Fromagerie François Olivier

When people ask me the rather perplexing question, “Why do you live in France?”, I simply direct them to the nearest fromagerie. Yes, there’s great food to be found everywhere: Spain has great ham and crisp, almond turrone, Italians have great olive oil and gelato. And when in New York who can resist the chewy bialys and bagels? But there is nothing comparable to the cheeses of France…

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In the small city of Rouen, in Normandy, is one of the few remaining affineurs in France. As you may know, once milk is formed into molds, it needs to be properly ripened to become cheese. The ripening can be for just a few hours or can last up to several years for a hard grating cheese such as Parmegiano-Reggiano. There’s just handful of affineurs left in France, who ripen cheese in caves just below their shops. The last time I visited François Olivier with my friend Susan Loomis, he welcomed us into the caves. This time, he told us that as of a few months ago, European Union regulations forbid visitors. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons the French voted against the constitution.

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Of course, I was immediately attracted to the butter that François salts himself. While I was there, a steady stream of customers came in for a large block of it.

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But I also came for the camembert, since François carries one of the few artisanally-made camemberts left in Normandy. Although camembert is the unofficial symbol of France (there was a giant wheel of camembert balloon ‘float’ to lead off the parades at the commencements of the Tour de France recently) but there are few remaining true camemberts left. Like Brie de Meaux, true camembert is actually called Camembert de Normandie and will be labeled au lait cru (raw milk) so if you come to France, be sure to choose a cheese labeled as such, not simply “camembert.”

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The French are a famously stubborn lot and are refusing to compromise the integrity of their cheeses (as well as a few other things…) But why not? They make the best cheeses in the world. And Normandy is arguably the most famous cheesemaking region here in France. At François’ fromagerie, you’ll find the elusive Maroilles, a hulking square of cheese aged for 100 days and weighing in at a hefty one-pound, with a powerful, pungent fragrance that cheese-expert Steve Jenkins describes as “…about as subtle as a bolt of lightening–get out a clothespin.” One whiff, and I agreed.

More subtle was the soft, dewy-white wheels of Delicor. When sliced open, the pleasantly chewy rind gives way to a soft, milky cheese that is sweet and slippery on the tongue. This is the one cheese that François makes entirely himself and is justly proud of it. Another famous cheese of the region is represented here, Neufchâtel (not to be confused with the low-fat cream cheese in the United States) which is often heart-shaped since the women cheesemakers would often make them for their sweethearts. You’ll find Graval, a mound of bulgingNeufchâtel, enriched with extra cream with a velvety yellow mold on the exterior. The nutty, complex Comté, aged for 2 years, was the best I’ve had. And I’ve had a lot of Comté.

Properly made raw milk cheeses have been consumed for centuries and he noted that raw milk that’s less than 1½ hour old is full of natural antibodies. He compared cheeses made with cooked milk to wine made with cooked grapes.

When reflecting on the new changes in cheese making because of EU regulations and strict US importation laws, François sadly noted that in most of the world, quality means hygienic, whereas here, quality means “good taste.”

Fromagerie François Olivier
40, rue de l’Hôpital
Rouen
tel: 02 35 71 10 40


French Cheese Archives

Meme: The Cook Next Door

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I was tagged by Adam, the Amateur Gourmet who picked me for this food meme. (Then split for 2-3 weeks of vacation!) Here’s my responses…

What is your first memory of baking/cooking on your own?

Good Seasons salad dressing.

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The measuring!
The mixing!
The magic!

No wonder I became a pastry chef.

Who had the most influence on your cooking?

Lindsey Shere, who was the original pastry chef at Chez Panisse. I was so fortunate to have someone like that influence me right from the start. I learned how to really taste things from her, and how important ingredients are to good cooking. Much more so than fancy techniques.
Alice Waters also was a positive influence as well. She has a great deal of belief in what she’s doing and is truly dedicated and passionate about her ideals.

Do you have an old photo as “evidence” of an early exposure to the culinary world and would you like to share it?

Don’t have one on my hard drive. A downside of the digital age.

Mageiricophobia – do you suffer from any cooking phobia, a dish that makes your palms sweat?

Squid (or anything with tentacles.) I refuse to touch it or even look at it. Squid scare the shit out of me. Those suckers are U-G-L-Y!
My first day on the job at Chez Panisse in 1983, the chef handed me a huge bus tub of squid and told me to clean it.
Only after years of therapy was I able to overcome the trauma.

