WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: CAMEMBERT | Food and Drink

WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: CAMEMBERT

By Thursday, May 28, 2015 Permalink
Unspeakably Awesome / Foter / CC BY-NC

 

CAMEMBERT, THE FAVORITE CHEESE OF THE FRENCH

by Jonell Galloway

Sometimes I think I’m liquefying like an old Camembert.–Gustave Flaubert

History of Camembert

The legend goes that Marie Harel invented Camembert in 1791 in the village of Vimoutiers in Normandy, a froward priest giving her the instructions, which she guarded preciously hidden away. Camembert is not taken lightly in France. In 1928, Alexandre Millerand, former president of France, inaugurated a statue in Vimoutiers in honor of Harel’s great “achievement.”

The legend lives on, despite the fact that the family name Harel has never appeared on the list of cheesemakers or business people in the Camembert region, and that the first historical recording of the cheese was in 1708, well before Harel supposedly lived.

How Camembert is Made

Camembert is made from unpasteurized whole milk, abiding by specific requirements if it is to be labeled “Camembert de Normandie.”  The milk is first skimmed, then the lactobacillus bacteria is added as a starter. The milk is left at 12° C to coagulate for several hours and is then heated to around 30° C.

These curds are then sliced vertically and ladled into perforated cheese moulds. This manual operation is repeated four or five times over the space of 40 minutes, allowing the curds to drain off all excess water. After about 12 hours, the cheese is turned over and a stainless steel plate is placed on it, putting pressure on it so that it continues to drain overnight.

how camembert is made in Normandy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, the cheese is removed from the moulds and salted. It is left for a week in a curing room with 100% humidity, where it is turned regularly. Thanks to the Pénicillium candidum in the atmosphere of the room, a natural crust is formed. (Some modern facilities spray the cheese with Pénicillium candidum to start the process.) French regulations require that it then be placed in a curing room with 50% humidity for a week.

The Camembert de Normandie A.O.C./A.O.P. is then ready for packaging. It is wrapped in plastic and then enclosed in a thin, round poplar box.

There are numerous variations on this process, depending on the manufacturer, but all makers more or less follow these steps, whether on a farm or in a larger establishment.

How to Choose a Camembert

Labeling

The first thing to look for is the origin. It will probably be Camembert de Normandie or Camembert fabriqué en Normandie. Only Camembert de Normandie is made from raw milk and and has the legal right to bear the A.O.C. or A.O.P. label. This category includes some 500 milk producers and 9 or 10 cheese makers. In any case, Camembert de Normandie is always hand-made and the dairy cattle have been let out to pasture for a minimum of 6 months. It should always be marked moulé à la louche, indicating that it is hand-made using a ladle.

This name has been protected since 1983, and only represents 4.2% of all Camembert made in France. Look for all these indications on the packaging. Labeling can often be deceptive. Study the images in this article so you’ll be able to tell whether it’s real Camembert and to get a picture of the deceptive practices used. In any case, it should bear this label:

camembert in ladle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camembert fabriqué en Normandie simply means it’s made in Normandy. There are no regulations controlling how it is made, so it will most likely be made in a factory, but there are certainly some artisanal cheese makers who for one reason or another don’t qualify for the strict Camembert de Normandie label, but whose cheese is of a high quality.

Then there are manufacturers from other parts of the country who make what they call Camembert. This is usually made with pasteurized milk and most often in factories. We have no way of knowing whether it is made according to the rules of the trade or whether it is good except by tasting. It might even be made with milk from another country.

Appearance

Camembert should be perfectly round and flat. The crust should be white, but slightly brownish, and should not be cracked. The brownish spotting is the result of healthy mould and ripening. The entire surface should be the smooth and even. The edges should be slightly yellow.

Smell the Camembert. Any whiff of ammonia indicates that it is too ripe. It should smell fruity and ripe like you’d like it to taste, but not overwhelming.

Touch the edges, then press the middle.  It should be neither too hard nor too soft.

When you cut into the cheese, it should be light yellow in color and creamy in texture.

Note: raw milk Camembert is best in the spring and autumn.

How to Eat Camembert

The French eat their cheese after the main course, either with or after a green salad. It is eaten as is, at room temperature, with bread, and followed by dessert. Some nicer restaurants will serve dried fruit, jam or nuts with the cheese course.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: CAMEMBERT | Food and Drink

Writing Doctor

By Tuesday, May 26, 2015 Permalink

Writing Doctor: This Pen is for Hire

How’s your prose?

