Results tagged France from David Lebovitz

French Beignets

Since we’re on the subject of beignets, I spotted these enticing looking pastries at one of my favorite out-of-the-way boulangeries in Paris.
It must be a global trend.

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Boulangerie au 140
140, rue de Belleville
Paris
Tel: 01 46 36 92 47

Métro: Jourdain

Culinary Confessions

I often cook pasta in not enough water.

I wash mushrooms.

I don’t grind my own coffee beans.

I melt chocolate in a bowl set in, not over, simmering water.

I hate soup as a first course.

I buy store-brand butter for baking.

I try to use as few pots and pans when I cooking as I can.

I lift the lid when cooking rice to see how it’s doing.

I don’t like trying to pull off that stubborn and tough little dangling thing on the bottom of the meat on a chicken leg, either before or after it’s cooked.

I don’t know anything about tea.

If I had to choose between a fancy Michelin 3-star restaurant and a plate of perfectly fried chicken, I would choose the perfectly fried chicken.

I crave chocolate all the time. And I act on it.

Chocolate is the best thing in the world.
So is foie gras, Sevruga caviar, stale candy corn, Château Y’quem, dead-ripe figs, warm sour cherrie pie, hot corned beef on rye with mustard, Comté cheese, fleur de sel, Italian espresso, Korean barbequed pork ribs, any and all chocolates from Patrick Roger in Paris, French fries correctly salted, pretzel-croissants from City Bakery in New York, and those toasted-coconut-covered marshmallows with the queen on the bag.

I don’t understand people who don’t like chocolate.

I prefer chunky peanut butter.

I don’t like when I’m staying at someone’s house and they don’t have one decent saucepan or sharp knife.

I don’t like other people using my knifes.

I don’t understand being particular about having, or not having, nuts in your brownies (unless it’s an allergy). Is it really such a big deal?

I don’t like it when people make up food allergies in restaurants. If you don’t want something, just say you don’t want it.

My freezer is crammed with frozen cranberries, forgotten baguette halves, and chicken stock that I neglected to put the date on. And some chocolate chocolate-chip cookie dough and two different batches of espresso granita. One is better than the other.

I refuse to go to restaurants where the reservations person is an asshole on the phone.

Waiters should only be rude to customers if the customers are rude to them first.

I like when the newest, hottest, self-important restaurant closes within two years.

Anything with tentacles is gross.

I don’t like hand-washing silverware.

It’s hard to make money in the culinary business. Leave Emeril alone. Really.

If I have cookies or brownies around, I will eat them before breakfast.

I hate those cheap Turkish dried apricots. They have no taste. And I don’t know why anyone uses them when the California ones are so incredible.

I can’t remember the last time I spent more than 4 euros on a bottle of wine for myself.

I love the idea of organic, but I just can’t bring myself to spend $5 for a beet.

I just spent $18 dollars on a farm-raised chicken this week, which was delicious.

I hate when people don’t toast nuts.

I really don’t like to eat fish, especially when there’s lots of little annoying bones that you have to eat around and pick out of your mouth.

I like getting something extra for free when I go out to eat.

I hate when people grab at free samples of food.

I don’t like Evian water. It’s thick and viscous.

I like filling up on good bread in restaurants.

I refuse to eat standing up.

I like the process of getting drunk, but I don’t like being drunk.

I hate the tip system in restaurants.

I never cook beef at home. It never tastes as good as when you order it in a restaurant.

I prefer my own cooking to most of what I get in restaurants.

I crave bitter, wilted, sautéed greens with olive oil, salt, and perhaps some garlic.

I never count how many eggs I eat in a week.

I read food blogs while I eat.

I floss every night.

Ok those are some of mine…and yours?

Welcome To France

A couple weeks ago, someone sent me a thoughtful gift from the US.

A few days later, I get a bill from the delivery company; 42 euros for taxes (the gift was valued at 80 euros, making the tax about 55%.)

So I head to the office of the delivery company, where they show me the official rules for gifts sent and received in France:

“If someone sends you a gift, they must write on the paperwork ‘Unsolicited Gift’”, they explain.

I reply, “So next time I receive a gift I should refuse it if it doesn’t say ‘Unsolicited Gift’ on the paperwork?”