What would be your most valued or used kitchen gadgets and/or what was the biggest letdown?

Favorite:
My KitchenAid 5-quart Mixer
Oxo Salad Spinner (and zester and whisks)
Heatproof Spatulas

Biggest letdown:
Where do I begin?
Ok, I’ll choose the 3 worst offenders:
1. Those thick rubber heatproof gloves. You can’t get a grip on anything.
2. I hate silicone baking molds for cakes. Every time I teach a class, people keep asking me if I like them. So quit asking.
3. The French Press is perhaps the worst apparatus for making coffee. I don’t care what anyone says, so don’t try to tell me otherwise. The coffee comes out muddy, over-caffeinated, and gets cold fast. Plus they’re hazardous; I had one fly across my kitchen as I was pressing down, spraying my entire kitchen (and me) with coffee grounds. I hear about complex methods for brewing good coffee in them, but who wants to deal with that in the morning? I’ll stick with my espresso pot.

BONUS RANT: The Le Creuset Tagine that has no flange on the lid. The first time I used it, the hot lid slid right out of my hands and crashed (there’s no way to hold onto it.) They refused to give me a new one, although they did change the design eventually. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who complained. And since I sacrificed my lid for the good of others, they should send me a new one, don’t you think?

Name some funny or weird food combinations/dishes you really like – and probably no one else!

I like to eat dried pasta right from the box. Especially elbows.

What are the three eatables or dishes you simply don’t want to live without?

Dark Chocolate-Covered Marshmallows
Fried Chicken without gravy (so it stays crisp) but lots of salt
Caramelized Salted Peanuts (or anything caramelized, for that matter.)

Any question you missed in this meme, that you would have loved to answer? Well then, feel free to add one!

…from Nicky at Delicious Days
Your favorite ice-cream…

The chocolate and caramel ice creams at Berthillon on the I’le St. Louie in Paris, and the Gianduja gelato at Caffè San Marco in Torino.

You will probably never eat…
Anything with tentacles.
Or Puffin.

Your own signature dish…
Fresh Ginger Cake from Room For Dessert which I’ve been served in lots of restaurants and bakeries. I’ve received more emails and kudos (from home cooks as well as people who serve it in their bakeries and restaurants) for that cake than anything else.

…from the ChefDoc at A Perfect Pear
Any signs that this passion is going slightly over the edge and may need intervention?

I’m blogging when I should be cooking.

…from Clement at A La Cuisine!
Any embarrassing eating habits?

I used to eat lunch in the shower because I was so busy when I worked in the restaurant business and never had time to eat.

…from Sarah, of The Delicious Life
Who would you want to come into your kitchen to cook dinner for you?
Aside from hauling out my Ouija board and raising Julia Child from the great beyond, the warmer-blooded Elena Arzak from Arzak restaurant is an astounding contemporary cook and is mindful, yet playful, without being silly or pretentious.

…from Adam, of The Amateur Gourmet:
Who’s your favorite food writer

Hard to pick just one. It’s definitely between Roy Andries Di Groot who wrote The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth which is the best food book ever written…(and the dude was blind!), Jane Grigson’s Fruit Book is full of great recipes and superb writing, and Richard Olney, who had the amazing ability to deftly describe a technique or taste without pretentiousness. He was American, but wrote and cooked while living in France, wandering around his kitchen in skimpy briefs drinking Scotch straight from the bottle.

…from David Lebovitz at David Lebovitz.com:
What’s the best food city in the world?

San Francisco and Barcelona.

Three people to pass it on to…

Judy at Over A Tuscan Stove

Kate at French Kitchen Adventures

Pascal at C’est moi qui l’ai fait!

Snooping Around

While snooping around a friend’s kitchen, I opened a drawer and found this.

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She swears it wasn’t directed at me.

Patriotic Pie

Happy Fourth of July!

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A l’Etoile d’Or: The Best Candy Shop in Paris

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Forget Catherine Deneuve and Carole Bouquet.

The most photographed and revered woman in Paris is Denise Acabo. With her braided pig-tails, necktie, and crisply-pleated kilt, Denise is the sweetest woman in Paris.

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Her shop, A l’Etoile d’Or, has an ethereal selection of artisan confections and chocolates from France and whenever I go, I invariably find something new to try, something tasty, something that is so amazing, that I’m compelled to go back for more. What’s a guy to do?

