France really is a great country to explore. I’m constantly enchanted by the landscape and gastronomy when-ever we venture out and about.
We recently spent a wonderful fortnight in the center of France (the least populated region of the country). One of the highlights was meeting-up with our friends Claire and Fabien (and children) with whom we forged memorable moments during our time together in California. In 2012 they returned to northern-France to live but have since bought a beautiful stone holiday house right in the middle of the Cheylade valley. We spent a lovely time in the present moment but also reminisced and were conscious and grateful for what our passage on the west-coast of the USA did in opening up our minds to other possibilities. From my discussions with expatriates, it seems to be very common for a particular city/country to resonate especially deeply with them for one reason or another.
Another highlight was our yabby (fresh-water crustacean) excursion. I recalled my father’s description of catching them in Australia as a young lad using some meat tied to the end of a piece of string… and it worked a charm. Thanks to Dad we caught over thirty of them. The homemade garlicky mayonnaise saved them from being tasteless. Before and After photos below:
This region of France is punctuated with a range of long-time dormant volcanos.
The delicious wild raspberries, strawberries and blueberries lining the walking paths helped the kids finally reach our walking destination but slowed down the pace considerably.
And I was once again enthralled by the production of Saint Nectaire cheese. We had already visited a St Nectaire producer over a decade ago, but since that time I have experimented in the kitchen myself with microbes in the kitchen with water and milk kefir, kombucha (in a previous post), yogurt, sourdough bread and fermented vegetable productions (with mixed results) and so have a much greater appreciation of the process involved. In addition, I recently read ‘Cooked’- by one of my favorite authors Michael Pollan (in which he dedicates over 20 pages describing this very cheese!) and now I am all the more enthusiastic about what he calls ‘real food’. We saw the cows being milked, followed by the still-warm milk being turned directly into curds and whey, the curds being placed into moulds and salted and then the ageing of the cheeses in volcanic rock caves (which takes 4-6 weeks…one could easily imagine that it would take longer than that to develop the distinctive grey mould ). And to finish, some tasting and buying of the delicious resulting product.
To paraphrase Mr Pollan ‘The world becomes more wonderful as soon as we are reminded of the relationships behind a food product: a web of relationships between people, between ourselves and all the other species on which we still depend. Eating and drinking implicate us in the natural world in ways that the industrial economy, with its long and illegible supply chains, would have us forget’. I am sure that is why I found the visit to this farm in the town of Saint Nectaire (and the goat farm we explored) so wonderful: there was no supply chain; no messing with nature via pasteurization etc …just cow/goat to cheese. That’s probably why making my own fermented food also gives me a buzz.
And as every part of France has it’s own special dish/es, we had to try that of Cantal (a department of Auvergne region). It is called ‘truffade’: potatoes, Cantal cheese and garlic, traditionally served with cured ham and salad. It resembles very much the dishes of other mountainous regions of France such as the ‘tartiflette’ from the Savoie (potato, Reblochon cheese, onions, lardon), and ‘aligot’ from from the Aveyron (potato and Laguiole cheese) …which we have already happily taste-tested in the past.
Since our return we were thrilled to see our ‘old’ Grenoble-friends Inge and Benoit whom we hadn’t seen for eight years, followed by a reunion with Shanghai-friends Emanuela and Benjamin (who were passing through) and various summer encounters with some of Sebastien’s old school friends and his family. We also made numerous local outings (such as walking and canoeing in the local marsh lands, trips to the beach and blackberry picking) . Our little six year-old even caught an aeroplane by himself to go and spend a week with one of his friends from Shanghai -who is now living in the south of France. He was so proud of himself and (atleast immediately upon his return) very grateful to come back home to his family.
Its back to school next week ! After an enjoyable, if not long, eight weeks of school vacation.