted (some small bits are fine, and rather nice in the finished ice cream.) Stir in the cream and the honey, and add a few turns of black pepper.
8. Chill custard thoroughly, then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
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Americans often wonder how French people some know we’re American before we even say one word. It used to be our sneakers; they were the dead giveaway. Nowadays, wearing sneakers, or les baskets, is as French as carrying a baguette.
The other way they can tell us-from-them is that Americans tend to smile. A lot. We are a rather happy tribe. And Americans tend to eat and drink while walking (or while driving, which I’ve explained to some of my French friends, but they look at me in disbelief). Even though in Paris it’s becoming a bit more common, it’s still unusual to see someone chowing down while walking on the street or in the métro. It’s just not done and people will definitely give you funny looks if you’re – say, cramming a Pierre Hermé pastry into your face while sitting on a sidewalk bench. Or shoving a sublime, cream-filled éclair au chocolat from La Maison du Chocolat into your mouth, trying to make sure not one precious drop of bittersweet chocolate pastry cream lands anywhere but in your tummy.
But one little nugget of Parisian tradition still amuses me every time I see it. It’s the yank, twist, and pull of le quignon.
You’ll see it 99% of the time someone leaves a bakery with a freshly-baked baguette. The moment they exit, they grab the crackly knob at the end of the loaf, le quignon, and yank it off. It’s a quick twist and snap, then it gets popped right it into their mouth as they hurry on their way. I tend to think of it as an instant, on-the-spot, quality-control check.
I usually end up with a mess of flour on my dark overcoat, since one of my favorite breads in Paris, le Bazinette, has a fine dusting of flour on it’s crackly crust, and permeating all the little brittle crevasses. If you’re lucky enough to get to Bazin early in the day, a favorite baguette of mine is available with a hearty mixture of grains; flax, sesame, and poppy seeds.
The one shown above is their baguette de tradition, a hand-shaped baguette, slightly sour from the addition of un peu de levain, natural sourdough starter, which gives the bread a hearty, earthy character and allows it to remain fresher longer than the usual 4-hour lifespan of a regular baguette.
Bazin is one of the prettiest bakeries in Paris too, overlooking what I am sure is the smallest (and most unnecessary) traffic rotary in the city. In order to get a Bazinette with grains, you need to get to the bakery early in the day, since they always seem to sell them out quickly.
85, bis rue de Charenton
Tel: 01 43 07 75 21
(Closed Wednesday and Thursday)
It’s perhaps not much of a secret anymore that some of the best places to eat in Paris are the wine bars. Unlike some of the ‘wine bars’ in the US (where that glass of oaky California Chardonnay will run you $14…not including tax and tip), Paris’ wine bars are gathering places, where people might stop in the morning after the market for a friendly chat with the counter person or in the afternoon for quick glass of red to get you through the rest of your day…not that I ever do that…
After work, the wines bars in Paris hum as people leave their jobs, and you’ll see businessmen in dapper suits (and the aforementioned cartoon-emblazoned socks) as well as sales clerks from the local shops propped up against le bar zinc, cigarette in hand, sipping a glass of red wine while thinking whatever it is they’re thinking as they focus their gazes somewhere off into space. It’s a skill I’ve yet to master.
One of my favorite wine bars in Paris is Le Rubis. Located just off the fancy-schmancy rue Saint-Honoré, Le Rubis occupies a little corner of this quartier, better known for handbags, jewelery shops, and all the other necessities of life for les bourgeoisie.
I like to go at lunchtime, especially in the cold winter months, where the friendly owners will squeeze you into a seat at one of the tiny tables covered with crisp white paper, a folded napkin, some utilitarian silverware, and an overturned wine glass, ready to be filled. After lunch of later in the afternoon, Parisians gather outside by the wine barrels covered with red-checkered cloth, drinking, smoking, and talking on their mobile phones, while absent mindedly polishing off a couple of glasses of Brouilly or Beaujolais.
Most of the wine bars in Paris that serve food keep it authentic and simple: peek into the kitchen at any of them and you’ll find most are the size of a phone booth. It’s all charming and convivial, reminding me of the old diners that have mostly disappeared in America (except the bottomless cup of bad coffee’s been replaced by red wine…and people still ask me why I live in France!)
Lunch can be anything from petit salé, braised salt pork on a bed of nutty green French lentils, or a rich wedge of tarte au legumes, a quiche-like slab of eggy-custard, baked with vegetables and diced smoked bacon, served with a mustardy green salad.
Of course, though, the wine is important here. But not so important that it draws wine snobs. Thankfully all he pretention from the neighborhood is left outside the door. I like to come in the afternoon when the place is empty. I sit with friends, or by myself, sipping a glass of fruity Chinon accompanied by a plate of their outstanding charcuterie, served on dark-crusted slices of pain Poilâne, from the nearby bakery of Max Poilâne. Country hams, fat-rich rillettes, and slices of dry sausage are always a treat, and a welcome accompaniment to the wine.
