HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Author: Arnaud De Grave (Page 2 of 3)

French Food Roadtrip 7 - le Buget & Montbéliard

French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget & Montbéliard

The next step was to be in le Jura because, as said previously, there is some serious sausage made over there. The driving is not particularly nice if one is to take the highway but if one has time and can take small roads one will be delighted with the landscape and could stop somewhere along the way for a nice lunch, of course. It is interesting, see, because the path goes through le Buget and one of le Buget‘s specialities are… frog legs! Given my ancestry (and nicknames) it would be some sort of an heresy not to have some, wouldn’t it?

So we stopped in Morestel and I had some cuisses de grenouilles au beurre persillé (frog legs fried in butter and parsley) served with some zucchini and a gratin de crozet. So the stereotypes are indeed true, we froggies do it frogs. Deal with it. Only the legs are eaten and those were absolutely delicious, quite meaty and soft, almost swimming in melted butter. It is vital to eat is very warm. The gratin de crozet was a perfect way to complement consistency and flavors. Crozets are a very special sort of pasta, locally made with buckwheat or durum, cut very small in little square and dried. Some people think the name comes from “croé“, an old word from Savoie (a French area in the Alps) meaning “small.” Well, they are small, so why not? I really like them in gratin with some Beaufort cheese. They can also be made as a croziflette: an equivalent to the famous tartiflette, replacing potatoes. Anyhow, cheese, crème fraîche and potatoes or crozet: count me in!

French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget & Montbéliard

The rest of the day drive was uneventful, only stopping to get gas and buy some vin jaune. Yes, at the same place, one can get both in a supermarket in France, and much more. Yellow wine is a very special wine from le Jura. It would require a complete post (and stay) to describe the differences between white wine, sweet wine, port wine, fortified wine, etc. So Heso Magazine’s boss will have to send me back there!? In a nutshell it is made out of Gewürztraminer grapes and it is then matured in a wooden barrel (oak mostly) but not topped. Then a thin layer of yeast naturally forms (called le voile in French, the veil) and partially protects the wine from oxidation. This is a slow process as the veil typically takes about three years to form and the wine is ready around 6 years and some. The aromas are very rich: walnut, hazelnut, almonds, etc. but also sometimes cinnamon and grilled bread. It is not, however, a sweet desert wine. Needless to say it is worth going there only for that and can be enjoyed with countless food specialities involving the yellow wine in the cooking. Le Jura is a very attractive area when it comes to food. However, we had land to cover and were supposed to sleep in Montbéliard (Doubs, France) in order to have an easy drive the next day and reach Strasbourg (Alsace, Bas-Rhin, France) and eat a choucroute!

Montbéliard delivered the goods in terms of food and drinks… Here is what my partner in food crime has to say about it…

[words by Rowena Koh] From Montbéliard, meditations on the French and food

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the French, it’s that as much as they love to eat, they equally love to talk about food, especially while eating the food they’re talking about.  Whether the conversation starts out on the mundane events of the day, the recent travels of a family friend, or something the neighbour said about the weather, always and eventually, the discussion reorients itself back towards the finding, preparation and eating of food. Yes, the French have earned a special place in my foodie heart.

A and I had our own culinary conversation at the simultaneously classy and homey L’Horloge in Montbéliard.

R : “That’s a whole wheel of cheese on your plate.”

A : “Yep.”

R : “A whole wheel! Just taken off the shelf and stuck in the oven. Just like that.”

A : “That’s totally normal.”

R : “But… it’s a whole wheel!”

I kept going on like that, with the Frenchman looking at me like an idiot. And in fact, it was explained to me, that before the wheel of cheese is stuck in the oven, it actually has a hole dug out of it into which white wine is poured.  Yes, a whole wheel of cheese AND wine! I suppose my astonishment had to do with the fact that a wheel of this fresh, soft, creamy, mellifluously yummy l’edel de Cléron would most certainly cost more than what we paid for the entire dish itself at a supermarket in Canada.

That wheel of cheese in fact made up a tiny portion of what we found on our plates that night. La grande assiette regionale lived up to its name alright, with several slices of tender smoked ham, a rustic, country-style pate paired with pickled pearl onions and cornichons, local sausage (of course) prepared two different ways, a potato and onion fritter affectionately referred to as une rejetée (literally, something rejected), a slow poached egg, perfectly cooked until the whites were set and the yolk golden and velvety, and real, sinus-burning, dijon mustard.  Oh yeah, salad too, served as a garnish more so than a side dish.

