Sunday, 27 May 2012

The BBQ is Out Again.

At last our first BBQ of the season. We have eaten outside a couple of times this year, but we hadn’t dared light the BBQ in case we had to dash in because of yet more rain. But Friday night, for the first time in 2012, it was lovely and warm and we declared the BBQ season open. We are BBQ addicts, if there is the slight possibility that we can light up those coals, we are away, chicken tikka, sheekh kebabs, saté of different meats, burgers - with or without meat, sausages - all sorts, pork chops, spare ribs, kebabs – many different types, meat marinated in every possible combination of herbs and spices and even andouillette - once.

I am not a big believer in letting the guy do the cooking though. If I have prepared the meal, marinated the meats, made the burgers, I am not letting someone incinerate my wonderful offerings. I can’t count the number of times I have seen meat cremated by a bloke on his fancy Weber or whatever they are called, and watched the tears in his poor wife’s eyes. I am a BBQ fiend and a real purist. None of this “sausages burnt on the outside and raw in the middle”, “serving one person at a time with cremated offerings”, no when I do a BBQ all the meal is prepared in the correct order, to the correct level of cooking and everyone is served together.

Cees goes on about the state of our old BBQ, falling apart, rusty, wobbly, the lid almost off, wouldn’t I like a new one? Maybe a Weber? No thanks, it works for me and until the legs actually do drop off, it will stay working. You don’t need a fancy, expensive piece of equipment, all that you need are some hot coals and patience and it is the patience that the worst cremators lack - a BBQ takes time. You light the coals and then you wait, possibly for about an hour, until the coals are just right, then you cook, gently.

Anyway, back to why this was a special event. Normally we BBQ from mid-April onwards, every night (unless we have a dinner engagement elsewhere) until the winter arrives. We have even been known to BBQ in March, but that was when the building works were going on and outside, even at 9 degrees, was preferable to sitting inside, amongst the rubble. But this year the weather has been so atrocious, that Friday night, at almost the end of May, was the first evening where we could sit out and enjoy ourselves for hours, listen to the birds, have a BBQ and generally think about how good life is.

It is about time, but it looks like summer is here at last.

The website for our hoiday accommodation La Tuilerie de Chazelle.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Someone Stole my Cheese

You remember those two lovely fresh goats cheeses I put in my cheese cage yesterday? Well when I got up this morning two-thirds of one had gone !

The burglar had gained access via the side panel of the cheese cage, and hauled one of the cheeses to the edge.

I had my suspicions as to who was responsible for this evil deed, when I saw Fifi with a white blob on her nose. But I wasn't quick enough to get a photo.

Having said that, a good detective doesn’t jump to conclusions, a good detective waits until the criminal returns to the scene of the crime.

I wonder who that is?

The cheese cage manufacturer is refusing to take any responsibility for this break-in, saying keeping Fifis out was not in the specification.

Ah well, there goes my fromage fort.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Strong Cheese

The French are big in cheese and one of my absolute favourites is a relatively local cheese, Epoisses. This cheese was invented at the beginning of the 16th century by Cistercian monks at L'Abbaye de Citeaux. A good one (like the one in the photo) is runny and very, very smelly, it has quite a unique flavour, due to it being ripened in Marc de Bourgogne - the local fire water and it is truly delicious. Just a little bit of trivia - soldiers in the Naploeonic armies were strictly banned from carrying Epoisses in their bags due to the pungeant smell.

Epoisses is one of the two AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) cheeses that Burgundy produces, the other being Mâconnais. More cheese trivia for you - there are over 1000 known varieties of cheese in France but only 56 have AOC status.

Our other local AOC – Mâconnais, is a soft goats’ cheese, although I must admit I can’t tell the difference between the ones that have Mâconnais AOC recognition and the ones other local farms make, both are very delicately flavoured delicious cheeses to be eaten the day after production, for a very soft cheese, or kept for a couple of days for a firmer and tastier version. However, you can put the fresh cheeses into in a cheese cage and then let them dry and go mouldy. Depending on the season and depending on the temperature, this mould can be created in less than a week or about a month or so. The longer you leave them the mouldier, dryer and tastier they get. In the photo are two fresh cheeses, one that has been dried for about a week and the more mouldy one has been dried for a couple of weeks. You can eat the dry ones, cut into little bits, to go with your aperitif or you can turn them into fromage fort - a very powerfully flavoured spreadable cheese.

Cees made me a cheese cage a couple of years ago and I use it to dry goat’s cheeses to eat. The photo shows two cheeses just starting their drying in Cees' cheese cage. I also dry left-over bits and pieces in it and then make fromage fort (strong cheese). As with any food worth eating round here, there are as many recipes for fromage fort as there are grandmothers. This is my recipe:

Use any left-over cheese you have, Cheddar, Gouda, Camembert, Brie, Emmental, goats cheese, in fact anything you have to hand, dry for about a week. Many recipes include a leek bouillon, but I found it fussy to make and it didn’t add any real taste.

