Today’s cheese is Bleu de Montbriac

Today I am ashamed to say that I am betraying the small scale cheesemaker.

There are three levels of authenticity in French cheese.

The first is the farmhouse cheesemaker.  Their cheese is often made on the farm and will be made from cheese from cows that live on the farm.  This is the truest, most honest and authentic cheese.  Here you have a sense of that most important of things in traditional French cuisine, the terroir.

Terroir essentially refers to all of the aspects of the location of production that are inherent in the product such as climate, soil, flora etc.  And a part of this also suggests to me the traditions, history and customs of a place.  And all of these things are found, in one way or another, in a region’s foods, particularly in the cheese. For the French, the place where their food is produced is hugely important.  All of the fruit and vegetable stalls in the markets show where the various items come from, and if they are French, what area of France they come from.  If I wanted to go off one one, here’s where I’d let this blog entry spiral off into psychogeography.  Which is a fine and entertaining topic and style, if not sometimes overly self indulgent.  But if this blog is anything, it’s self indulgent.

The second level is artisanal.  These cheeses are made in a certain place with milk sourced from multiple farms in that area.  As you can see, the sense of place is being diluted.  It is no longer possible to be so specific and the terroir is no longer so apparent.

The third level, and the least satisfactory to the connoisseur, is industrial.  And you can see the disdain for this type of cheese in its name.  Industriel.  How could there be anything authentic here?  This is the world of machines and industrial estates and manufacturing units.

And so today’s cheese is an industriel cheese.  But I did buy it the fromagerie, so I’m not all bad.

This is a bleu, but a lesser blue you will struggle to find.  And it is creamy and sweet.  And wonderful if you have some good bread and some good wine.

It’s a pasteurised [so it’s already losing much of its uniqueness there] cow’s milk cheese made in the Haute Loire, in a town called Beauzac, not far from St Etienne. Yes, that St Etienne.

It’s a relatively small cheese, weighing only about a pound.  The rind is grey from ash and it’s quite edible.  Like many cheeses, you’re just throwing money away if you don’t eat the rind since it’s normally pretty good and will often add to the overall pleasure to be had from the cheese.

The paste is a pale hay yellow with very occasional eyes.  And very occasional hints of blue from penicillium glaucum, the same mould you’ll find in Bleu de Gex .  In the picture, you can just about see some blue around one of the eyes to the left.  And that’s it.  More will come with a little more age but it’s not wildly blue.  It’s not a strong blue and it doesn’t give you a real kick like a Stilton or a Roquefort can.  If you have people coming around who claim not to like blue cheeses, they could quite easily tackle this.

The paste, once you bring the cheese to room temperature, is soft and creamy and will start to run beautifully, perfect for scooping up on some crisp bread and served along side a light fruity red [maybe a Beaujolais] or a fruity white wine [a Vouvray perhaps?].

And apologise and raise a glass to the artisan cheese makers before you take a sip.

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Hopeless reporting, FIFA and the Qatar World Cup

If you have even a passing interest in football then you may have noticed there are some issues related to the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.  When I say some, there are some major issues, some particularly terrible.

The most important one to recently come to light is the appalling exploitation of the, primarily, Nepali workers who work with little or no pay in conditions of bonded or slave labour and where the death rates are running at around one worker per day.  Carry on at this rate and the World Cup will have seen the deaths of over 3,000 workers just to build the stadiums.

You can and should watch the video here:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/25/revealed-qatars-world-cup-slaves

There is also the on-going debate about whether the World Cup should even be played in Qatar, where FIFA members have been shocked to discover, temperatures can rise to well over 40 degrees centigrade and often do. Especially during the summer, when the World Cup is due to be played.

These debates have been developed a discussed elsewhere in greater detail.

FIFA allegedly carried out extensive research into the viability of the various bids to host the World Cup.  The bids from Australia and the USA appeared to be the other major contenders.

Qatar is a small place.  A small place with no real footballing culture, just lots of money.  It has a population of 250,000 people citizens [who are outnumbered by the foreign workforce].  To make it easy for me to comprehend, that is less than the population of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Everyone knows that the temperature in the Middle East is what one might describe as Very Hot.  And there are many, many people who know that labour conditions and human rights in Qatar and its surrounding countries are appalling.  And that the labour system is based on something called kafala, which requires migrant workers to have a sponsor and which can, and often does, lead to abuses of the worker’s rights as well as cruelty and physical abuse. [See here and here].