Such an overwhelming assortment of meaty and robust tastes and smells might cause the unfamiliar eater to gloss over the small pot of creamy liquid inconspicuously placed on the edge of the plate.  Cancoillote is a delicious cheese with a consistency that makes you want to play with your food, running your knife through it before picking it up quickly, then allowing it, both runny like a thin custard and stretchy like mozzarella, to fall lazily back into the pot.  It is made principally in the region of Franche-Comté by melting pure metton (the cheese) with some water or milk, and maybe salt and butter, then served either cold or warm.  In this case, it was warmed and meant to be drizzled over everything on the plate.

As the cook mentioned to us as she made her rounds, they’re good eaters around those parts. “Better to have too much food on your plate than not enough,” she said.  When the quality, diversity and coherency of the meal is as finely tuned as what we inhaled that night, it’s hard to argue with her.  Plus, the more food there is on your plate, the more you have to talk about at your next family dinner.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

French Food Roadtrip 6 - Lyon and Grenoble

French Food Roadtrip 6 – Lyon and Grenoble

La Brasserie Georges, Lyon, France

La Brasserie Georges, Lyon, France

French Food Roadtrip 6 – Lyon and Grenoble

Whenever I am in Lyon (France) I need to go at least once to the Brasserie Georges. I got acquainted with this place twice actually before I could remember enough to become so attracted to it whenever in the vicinity, almost like iron powder to a magnet. Now I have even turned my dad into an aficionado. But come on! Look at this place. It’s like eating in a train station hall… with a hundred other people… in the 30s. Quite steampunk, so to speak. They also brew their own beers: always a blonde, a brune and a wheat/white, adding a seasonal one for good measure. If the beer is not amazing or anything that will have me discuss flavours for hours on end, it is just plain good. And it goes fantastically well with the food. “Brasseries” in France are not always what the name advertises, i.e. they most often do not brew beer on site. That is what “brasserie” means: brewery. Most of the time it is just a place where one can indeed drink beer but also get food that used to be cooked in breweries: traditional, everyday, simple cooking. Delicious cooking, that is. Being in Lyon of course it is based on pork cuisine. And “dans le cochon tout est bon !“, isn’t it?

I opted for a saucisson pistaché et sa purée de pommes de terre maison (sausage (yes, again… I’m an addict) made with pistachios and a side of mashed potatoes mashed with a fork, not a vegetable mill! in a restaurant…) and a fondant au chocolat et caramel au beurre salé (lava cake with chocolate and salted butter caramel). Of course we had a sample of the local brews but also a sip of the house red wine to go with cheese, a Côtes du Rhone as anything else here would be silly.

I was a bit disappointed that nobody got treated with a birthday cake that day. Indeed, it comes with the full monty: music from an ancient automated pipe organ, dimmed lights and the whole place clapping. The birthday cake is always une omelette norvégienne which is what Northern American people call a baked Alaska, do not ask me the reason for the two names and their difference… I would certainly not like to be the one receiving the, er, attention but it is always nice to see a maître-d’ in full uniform with bow tie and all, dashing along the aisles yelling with the cake lit with sparking magnesium rods. The whole thing lasts for a minute maximum and then all goes back to normal, the buzz of conversation and sound of waiters swooshing by the tables until another one comes.

To be complete we would have had to spend the night in Lyon and go for dinner in a bouchon lyonnais. These typical restaurants, most regularly on the small side, sometimes really really small. I know one that can host maybe 12 people maximum and then you are under the impression that you are eating on the lap of your neighbour, sometimes a good thing but most often not. Bouchons (meaning “cork” by the way, as in the stuff you seal wine bottles with) only serve pork specialities: saucisson en brioche, andouillette à la moutarde, paté de tête, etc.  Just thinking about it and writing it down makes me want to go back there and given that I already gained about 3 or 4 Kilos it would be a mistake…

However we had to go on because we were expected for apéritif and dinner at my best friend’s place, close by Grenoble.

We stayed there a couple of days to rest a bit and gather ourselves for the rest of the trip Northwards. We had some extremely good homemade food: amongst other we were treated to a fantastic ratatouille (which, as everybody found of rats who cook know, is pretty tough to make very good) accompanying a roti d’agneau (roasted lamb, baked in the oven with thyme), some amazing cheeses and the wine that goes with it (or the other way round). The ratatouille was especially nice. The cook did not just dumped all veggies in a pot and wait, she browned the eggplant and zucchini  in separate pans, only putting them in the final cast iron pot at the appropriate time to keep texture and not mix flavours too much. Such a simple dish but so delicious when well made. She had to omit bell peppers as I cannot stand the damn thing though. Many would cry for heresy but I’d glove them to a duel any time, my choice of weapon.