No, by then it’s too late. If someone’s going to send you an unsolicited gift, you need to tell them to write ‘Unsolicited Gift’ on the paperwork.”

“Oh.”

I stand there for a moment, looking at them to see if they perhaps detect any bit of irony there.

And do they?


I reach for my checkbook.


Welcome to France.

The Market in Le Neubourg

Just an hour or so from Paris is the medieval market at Le Neubourg where each wednesday locals crowd the market, choosing their fresh fruits and vegetable, regional raw-milk cheeses and just-churned golden-yellow crocks of butter, along with meats and hand-stuffed sausages from the jovial local bouchers, doling out crispy morsels of sautéed charcuterie.

It’s the kind of market where if you ask the poultry person for a quail, they’ll stick their hands in a box, there’ll be a flurry of activity within, the unsettling sound of ruffling feathers and squalking…then calm. A few seconds later, your dinner will emerge. The medival market at Le Neubourg is the real thing and has existed for hundreds of years and some of the wares are not for the squeemish.
Nowadays you’ll find vendors selling crisp frites sprinkled liberally with crystals of sel de Guérande, cheery Arabic vendors hawking frangant olive oil soaps, and rubber-booted fishermen presiding over piles of glistening mussels from nearby Brittany.

Being a baker, I think (and hope), has good karma. No animals have been harmed in the making of any of my desserts.
So aside from the live birds and furry bunnies for sale, what wowed me of course was the abundance of berries on display. Juding from the sweet perfume of the raspberries and the plumpness of the currants (as well as the stained fingers of the farmers) they’d obviously just been picked.

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Perky sour cherries, which they’ve dubbed for some reason ‘cerises anglaise’.
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Unusual crispy white cherries, a variety I’ve never seen before.
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Black currants, red gooseberries and loganberries, which I’ve never found in France. The vendor told me they were framboises americain (American raspberries).
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Tiny white and black currants, called cassis. Black currants have heavy tannins when eated raw, and but are unctuous and deeply-flavored when cooked. They’re widely used (and best known) for the syrupy crème de cassis.
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A jumble of juicy and vibrant summer melons.

Fromagerie François Olivier

When people ask me the rather silly 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, almondy turrone, Italian olive oil and gelato in Italy are the best anywhere. 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 artisianally-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 bulging Neufchâtel, enriched with extra cream with a velvety yellow mold on the exterior. The nutty, complex vieux 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

Brie de Meaux

In summertime, I follow Parisians who’re making a mass exodus from the city. We scurry from the city, jamming crowded autoroutes and packing the train stations. The city offers few trees or shade, and the sunlight reflecting off the white buildings means little respite from the withering heat no matter how hard you look-and there’s only so much icy-cold rosé that I can drink!

So I often make weekend trips to the village of Coulommiers, where there’s a lively outdoor market selling the most famous cheese in the world: Brie.
Brie is not a town, but a region to the east about one hour away by car or train. The sunday market in Coulommiers is one of my favorites because no where else in the world will you find so many cheese vendors selling all kinds of Brie, many unavailable anywhere else.

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There are two true Brie cheeses. The classic is Brie de Meaux (Bree-du-Mohw), about 14-inches across, each disk weighing approximately 5 pounds. Brie de Melun (Brie-du-Meh-Lahn) is slightly smaller, a tad higher, and doesn’t ripen all the way to make a creamy pâte, like Brie de Meaux. Often you’ll cut open Brie de Melun and discover a drier layer of underripe cheese in the middle (at left). These cheeses have the most superb flavor in the late spring-to-early summer, when the cows feast on mustard blossoms, giving the cheese a musty, complex flavor and slight golden tinge.

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Brie de Melun is aged longer than Brie de Meaux. It has a firmer texture and many aficionados prefer it because of it’s stronger and more aggressive flavor. Both cheeses can be made with raw or pasteurized milk, although I prefer the raw versions, which are rarely available in the United States due to regulations in the US (where you’re allowed to drive at high-speeds on freeways while talking on a cell phone and drinking a giant latté, but prohibited from eating cheese that has been prepared the same way for centuries.)