The whole of the Qatari construction industry is dependent on the migrant workers and abuse and death is commonplace.  So if you were asking the Qataris to build a lot of football stadiums, you might then ask how they were going to do that.  And you might also ask yourself about labour conditions. And you would quickly find out about these problems.  That this issue has arisen is sadly not a surprise.  Nor is FIFA’s shocked stance or the laughably naive denials of the organising committee.

So FIFA’s researchers and delegates have failed to think about these two major and pretty obvious problems.   I am left to surmise that the whole decision to award the World Cup is based either on corruption, incompetence or political interference.  Or maybe a mix of the three.  Who’d have thought it?

But will anyone be held to account?  Will FIFA or the Qatari authorities really act to resolve these issues.  Will labour laws be changed and enforced?  Not just for World Cup stadiums but for all workers?  I really do doubt it.

Today’s cheese is Tomme Crayeuse

This was the first time I had seen this cheese and so, naturally I had to buy it.

In the world of traditional French cheese making this is a relatively new arrival, having been created in 1997 by the magnificently named Max Schmidhauser in the Savoie region of south eastern France.

There are some cheeses of the traditional type that are still created, either to satisfy the cheesemaker and his artisan ways, to fill a gap in the market or range, or perhaps, simply through serendipity.  Either way, it is rare to see anything approaching novelty cheese in France.  Maybe I’m not looking hard enough but the most offensive thing I’ve seen are those little round balls of goat cheese covered in herbs as an apero.  And that’s not offensive.  Not offensive in the same way as Wensleydale with apricots in. Or Wensleydale with cranberries, or those awful layered cheeses where you find a band of rubbery Double Gloucester and a band of Stilton.  The UK has some magnificent cheeses but they [note the use of “they”] also have some of the most callous marketeers and witless consumers.  The same people who allow pizza with hotdog sausage in the crust. Yes, them.

It’s a traditional tomme shape, about ten or 15 centimetres high and maybe twenty or thirty centimetres in diameter.

A tomme is a generic name for a cheese, often from Savoie, that are usually the same cylindrical shape and size.  And that’s pretty much it.

It is a cows milk cheese and is normally aged for two months.  The crust has a bloom of grey, white and yellow, the crust is maybe a millimetre or two thick and quite edible.  The ivory to white paste is layered, with the layer nearest the crust being soft and starting to run and the centre has a slightly firmer paste, with a couple of eyes, perhaps like a vignotte but not at all chalky like a badly matured Brie.  As an aside, the word “crayeuse” means chalky but maybe this means the colour rather than the consistency.

It has a delicate aroma, and very creamy taste and slightly salty with only a hint of refreshing lemon sourness.  This is case for definitely eating the rind since a piece of this cheese, with the rind, some of the runny bit and the firmer paste, spread on a piece of decent bread is grand.  And of course, if you were going to have some wine then a light red from the Loire Valley or a good, crisp dry white would be splendid.

Cargo Cult Football and Paolo Di Canio

There is an idea in anthropological circles about cargo cults in Melanesia.  The cults seem to derive from a clash of Western cultures with a lot of material goods and with the complex rituals of exchange and societal prestige found on the islands, often based around “Big Men” [who could give a lot and gain respect and debts] and “Rubbish Men” [who couldn’t].  The cults used rituals that mimicked the perceived behaviours of the Westerners with a view to encouraging the ancestors and deities to assist in providing the same material wealth and therefore prestige to the more deserving and rightful people, the islanders.

There are examples of the islanders building replica aeroplanes from sticks even air traffic control towers and radio headsets, which at first view are comical and slightly tragic.  Such immediate interpretations should be revised when the actual rationale and culture behind them is understood.  The islanders were adapting their experiences of foreigners, particularly during the Second World War, who would arrive, build things and await the seemingly inevitable delivery of vast material wealth or cargo and adapting this to existing worldview and culture.

The idea has then been appropriated by scientists, notably Richard Feynman, and software engineers to describe behaviours and practices that look like either science or engineering but, in reality, are nothing more than an ill-informed replicas of the true and required actions and processes.  For example, and to the uninitiated, it might look like software programming, but in reality it is useless and shows a complete and utter lack of comprehension of the fundamentals and reasoning that achieve correctly functioning results.