Let me find what ails you, and set you to “writes”. Whether through modest adjustments or major overhauls, let’s get your prose in good health!

You are a food blogger, but your dream is to become a food writer. Writing is a craft, and like all crafts, it takes time and patience to learn. Think of it as a house. You start with a solid foundation, with a frame and a floor, but you have to finish the building so you can house your family.

Working with a writing coach is like adding a roof, insulation and siding to suit the climate you live in. The climate can be compared to the market or the type of writing you aim to do. You have to hone your writing to that market and meet the expectations of publishers and of your audience. Writing free of spelling and grammatical errors is not enough.

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WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: CAMEMBERT | Food and Drink

Food Blogging 101: 10 Steps for Starting a Blog

By Monday, May 25, 2015 Permalink
Foxtongue / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

How to Start a Food Blog: 10 Tips from a Veteran Blogger

by Jonell Galloway

Here are 10 easy steps to follow to start a food (or other) blog. Food blogging can be easy if you start out right.

  1. Keep it simple at every step, because it won’t end up being simple no matter how hard you try to make it so.
  2. Decide on your niche and your subject. Your subject should be specific and something you know about and feel comfortable writing about. If you’ve worked at a French bakery, perhaps you know a lot about baking French pastries. For example, I studied French cuisine, so I mainly write about French cuisine. It comes easy to me; it’s within my range of knowledge. If you want your readers to be passionate, you have to be passionate yourself. If you want them to build confidence in you, you have to write with authority.
  3. Who is your audience? Are there enough people interested in your subject to justify all the hard work? Do you have an idea of who these people might be? Go on Amazon and see how many books are published on your subject. Do a few Internet searches to see if anyone else is covering the same topic.
  4. Define a budget. Can you afford a developer? a webmaster? I recommend both, but if you’re computer literate, it’s possible to build a website on your own.
  5. Choose a platform. The platform you choose has a lot to do with how computer literate you are. This is not a judgment. It’s just a factor that can determine how much unnecessary frustration you risk experiencing while running your blog. If you have limited experience using computers and you want a simple, carefree site, Tumblr, Typepad and Blogger are good choices. Another advantage is that they are free, but they have their limitations. If you know Microsoft Word, know how to use a stylesheet, and feel comfortable with computers, WordPress offers more flexibility in terms of layout and functionality. It is also free. None of these platforms requires knowledge of computer coding. Wix and Medium are also free, but have limitations. None of these platforms requires knowledge of code, with the exception of a few of the cutting-edge WordPress themes. (If you don’t know code, this is a question you should ask when choosing a theme.)
  6. If you have a hefty budget, you can make life easier by hiring a website developer and a webmaster, so you wouldn’t need the free platforms. A developer can custom build a site in code to your specifications, giving you the possibility of a beautiful, unique look, but making it necessary to have a webmaster or the developer make changes and additions, which can be costly. Think this over before starting. It will not be a one-time expense; it will be an on-going one.
  7. If you’re building a website on a free platform, choose a theme. A theme is what you will use as the basic layout or presentation of your site (a paid web developer would do all this in code). It is what you use when you don’t have a budget for a coded website and you plan to use the free platforms. Free or low-budget themes are available for all the free platforms listed above, and allow you to browse examples before choosing. Wordpress offers free themes here.
  8. Choose a host. The “host” is the place where your website resides. They will offer various packages at various prices. The host provides a server on which to store your blog files, as well as other necessary technical services including technical support (ask for details about this before choosing: how much time, availability, etc.), email, domain name registration, FTP access, and various other services and tools. They will offer different bandwidths (250 GB is usually the least) and disk space (5 GB is usually a minimum). How much you need depends on how many images and articles you post, of course, but a basic package usually suffices at the outset. You can always upgrade later. Ask what their average uptime and downtime are; this is what determines part of the reliability of your website. Ask how often your blog will be backed up on their servers.
  9. Choose a name and register it as a domain name (your host may offer this service). Otherwise, you can do this directly with the free online platforms or with an online domain registration company. This reserves the name for you and you only and prevents anyone else from using it.
  10. Take a few hours to familiarize yourself with the technical aspects of creating blog posts. If you’re using WordPress, do some research on the plugins you can use to enhance site capability. The Beginner’s Guide for WordPress is an excellent resource.
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WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: CAMEMBERT | Food and Drink

WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: WHITE ASPARAGUS LABEL

By Sunday, May 24, 2015 Permalink

Vintage French Label for White Asparagus

by Jonell Galloway

Traditionally, the French eat white asparagus. It is only recently that they have acquired a taste for the green asparagus that comes from Spain and occasionally Italy. White asparagus is grown underground so that the chlorophyll so it won’t turn green.