We contributed with our own brew, a Chocolate Stout brought all the way from Vancouver, BC, and some sample of patisseries bought from a local bakery… These individual cakes can be almost art and get better and better the more you go towards the North of France. Some argue the in the South they cannot make good cakes, something to do with the climate I gather.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

French Food Roadtrip 5: Center of France!

French Food Roadtrip 5: Center of France!

Going from the deep south of France all the way to Belgium is no joke. Maybe for people living in the USA or in Canada driving 1300km is of no consequence and they would do it to visit Aunt Gudrun over the weekend. Not so in Europe where the same distance can have you cross five countries, probably more if you target properly and aim at maximizing border-crossing (some people do it as a sport almost!) Our first day of travelling had us reach la Lozère almost right in the middle of France, in Le Massif Central, a volcanic mountain range providing pretty amazing landscape but also pretty rough living conditions therefore quite devoid of human presence. It is a part of the French hippie myth to quit one’s job, buy a farm there and go make goat cheese. Some did.

Marinated bell pepper with anchovies @ Le Caylar (photo by Rowena Koh)

Marinated bell pepper with anchovies @ Le Caylar (photo by Rowena Koh)


Our next pit stop was for the evening but we had to stop for lunch, it happened whenever we started to feel a bit hungry and when a little town showed a name that I fancied, Le Caylar won the prize that day. It was a tiny village with stone built houses and a central plaza with big old trees (I do not remember but most probably a walnut tree or a lime tree…) The inn was run by a family and the food was as delicious as the place was cosy. Beware though not to start making a fuss because the cheese smells too harsh or because this or that as the owner is prompt to kick you out if you disturb “the ambiance.” It nearly happened. Not because of us: we were too busy enjoying sausage and lentils, bell pepper marinated with anchovies, local pâté de campagne and the über-ubiquitous plateau de fromages

Then we drove some more…

French Food Roadtrip 5: Center of France!

Indeed we had to reach Chirac (Lozère) where I had made a booking in a “ferme auberge.” The concept is quite simple: some people have a nice big farm, some still farm or breed (animals, hu?), and have a couple of rooms for rent. One is welcome there and takes meals at the hosts’ table. You never know exactly what you’ll eat except that it will be local (sometimes as local as directly from the farm) and that you may meet some rather interesting characters (hosts or guests.) I thought the place was in Chirac, a little village I always wanted to explore just because it has the same name as a certain French Président de la République, it is always funny to send your family or friends a text message saying you’re having a beer at Chirac’s (the joke works better in French, yes, but you get the idea). After about 15min driving on smaller and smaller roads I had to come to terms with that, we would not be exactly in Chirac, rather somewhere remote higher in the hills, surrounded by forests (mostly pines, firs and oaks if you want to know…) and sheep.

The farm was a nice old building (or buildings, rather) and the hosts pretty colourful and very warm. It would be tedious to describe the whole meal so I’ll let the pictures speak…

  • Apéritif of white wine mixed with Aubrac tea syrup,
  • a starter of meat pie (with some dry sausage on the side as the lady of the house feared we would be still hungry! Insanity…),
  • main dish of paleron and truffade (paleron is beef, somewhere in the shoulder as far as they told me… truffade is a sort of tartiflette, ah ah, now you know better don’t you? So, potatoes, crême fraiche, onions maybe and local cheese melted on top, cooked in a big pan… the best part is the crusty bits at the bottom, I had to fight with the host to get some, it is well sought after…),
  • of course plateau de fromages
  • and a dessert of homemade currant pie.

We could barely move to get to our room. The night went by very fast, sheltered in a room with meter-wide walls and very little noise and other distraction. In the morning, after breakfast, I went to try and see the sheep and the donkey. They have donkeys because they are good guards against wolves!

So yes, I wanted to see the famous loups du Gévaudan in Marvejols (Lozère) and, even if it is not really part of a food roadtrip to describe such things I have to say I was pretty impressed by these animals. If one wants to spend more time there one can rent a house close by the park in Sainte Lucie and try to sleep with the sound of them howling in the night. We spent about 2 hours in the park where about 5 different species of wolves are kept. Do not get me started on the French politics of conservation of wild animals such as wolves and bears and all that. We pretty much killed them all and every try to put some animals back in the wilderness is met with, let’s say resistance. Sigh.