These two Brie cheeses are AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) as of 1990, a product designation given by the French authorities, which states that these specific cheeses meet certain criterion for heating, coagulating, and salting the milk, the subsequent ripening, as well as being fabricated within the specific region. Most cheeses you’ll find labeled Brie are not a true Brie unless the AOC label is affixed to the exterior. In the US, you’ll only find it at a specialty cheese store…if you’re lucky to find it at all. In France, a notable exception is Brie de Nangis, which is a young, milder Brie from the region but does not carry the AOC label, but it’s good. The AOC designation has also been given to 34 cheeses as well as other products like the tasty green lentils from Puy, Haricot Tarbais (the dried beans used to make cassoulet), and the free-range Poulet de Bresse.

Although AOC is often a sign of quality, other products don’t carry the appellation, since they may be made in a neighboring region, or a slightly larger size, or stirred a few more times than the regulations allow during production. So as with anything, let your nose and the taste be your guide. No matter where you live, always seek out a good cheese shop and ask the fromager for advice: they’re a wealth of knowledge and should be proud of their cheeses and happy to help you.

Coulommiers is another excellent cheese from the region, and not AOC. It’s a smaller round, about 6-inches in diameter, and not widely known outside of France. Coulommiers has the same barnyard-like smell that is delectably appetizing in Camembert and indicative of a truly ripe Brie, but is a bit more pungent.

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Locals in Brie are perhaps the only ones who have developed an appreciation for Brie Noir. Normally Brie cheeses are ripened for between one and two months. Brie Noir is ripened much longer, often 8 to 10 months. It’s such a regional specialty, and only appreciated by people of the region, that you’re likely never to see it anywhere else.

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As you can see, Brie Noir is dark, brown, and crumbly. It’s covered with dusty powder and it tastes, well…horrid. After my first eaglerly-anticipated bite, I could not get the vile taste out of my mouth. It’s bitter and acidic. A friend from Coulommiers suggested I dip it into my café au lait at breakfast, which I suspiciously tried, which actually moderated the flavor and made it more palatable. Who knew?

Brie Q & A’s

But my supermarket cheese says Brie…isn’t that Brie?

Real Brie is almost always Brie de Melun or Brie de Meaux. Most of the other cheeses labeled ‘Brie’ are not true Brie. They often won’t ripen properly and taste worlds apart from real Brie.

Should you eat the rind?

The general rule for eating the rind of any cheese is that you may eat it as long as it won’t interfere with the taste or experience of the cheese. For example, something with a lot of mold growth obviously wouldn’t taste very good. A tough rind, like the rind of Parmesan, you wouldn’t want to eat either.

How do I cut Brie?

Think of any round wheel of cheese like a pie or cake. You should slice a triangular wedge out, so that you have a nice portion of cheese.
When presented with a full cheese plate to serve yourself, never cut the ‘nose’ off the cheese, the pointy end: It’s very bad manners!

Can I bring back raw milk cheese into the US?

That depends. Most of the time, I’ve found Customs Officers (oops…I mean ‘Department of Homeland Security’) officers will look the other way as long as you’re bringing in cheese that’s for personal consumption. Obviously if you have 60 wheels of Brie, you will likely get busted. Many fromageries in France will Cryo-vac (sous vide) cheese for transport to contain the fragrance, which I recommend. I once traveled with cheese in zip-top bags and by the end of the flight, the overhead bin totally reeked of cheese.
Luckily the other passengers were French…and for some reason, the US officials quickly waved me through customs.

Making Red Currant Jam

Ha! I fooled you.

This time, this really is a ‘no-recipe’ (unlike my No-Recipe Cherry Jam) since unless you have your own bushes and pick them youself, you’re not likely to have enough red currants to make jam.
So, no-recipe.

Last weekend out in the countryside lots of red currants were picked…
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No make that lots of baskets of red currants!…
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Hours were spent stirring them diligently on the stove until the red currants were transformed into supple, translucent jelly…
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A few red currants were set aside to make a tart. Tangy, vibrant red currants, cooked with a soupçon of sugar, atop buttery pâte brisée

Yum!

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Later in the afternoon, we picked lots of perfumed rose petals to make jelly…
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Très sexy…Non?

(The rose petals, not the cleavage!)