This label dates from the fifties, and says “asparagus in stems” (I wonder how else asparagus can be), and categorizes them as “extra fat,” which the French consider the best. This particular brand is from Belgium.

Modern labels are similar.

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WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: CAMEMBERT | Food and Drink

FRENCH RECIPES: POT-AU-FEU OR PETITE MARMITE

By Saturday, May 23, 2015 Permalink

Emmanuel Ménétrier / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

ESCOFFIER’S RECIPE FOR POT-AU-FEU OR PETITE MARMITE

Pot-au-feu and petite marmite in today’s vocabulary are the same thing. Until the nineteenth century, the term pot-au-feu simply referred to a family soup to which was added different ingredients every day, usually with beef and chicken added on Sunday. The regional variations were endless, depending on availability and season and depending on the cook.

In 1829, the French etymology dictionary defined  pot-pourri  as “the name our fathers gave to the pot-au-feu.” In the nineteenth century, the recipe started to take on its modern ingredients of beef, root vegetables and a veal bone, but it still included chicken, which many people, including my French butcher’s wife, leave out these days.

Escoffier, who codified French cuisine in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, set down the recipe in Le Guide Culinaire in 1902, still calling it petite marmite. The regional variations started to disappear, and the recipe has now been simplified by most home cooks to contain only beef, no chicken. Escoffier insisted on the importance of the chicken, but today, one rarely finds a pot-au-feu with mutton, veal, pork, chicken, duck or turkey. The other name, petite marmite, has pretty much gone out of usage.

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“EATING IS AN AGRICULTURAL ACT: I begin with the proposition that eating is an agricultural act. Eating ends the annual drama of the food economy that begins with planting and birth. Most eaters, however, are no longer aware that this is true. They think of food as an agricultural product, perhaps, but they do not think of themselves as participants in agriculture. They think of themselves as ‘consumers.’ If they think beyond that, they recognize that they are passive consumers. They buy what they want — or what they have been persuaded to want — within the limits of what they can get. They pay, mostly without protest, what they are charged. And they mostly ignore certain critical questions about the quality and the cost of what they are sold: How fresh is it? How pure or clean is it, how free of dangerous chemicals? How far was it transported, and what did transportation add to the cost? How much did manufacturing or packaging or advertising add to the cost? When the food product has been manufactured or ‘processed’ or ‘precooked,’ how has that affected its quality or price or nutritional value?”

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— Wendell Berry, The Pleasures of Eating

Migraine is a wine made from grapes grown around Auxerre in northern Burgundy.

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WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: CAMEMBERT | Food and Drink

WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: HOW TO EAT FOIE GRAS

By Thursday, May 21, 2015 Permalink

WHAT TO EAT WITH FOIE GRAS

by Jonell Galloway

I tell you it will be more tolerable for the Fejee that salted down a lean missionary in his cellar against a coming famine; it will be more tolerable for that provident Fejee, I say, in the day of judgment, than for thee, civilized and enlightened gourmand, who nailest geese to the ground and feastest on their bloated livers in thy pate-de-foie-gras.”–Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)

In What to Eat in France: Foie Gras, we talked about how foie gras is made and the different legal classifications, which determine both the quality and price. Let’s move on to the fun part now. We’ve bought our high-quality foie gras and we want to eat it in the best way possible. Here are some ideas, both traditional and inventive.

Cooked Foie Gras

So you’ve bought a foie gras entier, a foie gras, or a bloc de foie gras. You’ll be eating pure or fairly pure foie gras, but how do you eat it and with what?

There is no one way to eat it. The Romans soaked it in honey and milk to fatten it still more before cooking. The first recipe on record comes from Apicius in his fourth century De re culinaria: Thinly slice the foie gras with a reed. Soak in garum. Crush some pepper, lovage and two bay leaves. Wrap in a caul. Grill and serve.