However, we still had land to cover to reach our destination of the night: La Pointezie, a hamlet lost in the middle of nowhere, to meet with an old friend of mine. Lunch was uneventful in Saint-Flour (Cantal) with some nice trippoux and aligot (some sort of a large sausage made out of pig guts served with mashed potatoes mixed with melted local cheese, a delicacy from the area of course… some say that a real aligot has to be served with a fork and a pair of scissors to cut the melted cheese strings attaching the dish to the plate) and a sample of local beers. As a side note I was pleasantly surprised to see (and taste) more and more micro brews (bières artisanales) in France, and not only in the North close by Belgium and Germany but also in the South and Middle of the country…

We reached La Pointézie (do not try to find it on a map, useless…) just in time to go pick some green and yellow beans for the meal of the evening… My friend Laurent and his wife and daughter live with chickens and rabbits, some vagrant cats and Eole the dog. They help local farmers with their cows from time to time, they have a real bread wood oven in a small shed somewhere in the garden, the garden has everything you need: salad, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, beans, zucchini, eggplant, you name it… In short they have all the good stuff around. Granted, the place is fairly remote and during winter they could be isolated because of snow and bad weather but that is the price to pay to have fresh eggs, fresh milk directly from the cow (the farmer drops by on his way to milk them to get some containers and put said-containers full by the mail box on his way back… I recall some Xmas ago during my last visit giving hay to these very cows (or maybe their cousins.) That evening we had delicious oeufs cocotte (eggs cooked in a bain-marie in the oven with milk and cheese in little glass dishes) with potato and bean salad, whole wheat bread and, guess what, a nice piece of cheese… My friend even opened a bottle of Cahors 2002! He doesn’t drink wine himself but this is part of the French way of welcoming people, long time friends and possibly lost travelers. Well, not everywhere but hey, you choose your friends, right?

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot’s Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6: to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French food roadtrip – stop 7: le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip – stop 8: la Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg.

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our Mostly French Food Roadtrip with the last stop 9: En passant par la Lorraine.

French Food Roadtrip 4 - Roussillon and the Sea

French Food Roadtrip 4 – Roussillon and the Sea

[by Rowena Koh]

To be welcomed into someone’s home in France is to be taken on a journey. After a long and arduous flight, this kind of journey is most welcome, as it is experienced not by getting on yet another bus or car or train, but by sharing stories – stories told through words, to be sure, but mostly, through food.

The De Graves led me on an expedition through personal histories consisting of flavours that ranged from the soft sweetness of muscat wines to the intense saltiness of brined anchovies, and tastes that brought me from the earth to the sea and back again.

French Food Roadtrip 4 – Roussillon and the Sea

French Food Roadtrip 4 - Roussillon and the Sea

Oysters from Leucate

This epic voyage took place in and around Fitou, a small town near the Mediterranean Sea, known for its endless number of vineyards and caves (it has its own appellation d’origine contrôlée, a French certification granted to certain regions that produce wines and other agricultural products) and neighbouring oyster farms.  The wines are mostly of the Carignan variety, which must constitute 40% of any blend that come from this region, and are blended with Grenache, Lladoner Pelut, Mourvèdre and Syrah. The variety of sweet muscat known as Rivesaltes, also come from around these parts. The velvety, rich liquid of literally every single bottle we tasted fell effortlessly, tenderly down my throat, telling their own stories of where they came from through their subtle aromas of fruitiness and woodiness. The only infuriating part of the whole experience is knowing that the most aged and expensive of these bottles cost less than the cheapest, most harshly acidic bottle found in a Canadian liquor store. Sigh.

For me, the smoothness of these wines was eclipsed by the silky softness of the oysters grown in the adjacent Étang de Leucate. The water here is rich in plankton and other elements that make it an ideal spot for erecting poles upon which are draped ropes of growing oysters. Like an old sailor hardened by the harshness of the sea, these creatures are rather severe looking initially, its rough surface not exactly inviting you in, but once you manage to open them up, they become their own pretty little iridescent dishes, happily presenting you with a luxurious morsel that upon consumption, immediately transports you to the middle of the sun-drenched Mediterranean, moving slowly, calmly, in time with the rhythm of the sea.