500g left-over dried cheese
50ml dry white wine
1 – 2 cloves garlic
Salt & black pepper

Remove any rinds from the hard cheeses and grate, leave rinds on the soft cheeses and chop into smallish pieces. Put the cheese, wine, and garlic into a food processor and blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper.

Refrigerate, do not cover. After about 24hrs check for dryness. If the cheese mixture is dry, add a little bit of wine and leave for another day, keep checking and adding wine as necessary and the cheese will be ready to eat after about a week. Adding the wine in small quantities ensures that the final consistency is not too runny and that all the liquid is incorporated into the cheese. The ultimate consistency should be a bit dryer than cottage cheese.

This will give you a very strongly flavoured spread, ideal for aperitifs on crackers. A tip on the ultimate flavour - the longer you dry the cheese and the longer you give it the fridge maturation treatment, the stronger the flavour. I have one neighbour who makes hers with non-dried cheeses and she serves it as soon as it has been made, but her cheese is strictly for wimps !

Bon appétit.

La Tuilerie Website

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

First Ladies, Style and the Law.

Our new president François Hollande, was sworn in this morning and of course the incoming and outgoing first ladies turned up for the show as well. Looking at these two women, I was struck by how scruffy and rather dowdy Carla Bruni-Sarkosy looked (pictured right) compared to the new first lady, Valerie Trierweiler (pictured below). I think someone should have told Carla to at least iron her trousers and blouse before she went out this morning. But more than that, this horrible outfit also reminded me of an article I read in a Dutch newspaper about a week ago about how women should dress in France.

Apparently on 26 brumaire in the year VIII on the Republican calendar - or 17 November 1799, if you stick to recognisable dates - a law was passed to say that women must dress as women, in other words they should not wear trousers. It goes on to say that every woman who wants to dress as a man must report to the local préfecture and request permission. Whilst this law has been amended in 1892 and again in 1909 allowing women to wear trousers if they are on a horse or a bicycle, it has never been repealed.

So not only was Carla committing a fate style error but she was also, most probably, breaking the law.

Having said that, now that her hubby is unemployed, perhaps they had to go home by bike.

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Interesting Instruments and Great Music.

I don’t know how the small towns round here manage to get hold of such quality musicians, but they do. The jazz festival at Trivy (a town of only 278 inhabitants, containing a beautiful church) was the very first Burgundian music festival we attended a concert at - way back in 2005. At the time, we were still working in The Netherlands and had come for a holiday to make our newly purchased house liveable.

We saw a poster announcing that Biréli Lagrène (a world-famous Manouche guitarist) was playing in this tiddly village, not too far from here and tickets could be bought from a chemist’s shop near Mâcon. So off we went to get the tickets. That was our first experience of the many music festivals this area has to offer each summer and that's why the jazz festival at Trivy has a special place in our hearts. Every year, when the new brochure comes out, we sift through the concerts to see what world-class musicians they have managed to bag. This year we saw the name of Richard Galliano and we knew we had to go.

Richard Galliano is an accordion player who manages to fit many styles into his repertoire and make them all his own. Our experience of the dreadful bands that play at parties around here, where one accordion player managed to play a waltz to a beat box tango rhythm and didn’t spot it until he had been going for about two minutes, has reduced my liking for the accordion, but just a few seconds of Richard Galliano restored my faith. He is a master, it is like he brings the instrument to life and gives it a personality of its own.

The concert started with “Tango pour Claude”, a well known tune that he wrote as homage to singer Claude Nougaro, which is a particular favourite of mine. That set the tone and we were away. During the concert, he also played an instrument called an accordina, which is a cross between an accordion and a harmonica. The concert went from strength to strength and in one piece he managed to form the sound of the sea as the accordion “breathed” - quite incredible.

The two hours, of spellbinding music, just zipped past and it was a sad moment when it was time to go home.

La Tuilerie Website

Sunday, 6 May 2012

The Locked Door

The first blow to the economy of Cluny came when Napoleon ordered the destruction of the abbey.

A new and different Napoleon has attacked the town again, by locking this door.

When the state owned abbey was opened up to paying visitors in the 1970s, the exit was strategically positioned to deposit the tourists right in the middle of the main street.

As they walked back to their cars or buses, they would stop, have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine on a terrace or buy a souvenir in one of the many shops.

On May 2nd, all that changed - the door was locked, as government cuts bite.

The abbey wants to keep the tourists all to themselves, it wants them to buy their souvenirs in its own shop and have a cup of coffee from its own vending machines.

So today - election day - the shopkeepers and restaurant owners have fought back. They blockaded the entrance to the abbey, to give it a taste of its own medicine.

Will it have any effect? Will they unlock the door? I don't know, but as our new president's campaign said "Change - is now" and the shopkeepers of Cluny won't take this lying down.

That leaves us all with the remaining, much bigger question, will Hollande be the one to find the key to open the door to a better future for this country?
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