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I give myself at least one hour to shop. Minimum. Words fly out of her mouth in rapid-fire French. She’ll often use the tu word, instead of the formal vous, which suggests immediately comradery.

Don’t understand a word of French?
That’s ok, Just nod. She’ll keep going.

Continue Reading A l’Etoile d’Or: The Best Candy Shop in Paris…

Terror Has a Name, It’s Spelled Brita…

…I-T-A, that’s BRITA™!

It lurks in my kitchen, waiting…and waiting. It thirsts for the precious fluid of life. And it will stop at nothing to get it.

It is voracious.

It is unstoppable.

And it doesn’t care who gets in its way.

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I can’t leave it alone.

I hydrate.
The water level drops, it needs to be filled. It craves it. Seeking completion. It hungers to be satiated. Quickly. I am its slave. What would happen if the filter dried out? There’s dire consequences, too horrible to mention. But there they are, the warnings, buried deep within the paperwork.
But what if I ignore it…it…I can’t, it sits there, mocking. Waiting for me to forget its presence. It’s ghastly presence.

Someday it will make its move. I know it. I sense it.

Do I dare bring bottled water into my house? My first step towards independence.
No. I mustn’t upset it. I mustn’t.
What’s that? No really, I wasn’t thinking about getting rid of you, no, heh-heh, just kidding…really.

I type.
It watches.
I think.
It drips.

And waits…

I spend my waking hours thinking about it, plotting, making sure to keep it content, brim full with water. I mustn’t upset it. I don’t sleep without making sure it’s full. I won’t leave without checking the water tank. Should I take it with me if I leave? If I leave it behind, I’ll come home to…to…to what? What awaits me if I do?

Help!
I’m a prisoner of a water filtration system…

Oprah vs. Hermes

Everyone over here is getting a chuckle over the Oprah vs. Hermès flap.
There seems be a lot of back-and-forth about what happened and who-said-what when Oprah wasn’t allowed into Hermès to buy a watch for her pal Tina Turner (I had the same problem with her as well. Tina is so particular about which brand of watch she’ll wear.)

The kinds folks at Hermès treated Oprah like they would treat anyone who tried to come into the shop –15 minutes after the store had closed.

In France, Closed means Closed. Just like the doors on the Métro. If you’re not in the Métro and the doors are closing, they ain’t holding ‘em open for you. It’s in or out. And if you’re stuck between them…ouch! (Trust me, those doors are strong.)

Hermès didn’t do anything unusual. Why should she get special treatment or an apology? Get over yourself, girlfriend. I had to when I got here. It ain’t all about the customer. She needs to wait until opening hours for a $13,000 Birkin bag just like the rest of us have to.

But don’t get me wrong, I feel the same way about Oprah that Tom feels about Katie. (Truly!…and I don’t even have a movie to promote, but someday I may, so I’d better be nice now just in case.) She is so hip and ‘right-on’ about everything and gives away new cars and cool stuff (and now has fabulous abs on top of everything else, damn her, is there anything she doesn’t have?) But has anyone called her to the mat for promoting junk-food in her magazine while preaching a weight-loss program and doling out “feel-good” lifestyle tips?

“Do not spend another summer fat! Get Oprah’s weight loss secrets and favorite snacks. Beat your chocolate cravings! Get the plan for fab abs. Plus, your questions answered. Portion sizes? Low carb? Low fat? If you need to lose weight, this is the show for you!”
-from Oprah.com

Glancing through her magazine, (and no, I didn’t buy it…someone left me a copy. Honest. Although I did enjoy the articles, “Are You Too PC?” and “This Month, It’s You Time!”…which was helpful, since I was wondering when things were going to get around to being “My” time.)

But I was rather surprised to see who advertised within…

Honey Clusters breakfast cereal, Coke, Fanta and Sprite,
Hi-C, some icky-looking Honey Snack Bars, McDonald’s Egg McMuffins, bottled salad dressing, Keebler Fruit Delights cookies, Quaker Oats Breakfast Squares, Teddy Grahams Cubs “Fun Packs”, Kraft Cheese Nips “Sport Crisps”, Taco Rice mix, Country Crock Microwavable mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, Jose Cuervo Margarita Minis, and Jell-O Sundae Toppers.

I can’t figure out which of these promotes weight loss…
And can anyone tell me what the heck a ‘sport crisp’ is?

Tortillas, in Paris?

Maïs… Oui!

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