It is the homecooked meal, though, that transports us from the present to the past. We were treated to the Pomme de terres farcies, a comforting stuffed potato dish brought to Fitou from the north, where Mme De Grave spent her childhood, and Sauce tomates aux anchoives, a delicious, salty but surprising subtle, traditional Italian dish that our host recently learned to make as a way to reconnect with her Italian heritage. Like much homecooking, both dishes are simple, but take time, where choosing the freshest ingredients is as important as the time it takes for them to stew – long enough for them to mingle and merge, until their individually discordant flavours of salt, fat, acidity, and sweetness unify and relent to perfect harmony.

These homecooked meals are always created with local ingredients, of course, from the neighbouring sea, from nearby farms, from our neighbour’s backyards. This keeps us grounded in the present and helps us create new stories without ever losing sight of where we came from.

—-

Pomme de terres farcies (stuffed potatoes)
Ingredients

  • 6 potatoes
  • 2 tomatoes
  • about 250g chair à saucisse (a kind of seasoned ground pork sausage)
  • parsley, chopped
  • about ¼ cup water
  • salt
  • pepper
  • olive oil

Method

Prepare the filling by mixing the sausage, parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Peel the potatoes and cut the tomatoes in half. Using a spoon, scoop out a chapeau on the side of each potato and remove the seeds from the inside of the tomatoes. Fill the holes with the meat mixture and replace the chapeau on the potatoes. Add a bit of oil to the bottom of a cast iron pot and arrange the stuffed potatoes and tomatoes on top. Add water and let cook on low heat until potatoes are tender, about an hour.

Sauce tomates aux anchois (anchovy tomato sauce)
Ingredients

  • 1 jar brined anchovies (about 12 anchovies)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • Sprig fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • water
  • pepper
  • oil

Method

Clean anchovies under running water until the salt is removed, but not entirely. Heat oil in a medium-sized saucepan. Add garlic, parsley and anchovies and briefly sauté. Add the tomato paste and water, and stir. Let simmer on low heat for at least two hours. Add pepper to taste. Serve with pasta. Pommes de terre et tomates farcies, ready to be eaten.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

French Food Roadtrip 3 - Small House in the Pyrénées

French Food Roadtrip 3 – Small House in the Pyrénées

See, there is this place in the world I call home. It is a small village lying in the mountains in the French Pyrénées, at the foot of Mount Canigou. Wherever I may roam (yes yes, I know I know) I always long for this place and always end up there at some point or another. I grew up there even if only for the holidays (Easter and summer as a kid and then whenever I felt like going as my parents felt I was responsible enough to have my own set of keys, fools…) So now, as my life is pretty much quasi-nomadic I sort of consider this village my headquarters. Suffice it to say, the food around there is part of the deal.

French Food Roadtrip 3 – Small House in the Pyrénées

The (mostly) French Food Roadtrip 3 - Small House in the Pyrénées

Before the grill…

There is nothing in the village in term of stores, not even the über-ubiquitous bakery. One has to hike one’s way to find food in the nearby villages, in adjacent valleys. And in one of these villages there is… the Butcher, capital b. The man is a character, e un personaggio superiore! His shop is famous all over the area and increasingly farther away as tourists come to know about it, year after year. Around the end of the summer holidays, the line to bring some goods home can become quite impressive. What’s even more impressive is the slowness with which, no matter the length of said line, the man asks, “And what about your grandson, madam Bronchu? How is he doing? Has got himself a nice job, I hear… good good… A little more of sausage maybe? Some liver for the cat?” And if anyone in the line-up manifests any sign of restlessness (usually Parisians, ahah) he smirks and winks at a local while slowly cutting a nice piece of meat and detailing how, in his humble opinion, this particular one should be cooked… A delight. It took us about three quarters of an hour of something closer to street theatre than to trading, to buy our share of charcuterie. It could have taken longer, but I don’t care. I enjoy watching the man and there was no way I wasn’t going to leave with some of his saucisse anyhow.  For this is what he is really famous for: the Catalan sausage, to be grilled on a bundle of sarments (dried vines) with a side of roustes (or ventrèches, sort of grilled lard). Of course we also stocked up on some fouet  (literally the whip, a very dry and very thin sausage, pork of course… almost everything is made out of pork), boutifare (blood pudding, white and red, can be enjoyed cooked, grilled or as cold cuts) and various pâtés (it ranges from rabbit flavoured with Banyuls sweet wine to traditional no-thrill pork or pork with some Armagnac thrown in for good measure).