Today we eat it differently. Cold foie gras is most often eaten with something acidic to help digest the fat. This traditionally includes cold, sweet garnishes such as apple, rhubarb, fresh or dried figs, grapes, or pears, and toast, but contemporary chefs venture outside these limits, serving it with dried fruit and nuts and toasted brioche or raisin-fruit bread. More contemporary garnitures are onion jam or caramelized onions, Balsamic vinegar, port or Sauternes jelly, chutney, cassis berries, raspberries, blueberries or coarse sea salt.

Some people simply eat it with green salad, although I find that salad dressing deadens the natural depth of flavor. It’s also possible to eat it with cornichons and pickled onions. like one does with regular pâté, but once again, the vinegar is likely to overpower the delicate flavor.

Cooked foie gras should never be reheated. It should be eaten just colder than room temperature, so take it out of the refrigerator about 45 minutes before serving. Slice it with a knife while it is still cold. It is usually served with cold garnishes, most often as a starter.

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Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.

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— Mark Twain
WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: CAMEMBERT | Food and Drink

WHAT TO EAT IN FRANCE: FOIE GRAS

By Tuesday, May 19, 2015 Permalink

WHAT IS FOIE GRAS? READ THE FINE PRINT!

by Jonell Galloway

The French eat 90% of the foie gras they make themselves. That’s how much they like it, but they didn’t invent it. Although the Egyptians might have force-fed their birds, we’re not sure that they ate foie gras. The Greeks probably did, since the 4th-century Greek poet Archestratus wrote about it in his Gastronomy. The liver is the soul of the goose, he said.

Foie gras is made using a process called gavage, which consists of force-feeding ducks or geese through a feeding tube to fatten them. The Romans stuffed dried figs down their throats. In Latin, the word for liver even comes from fig, ficus. Scipio Metellus, a Roman chef, had the idea of soaking still warm livers in honey and milk to swell them even more before cooking.

Apart from the region of Béarn in the southwest, this practice disappeared in medieval France, coming back to life in the southwest and Alsace during the Renaissance.

French foie gras is made by force-feeding corn to geese and ducks, and still, occasionally, figs, which swells the livers.

 

Goose foie gras has traditionally been the most cherished because it is fattier, but it cannot be produced year round. Duck liver is less fatty, and can be produced year round and industrially, meeting the ever-increasing demand.

The fattened liver can be made into terrine, pâté, mousse, parfait, and a host of other things, and, in more recent times, there is a trend of cutting fresh foie gras into thin slices and pan-searing it. It can be eaten fresh or preserved in glass jars, and can be seasoned with truffles, port, Armagnac or Sauternes. Southwesterners prefer a simple, less perfumed foie gras, while Alsacians like to add flavor.

When purchasing, there are legal distinctions in names that indicate the purity and therefore determine the price:

  1. Foie gras entier means that it contains the actual lobes of the liver. The only legally allowed addition is truffles. As it’s solid, you cut it with a knife, just like you do extra-tender beef filet.
  2. Foie gras consists of pieces of liver that are put back together and pressed.
  3. Bloc de foie gras is reconstituted liver combined with other ingredients, but containing at least 50% foie gras for goose, and 30% for duck .
  4. Parfaits are preparations containing 75% foie gras and made by mechanical means, to which regular, unfattened liver is added.
  5. Médaillon or pâte de foie de canard or d’oie contains 50% duck or goose foie gras or bloc de foie gras in the middle, surrounded by forcemeat.
  6. Galantine is a butcher’s mixture of meats and other forcemeats, with no defined percentage of foie gras.
  7. Mousse contains 50% foie gras mixed with forcemeat, giving it the texture of foie gras.

Terrine is pure foie gras pressed into pâté shape.

Forcemeat can consist of one or several ingredients, including pork, veal or chicken fat; pork or chicken liver; scraps from deveining; poaching fat; eggs; milk; lactoproteins; flour, and starch.

Foie gras comes in a jar, plastic package or can or fresh from the butcher. When purchasing, be aware of the different cooking preparations, since the temperature at which it is cooked and the method of cooking change the flavor and shelf-life. Generally speaking, fresh is better.

It is important to make sure you are being sold what you ask for in both restaurants and shops. As a consumer, you have a legal right.

The French don’t eat foie gras every day. Traditionally, it is for special occasions and holiday meals, especially Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.

Coming soon: What to Eat with Foie Gras

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