By the time I’m ready to leave, the table’s covered with bread crumbs, the paper table covering is stained with red rings from the bottom of the wine glass, and I’m feeling much better, no matter where I’m going afterwards.
Usually it’s straight home for une sieste, another jour perdu…
(UPDATE: Read more details about Les Rubis.)
10, rue Marché St. Honoré
Tel: 01 42 61 03 34
(Full-meals served only at lunch)
Last year I read about a pastry chef-turned-candymaker in Los Angeles. She was becoming known around those parts for her tender caramels, blended with wisps of sel de mer (sea salt.)
Inspired by the amazing CBS, caramel-beurre-salé caramels produced by the master himself, Henri LeRoux, Christine Moore’s caramels are indeed the best I’ve had in the US.
A friend drove me out to the Silverlake region of Los Angeles. It’s a rather funky area, full of shoe shops, stores with second-hand clothing racks on sidewalks, just-opened bakeries, and a music studio that Flea (from the Red Hot Chili Peppers) opened for the young folks of the neighborhood.
And there’s the The Cheesestore of Silverlake, a small shop with wheels of cheese piled high on the counter, and a carefully chosen selection of ‘gourmet’ foods…although I hate to use that word, which seems so pretentious, and this shop is anything but. They’re incredibly friendly (and yes, I seem to be the only one who truly likes LA…) and we spoke a bit about what they carry, their cheese and wine selection – and, of course, the creamy, wonderful caramels.
Although a few might consider them a tad salty for their taste (I love them), The Little Candy Company caramels were cooked to just the right temperature…not too tough, not too sticky and meltingly-soft, cooked just enough to that chewy stage to give them some ‘bite’. As we ripped open the package, unwrapped a few tender morsels and popped them in our mouths, we did concede that it was impossible to reproduce the French caramels exactly. But boy, those caramels sure were good. No matter where they’re made.
-Sea Salt Caramels from The Little Flower Candy Company can be ordered via their website.
-Check out the recipe for Christine Moore’s Chocolate-Caramel Tartlets.
Good pears are in danger of disappearing. The best-tasting varieties (Comice, Bartlett, and French Butter) become easily bruised as they ripen, so large stores are reluctant to carry them. So what can you do? Buy them when you see them. Don’t be afraid to purchase rock-hard pears of these varieties: unlike most other fruits, pears don’t ripen well on the tree and should be ripened at home for the most succulent, juicy flavor. I carefully cradle my pears when I carry them home, then let them rest on the countertop, standing upright on a kitchen towel, until slightly soft to the touch.
Bartlett pears are amazingly aromatic, and in Normandy, folks who distill Calvados add a few along with the apples (about 10%) to heighten the aroma. Pear eau-de-vie, or Pear William (sometimes recognized as the clear liquor with the whole pear in the bottle) is a distillation of Bartlett pears. It takes about 60 pounds of pears to make a small, precious bottle of Pear William. The steam of the cooking pears is captured and that little trickle of liquid is bottled as eau-de-vie.
So stop complaining about the price.
Most pears can also be checked for ripeness by sniffing the stem end. I bought some perfectly-ripe Comice pears last week that were as perfumed as the most divine roses (which are relatives of apples and pears.) Each time I passed them on my countertop, I couldn’t resist picking one up for a sniff.
For cooking and poaching, Bosc and Winter Nellis pears are the best choice as they hold their shape once cooked. These varieties have little fragrance. Although other cooks use them, I’ve never tasted an Anjou pear that was any good.
(And don’t curse those little plastic labels that are stuck on pears. Without those, many of the supermarkets wouldn’t sell the lesser-known varieties of pears, since it’s difficult for the cashiers to know which are which. )
When I visit the United States, I always return loaded down with at least three or four pounds of California dried apricots (right). I’m not xenophobic, but the Turkish apricots (left) are tasteless, bland, and sugary-sweet. If you come visit me, that’s what I ask my friends to pack for me.
I grew up snacking on California dried apricots and I used to call them ‘dried monkey ears’. Their puckery tang makes them ideal when simmered in a light sugar syrup until soft (1 part sugar or honey to 4 parts water, perhaps with a stick of cinnamon or vanilla bean) and served alongside a savory meat or chicken stew. I love them in desserts and I’ll often make a simple (and healthy) soufflé of dried apricots plumped in white wine. Once cooked, I puree them, fold in some whipped egg whites and sugar, and minutes later I pull from the oven a tray of apricot soufflés.