As it was too late to then return home and cook all that immediately (I’d have to chop some wood to feed the fireplace…) we decided to go to a bistro de village and enjoy some local stuff. There are a number of places all around Rousillon which provide cheap accommodation and food, only from local suppliers. We failed to call in advance so got a bit chastized but the cook still had some estofat on the stove. Saved! Estofat is a special way of cooking a stew very slowly. This one was made precisely with the same sausage and blood pudding from the Butcher. Well, I did tell you it was the place to go. We even managed to taste locally-brewed beers (though we failed to actually visit the brewery as the owner was away delivering his beer to a famous photo festival, it is a one-man operation). The cook also made a starter especially for us: a salad with goat cheese melted on some toasts accompanied with local honey. Fresh and delicious. The estofat was tasty and good-looking, presented with sweet potatoes and purple ones as well. We finished the meal with homemade sorbet, apple and blackberry. All that with a view on Mount Canigou.  A treat.

Of course three days in the village cannot go without having one of the neighbour’s mandatory apéritif that you never know when is going to end and what you are going to eat and/or drink… We showed up with a selection of boutifare, pâté on toasts, local cheeses and Cotes du Roussillon wine (close to Perpignan, roughly) to a nearby house and were welcomed with some southwest wines (close to Toulouse, roughly) and a savoury cake with olives and cheeses (comté and parmeggiano) amongst other things… The evening ended quite a few hours later with a tasting of Bas-Armagnac (also from around Toulouse) and we almost had to crawl back home even if it was served in des verres à goutte. This literally means “glasses for drops” as they are very small and the urban legend goes that if you put a drop of liquor outside of your glass while serving yourself you are too drunk and have to go home. A regular occurrence.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

French Food Roadtrip 2 - Figueres - Txot Sidreria

French Food Roadtrip 2 – Figueres – Txot Sidreria

French Food Roadtrip 2 - Figueres - Txot Sidreria

Cider self service

So the next stop was on the way to the South of France for some rest… But the ride there caught us in Figueras (or Figueres in Catalan…) and I happened to know a place where it is absolutely necessary to stop. It might not be the most traditional but hey, we’re coming from about 16.000 Km so, seen from there, it’s all the same right? Actually no, it’s not, but amazing food is amazing food and creativity is good, at least in my book.

Here is what Rowena K. has to say about it, while I am enjoying some cider…
“It’s worth it. No doubt. I’d go out of my way even, to track down the saccharine, soggy mess of a teriyaki chicken bowl at the airport food court, force down unidentified airplane mush and overcooked pasta, endure the worst of watery coffee and travel indigestion, to prepare myself for that first meal. The one you know you’re going to have when the 25-hour congested, seemingly endless, anxiety-laden ordeal is over. This time, that first meal would be satisfied by the curative powers of Catalan-style tapas.”

French Food Roadtrip 2 – Figueres – Txot Sidreria

Figueres is both the birthplace of Salvador Dali and home of Txot Sidreria, a cider bar that serves tapas dishes designed to accompany traditional Basque cider. The cider was delicious, drier than the traditional English brew and poured always with a flourish, but make no mistake, I arrived there, bleary-eyed and puffy from too much air travel, to eat.

The cold tapas could sense this, I’m sure. They cheerfully greeted us as we entered the empty restaurant around 8pm, a little too early for the locals, from the artfully lit buffet at the bar. From there, we chose our handsome little bundles of bread topped with layers of soft cheeses, cured meats, pickled anchovies and grilled vegetables.

We followed the cold dishes with moltes cosetes, which included both stewed (in cider, of course) and cured txorico (chorizo), patates braves (fried potatoes in a traditional spicy sauce), and peixet fregit “sonso”, a kind of miniature Mediterranean sand eel lightly floured and fried until they’re golden and crispy and addictive as potato chips.

The stars of the night, though, the remedies that fully woke me from my listless, weary state, were:

(1) Bacalla a la brasa amb ‘pebrotets de Padron’: Codfish braised until pearly white, luxurious and moist, served with the local…

(2) Padron pepper: Eaten in one bite to the stem. Normally quite mild except for, so the tradition goes, the one pepper on the plate that causes an unsuspecting diner to reach, panicking, for a glass of water.

(3) Sipia a la planxa: Cuttlefish grilled so slowly and lightly and perfectly until it strikes that often elusive culinary balance between smokiness and sweetness.  The large-headed beast, despite being toughened up by fire, feels soft and gentle and soothing in your mouth.