And now to Sunderland AFC, the football club that I naively choose to describe as mine.  After the reckless appointment of Paolo Di Canio as manager in April, he has been sacked after losing 3-0 to West Brom on Saturday and then suffering a “player revolt” during a meeting at the training ground on Sunday.  I am not unhappy with the news since I was not at all happy with his appointment [see here and here] however it does lead me to the inevitable worry that if the directors could manage to appoint this fool in the first place then who will they manage to appoint this time.  I am not confident.

Di Canio, to give him some credit, spoke sense about the culture of professionalism that the club and players needed to introduce.  It was the methodology of achieving this that smacks of Cargo Cult Football.  Players can be encouraged to eat a carefully designed diet, follow personalised exercise regimes, and practice and work hard in training but if the players are not encouraged to buy into the system and cannot see the improvements then there will not be any success.  Di Canio missed the main point, the players need to accept and support the system otherwise it is doomed.  They are the people who will implement the systems, irrespective of any comical wailings and touchline tantrums.  Di Canio’s tactics of the public haranguing of players and of egotistical boasts [as well as the heinous crime of referring to himself in the third person] did nothing but undermine his stated objectives.  By focussing on things that look like coaching but not realising that the key thing is the support and buy-in from the players, Di Canio created his own little Cargo Cult on Wearside.  Unfortunately for him, he was the cult’s one member and Big Man.

So what now?

Di Canio was not at the club for very long but has perhaps managed to kill off his hopes of proving that he is the “top manager” he claims.  There were enough events and statements to show that Di Canio believes that he is the centre of the promised football revolution but, unlike many cults which tend to be millenarian in nature, football is based around results and preferably ones that are quickly achieved.  Di Canio shares the worst win record for Sunderland managers with Howard Wilkinson who have managed the club for more than ten games.  There are no encouraging results here.

Some might suggest that he should have been given more time, but given his track record and the reported collapse of relations with his players, there seems to be little point.  We, along with our neighbours Newcastle United, are firmly establishing the North East for comedic appointments and sackings.

And again we are without a manager and we are bottom of the league.  The rumour mills soon suggested Roberto Di Matteo as a replacement but now the suggestions are that the directors are keen to have an British manager with Premier League experience.  The list of available managers makes grim reading.  To quote a film, it’s not the despair.  I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.

Today’s cheese is Saint Florentin

This isn’t a goat’s cheese but it is a cheese associated with a saint from the Dark Ages.  And what do saints from the Dark Ages mean?  Cheese and miserable martyrdom.  Two popular themes.

I do enjoy a good martyrdom.  Well, I’ll clarify, I enjoy a good historical martyrdom.  I can’t say people killing one another for their beliefs is a particularly edifying act.  So stop it.  OK? Spanish churches and Latin religious art are particularly rich sources of martyrdom art.  I really enjoy statues to dead saints when they are represented as dying but reaching out to the viewer.  Always a relaxing experience.

Traditionally made in Yonne, an area of Burgundy, around Auxerre.

And Saint Florentin, well, he encountered King Crocus of the Vandals who was none to pleased with Florentin’s religion so, to stop his evangelising, pulled out his tongue.  To make doubly sure, Crocus chopped of Florentin’s head in 408 in the town of St Pierre-de-Clages.  That should stop any evangelising.  But perhaps none of this true and Florentin was really a bishop in Sion.

Crocus was hugely influential and was a friend to Roman emperors and supported Constantine the Great’s candidacy as Roman emperor.  Constantine became the first Christian emperor so perhaps Crocus chose not to mention his encounter with Florentin and Florentin’s friend Hilaire, whose martyrdom Crocus also attached with.

Saint-Florentin is a fresh cheese made with unpasteurised cows’ milk.  There is a more traditional version which I have not seen yet which is aged for around two months but the ones I buy tend to be much younger, maybe a month old.  Apparently this cheese is on its last legs and not many people make it anymore, which is a shame, as it’s a rich and indulgent but mild and salty cheese.

Delicate, cannot be man handled without it collapsing into a heavenly creamy paste.  The rind is soft,rumpled and pale yellow and almost slick on the ivory white paste below.  The heart of the paste tends to be soft but slightly resistant to the touch whereas there is a delicious semi liquid layer between this firmer heart and the rind.  When I say firm, it’s not a hard cheese, it’s as firm as a goats cheese.

You don’t cut this cheese you more scoop it onto your bread with a knife and I can imagine it being marvelous wrapped with some leafy fresh herbs in some flatbread and a light, slightly chilled red like a Brouilly.