Although the Turkish (and Chinese) varieties are less than half the price, they’re no bargain. If you substitute them in a recipe that calls for dried apricots, you’ll be sadly disappointed. The California growers are having a hard time competing, since so many people seem to shop solely on price, not quality.
So have one less Vente Mocchachino a year and splurge on good-tasting dried fruit. Please.
The most widely available lime in the US is the Persian lime. Since it’s seedless, it’s the one most commercial growers cultivate. Often found solidly green and bullet-hard (they’re picked underripe and gassed to preserve their unripe green color), they yield little juice.
As with all citrus, select limes that feel heavy for their size. If you live in France, where they vendors don’t like it when you handle the produce, you risk getting scolded with, “Monseur! Ne touchez pas!” (and in the old days, they would add a petit slap if you were in striking distance). So to avoid the humiliation, I scout around ethnic markets and root around the citrus bins, elbowing aside the Arabic and Chinese women, touching every fruit, and tossing back those that don’t feel hefty and full of juice.
If you pick one up and it feels light, that’s an indication there’s little juice inside. Look for limes that are yellow-golden with a greenish hue. As mentioned, ethnic markets seem to offer golden limes that are valued for their taste, not their looks. And don’t be put of by appearances: older, punky-looking citrus often tastes best since it’s spent the maximum time ripening on the tree rather than sitting in cold storage.
To get the most juice from limes, make sure your limes are at room temperature. Roll them firmly on the countertop with your hand to rupture the juice sacs, then squeeze. While some cookbook authors advise popping them in the microwave for a few seconds, I’d feel funny about heating fresh limes. It jus doesn’t seem right.
While everyone loves pineapple, no one seems to remember the last time they actually bought one. They seem to make an appearance only for special occasions. So next time you’re at the market, why not pick one up? Personally, it makes me feel better to have something around the house that’s a reminder of the tropics during the long, grey days of winter. (Especially if I pick up a bottle of dark rum at the same time!)
I buy pineapples often during the winter. I like to cut them up and keep pieces in the refrigerator for snacking or to add to a fruit salad with grapes and tangerines. And blended with some dark rum and lime juice, served in a nice glass with some chips and guacamole, I don’t know of a better way to beat the winter blahs. (Luckily, for some reason, they have the best tortilla chips in France. Avocados are plentiful as well.)
The most common varieties of pineapple are the Cayenne and Esmerelda, although you’ll rarely find pineapples listed by variety. Harold McGee suggests buying pineapples grown as close to the equator as possible, although I’ve had exceptional pineapples from Hawaii, the Ivory Coast of Africa, and Costa Rica.
Contrary to popular belief, there’s nothing that plucking out the center leaf of a pineapple will tell you about ripeness. Pineapples don’t ripen after picking so buy one labeled Jet-Fresh, or with a ticket stating that it’s been picked ripe, if possible. Take a sniff: a good pineapple will reveal if it’s ripe by a tropical aroma at the stem end. Lots of yellow on the skin is another indication of ripeness. Avoid fruits with soft spots and mold.
There’s always much debate over when it’s okay to telephone someone at home. How late is too later? How early is okay to call? Are they friends, or family? When I moved to Paris, a friend told me, “Never call anyone before noon on Sunday.” I made that mistake once, and that was all it took.
So I’m sound asleep at 8am this Saturday morning (after getting home from dinner last night at 2am), there I am tucked into my bed, so warm-and-cozy, nestled between my linen sheets and goose down duvet, by little head dreaming of….
Grrrr. So since I was up, I decided to hit the Marché aux Puces, or flea market. By the time I finished my coffee and got there, I’m sure most of the good stuff was gone. But this week I managed to pick up something I’ve been admiring for a long time.
I’ve been eyeing this casserole whenever I’d come across one over the past few years. Designed in 1958 by Raymond Loewy for Le Creuset, I love its combination of modernity and French utilitarianism. Vintage examples in good condition are rarely found since most have been well-used by French cooks. And recently it’s been re-issued, although in newer colors, not like the classic orange that you see.
Raymond Loewy was born in Paris, but made his mark in corporate America. He became the most influential designer of our time and designed so many things that we just take for granted. But during his era, the Industrial Revolution, people were fascinated by all that was new and liked products and designs that suggested a better, more modern, future. What he designed suggested speed and forward-thinking, an emerging machine-age where everything was sleek and streamlined, and this casserole for Le Creuset is no exception.
(This piece of cookware is called La Coquelle and was reissued here in France in several colors, but they have since taken them out of production.)
In addition to this casserole, Loewy designed the Studebaker, as well as the Lucky Strike, Nabisco, Shell, and Exxon logos. One of my favorites, though, was for New Man, a French clothing company.
Not many people realize this, but if you turn it over, it reads the same thing, “New Man”.
Go ahead, flip over your computer and see. I’ll wait.