Soothing. Comforting. Curative.  I slept soundly and contentedly for the rest of the car ride to our beds that night.  Hours of air travel erased, just like that.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

French Food Roadtrip 1 - Barcelona

French Food Roadtrip 1 – Barcelona

So… long story short, I will bring my friend Rowena K. from Barcelona, Spain to Leuven, Belgium by car. We could drive it in one go, it’s only about 16 hours but that would be a waste of good food and drink opportunities, would it not? Come on! Barcelona, the South of France, the (roughly) centre of France with Lyon, Grenoble, Clermont-Ferrand then Alsace and Lorraine along the way and more… Nothing to say about drinks as we would go through at least half a dozen wine regions. And then Belgium with the highest density of beer breweries per square kilometre and food to go with it. Just writing about it makes my mouth water. I need an aperitif, like, right now!

Writing and tasting duties will be shared by yours truly and Rowena K. Pictures will be taken by yours truly, all digital unfortunately as time and regularity in posting are key. We will try to keep you updated on where we are and more importantly what we had in our plates and glasses very often but it all depends on Internet availability of course. We will be adventuring in remote areas in search of traditional food experience…

Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me! Click To Tweet

French Food Roadtrip 1 – Barcelona

French Food Roadtrip 1 - Barcelona

Breakfast in Barceloneta, with a beach view.

So let’s start with our first stop: Barcelona, while I was waiting for the other half of the team to show up, plane tickets and reservation being what it is I had some airport time in front of me. Fortunately Estrella is available in all convenient stores at airports and train station. I still had time to go spend the night in town and drink some and eat some as well… nothing fancy. Notably the breakfast included a very very creamy croissant, I’d actually call it cream with croissant much more than croissant with cream. The official cortado (half espresso, half whole milk) accompanied it nicely.

Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip

After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!

After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.

What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.

After refreshing ourselves at Roussillon and the seaside, now it is time to move on and jump in the mix of French Food Roadtrip 5 – Center of la France!

Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6 – to Lyon & Grenoble.

This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French Food Roadtrip 7 – le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.

What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip 8 – La Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg

And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our French Food Roadtrip 9 – En passant par la Lorraine.

Hunting Shiitake Mushrooms

The Kiruna underground iron mines should be appreciated and (un)known as a place of many tours and detours. They hide many treasures. Though in fact, to be honest, they do not. They hide iron ore, a bit of copper and probably a lot of unworthy stones of assorted kinds. That is exactly what they hide. Period. Actually, to be fully exhaustive, they do hide a little bit of something noteworthy. Shiitake mushrooms. Of all things…

I guess that will require a bit of explanation.

Hunting Shiitake Mushrooms

Inside the Iron Mine of Kiruna to hunt Shiitake mushrooms

First of all, what the hell was I doing in Kiruna? It is very far north. Well, basically that is why (the hell, yes) I was up there, because it is way up there. With an almost-full moon, close to the shortest day of the year, that being late December, and minus twenty-five degrees—that is in the grade of Celsius, the proper one, do not get me started on Fahrenheit’s stupid one—you can make for an enjoyable little adventure. Mine included some good food, some trips to the bar, some hikes resulting in frozen beard and some other excursions. One excursion took me to the Norwegian harbor town of Narvik by train, wonderful landscape and nice company. Another one took me down the famous iron mines. The normal way to do so is by following an organized tour. Touristy stuff. However, through some mingling, I got a private tour down there, given by a retired miner, retired mining consultant, former first-generation-computer-hacker, almost retired underground shiitake mushroom farmer. Yes. Underground shiitake mushroom farmer. He was a man in his late sixties probably, one that can easily be imagined finishing his sentences by “jolly good, old chap!” He went by the name of Sven.

Second of all, let me enlighten the (few, no doubt) people who are not familiar with the shiitake mushrooms. They are considered, and rightly so, a delicacy and can be found in various dietetic shops, and are an ingredient of traditional medicine, especially in Asia. In Japan one could get them on the trunks of some specific sort of oak trees, apparently the favourite host for the mushrooms, allegedly under guard from legions of armed-to-the-teeth samurai, given that it constituted food very much appreciated by the high classes of society. But one cannot rely on samurai and special oak trees nowadays and recently some science has been put into trying to make its culture more proficient.

One has to play music to the mushrooms, they like that. Click To Tweet

The current process does not involve samurai, but some nifty techniques, engineering almost. The mycelium of the shiitake is inserted into a log of compressed wood chips of some specific variety of alder tree (mycelium is the shiitake to be exact, what we eat is the fruit of the mushroom—I’ve always wondered by the way why someone at some point started to eat mushrooms, I can imagine sentences such as: “you should try these things, when they do not kill you they are pretty tasty…” which is truly mysterious if not totally insane, if you ask me). The miming done by Sven seemed to imply that said-injection is to be done by means of a syringe. These logs are sterilized before the injection in order to reduce the growth of other competing mushrooms and also reduce the fighting for supremacy over the pieces of compressed chips, and of course remove undesirable diseases. The logs are then packaged in plastic and stored.