 

A Grand Meal During the Siege of Paris

In 1870, following an argument over Luxembourg [it’s tempting to be rude about Luxembourg again, but I won’t since they can cause wars and humiliating defeats] and the Spanish throne, the Prussians and the Germans declared war on France.

Germany wasn’t a unified country until 1871, just before the fall of Paris.

It was all rather embarrassing for France and they were defeated, distressingly easily, in a number of battles including the final humiliation at Sedan where Napoleon III and his army were captured.  Zola described the defeats and the chaos in his book La Débâcle, the penultimate of his mighty series of Rougon-Macquart novels.  The Prussians encircled Paris for four months from September 1870 until January 1871 when Paris fell and the Germans were granted a ceremonial entrance to the city as part of the surrender before returning home with Alsace and Lorraine tucked safely under their arms.

Things, as you might expect, were pretty grim under the siege and food was somewhat limited.  The animals in the zoo were slaughtered and it was possible to buy elephant, kangaroo, yak and buffalo meat on the Boulevard Haussmann.  Here’s a menu from a Christmas dinner from 1870 featuring camel, elephant, bear and wolf as well as cat, rat and antelope.  I like how camel is roasted in the English style.  We’re famed for roasting camel.

Christmas Menu Siege de Paris 1870

 

Once that had run out people were reduced to eating other animals as this menu, described by William Serman, shows:

Consommé of horse with millet

Dog liver brochettes au maître d’hôtel

Minced back of cat with mayonnaise

Filleted shoulder of dog with peas

Rat salami à la Robert

Dog gigot with baby rats

Begonia in juice

Plum pudding in juice with horse marrow

Dessert and wine

 

A tasty selection and, perhaps fortunately, I don’t have the recipes.  Although it’s pretty hard to find the ingredients even if I did.

Of course the people of Paris were starving and these things, as revolting as they may seem, were much in demand. As Donny Gluckstein points out they were priced way beyond the reach of the normal persons’ purse.  So despite the misery of the situation, the rich were still flaunting their wealth and ability to consume.  Some might call it hoarding. So it goes…

Following the French capitulation and the all to apparent sense of betrayal the Paris Commune sprang up and, for a short but thrilling time, Paris was run by the people for the people until the French government and its forces crushed the rebels in an astonishingly violent and brutal battle which saw over 30,000 people killed in a week.  A government declaring war on its own people?  So it goes…

Today’s Cheese is Cabricharme

The theme of goats’ cheese continues.  This is a slightly different one though.  This is a Belgian goats’ milk cheese.  I have to apologise to the Belgians because, and I don’t know why, I was almost surprised when I learned of this cheese.  There’s no reason for this of course.  They are sandwiched between the Dutch, the French and the Germans, all of whom can make good cheese, so why not Belgium?

Yes, I know Belgium also has a border with Luxembourg but I am, cruelly perhaps, suggesting that Luxembourg really couldn’t sandwich anyone.

So this cheese then.  It’s a classic rind washed cheese, with a nice, hay coloured, quite dry and quite thick rind that shows no sign of cracking.  The paste is semi firm and supple and is a beautiful ivory colour with some small eyes sparsely distributed throughout.  And best of all, it’s an unpasteurised artisanal cheese.

Rind washed cheeses are bathed or washed liberally, often with brine but occasionally with brine with a fair content of beer, liquor or wine.  Washing the rind helps to protect the paste since the rind doesn’t tend to crack and therefore the cheese matures within its own protective skin.  These cheeses also tend to be saltier because of the brine and, best of all, they tend to be stinkier.  Some washed rind cheeses often have quite sticky, orangey rinds because of the bacteria that favour such damp conditions.  You might also find a slight crunch in the rinds from the salt crystals that form after the brining process.  As mentioned elsewhere, you can eat the rind on these cheeses so give it a go.  Don’t eat a piece of the rind on its own though.  Make sure you try a bit of the cheese with the paste AND the rind.  This will give you a much better idea of the true flavour of the cheese.

This isn’t a particularly stinky cheese though.  It has a milky freshness to it that’s slightly acidic [without the goaty sharpness] and is buttery smooth with just a hint of graininess.  The paste really coats your mouth and is quite dominating without being strong or overwhelming but you’d want to eat this later on from the cheeseboard as it will stop you from enjoying milder cheeses.

I guess, since it’s a Belgian cheese, you could try eating this with a good, dry, hoppy Belgian beer or even a granite dry white wine.