I was introduced to these logs somewhere around 540m under ground, somewhere hidden inside the Kiruna iron mines, one of the biggest underground mines in the world. I could give you a full report on how and why and what of the production of iron (later to be transported as beads by train to the very same harbor of Narvik where I was just a day before) as the man explained it all, together with the history of the place, but this is not the time.

Hunting Shiitake Mushrooms

Hunting Shiitake Mushrooms

Sven showing off his Shiitake mushrooms

Our mushroom man, being a former hacker and responsible for computer security (i.e. try to get the computers not to be destroyed by moisture and that sort of things, no Internet security here) chose a particular room, nay, bunker almost, to start his farm. He got that idea after visiting some town in northern Japan, on a mission dealing with sharing information and skills on how to run a iron mine, the Japanese apparently were eager to know about the Swedish way of doing things. Interestingly, in that same trip to Japan, there was one guy in the Swedish delegation who later would become known for making ice hotels and ice bars, popular touristy things. Shiitake farm, ice hotel, this was one innovative inspiring trip indeed!

The mushrooms’…er…room is of reasonable size, controlled in temperature and in moisture and with radio playing constantly. One has to play music to the mushrooms, they like that. When Sven receives an order, he transfers the logs from the storage room to the, er, growing room. Then he plays them, like a flute, or a tambourine. Maybe he is a fan of Bob Dylan. Or of Eddy Van Halen’s famous tapping guitar technique. By inducing vibration inside the log one starts the process of growing. It is then rather important not to go around kicking the shelves if one does not want to have mushrooms sprouting all over the place. It is an art. Within one week after the playing, or tapping, the mushroom’s fruits are ready to be harvested, cut one by one and then packed in paper bags. Sven did have two logs ready at the time of the visit. That gave maybe 300 grams of shiitake. Courtesy of the house!

Crumble the mushrooms if they are dried or crush them without care if they are fresh. Do whatever you want (preferably with your bare hands, I love that smell lingering on them afterward), Click To Tweet

The little piece of paper he gave as a souvenir comes with a Shiitake soup recipe (for six people), translated here from French (probably originally translated from Swedish. I do not speak Swedish, I can guess what’s going on when I have engorged enough akvavit and if the person speaking to me is from the fair sex (but is there one sex affair which is fair, honestly?) and true to the Scandinavian standards. I allow myself this little digression because our man insisted that one should make sure to have a lady “handy” when eating his mushrooms. That and also that said-lady should clear her scheduling around nine months from the date of the diner. If you catch my/his drift. Wink wink. He was full of anecdotal stories and examples of babies appearing here and there after the ingestion of said mushroom):

10g of dried or 100g of fresh shiitake mushrooms
1 or 2 stock cubes of meat stuff (or other flavour if you are a vegetarian)
1L of boiling water
2.5dL of crême fraîche
1 small onion, minced

Crumble the mushrooms if they are dried or crush them without care if they are fresh. Do whatever you want (preferably with your bare hands, I love that smell lingering on them afterward), but be sure they will be able to mix in the liquid dammit! Throw them with the cubes in boiling water. Add the minced onion and let the mixture boil nicely for twenty minutes (half an hour if the mushrooms were dried ones). Add the cream, and stir until the consistency is satisfying. Spice it up with a bit of salt and white pepper. Top it with a bit of parsley before serving.

I did not feel like having soup even if it was suitably cold and snowy outside so I decided to just fry the mushrooms in a pan, with butter and some noix de muscade (but just a little, this being powerful stuff). Then I added a bit of water and some liquid cream to make a sauce for some pasta. Plain and simple. The mushrooms had a hard time in the returning trip planes: Kiruna-Stockholm then Stockholm-Copenhagen, quite a long trip with wind, snow and such. They were not very pretty when I pulled them out of the paper bag. But as soon as they started to make funny noises in the pan, then the smell became quite wonderful. And tasty. They went well with a bottle of 2000 Haut-Medoc (it was time to drink that one, Medoc is not a vin de garde, at all) and a bit of grated Parmigiano. The invited lady has been requested to keep her schedule empty until to August next year. One never knows…

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