Wednesday, November 21, 2007

French Food, Part One: Brittany

These lovely rows of macaroons were waiting for us (my Dad, Michelle and I) in Quimper, Brittany. Brittany is part of the northwest arm of France, and part of the celtic fringe. Apparently people from Wales speaking Welsh and people from Brittany speaking Breizh can understand each other, though they've lived apart for hundreds of years. We were there on holiday with my family from England, and had driven into Quimper for the day – and the day happened to be market day. This was very exciting from a food point of view, but very bad from a navigating the city point of view.

This shot gives some impression of how crowded it was along the streets. There's my Dad on the left-hand side of the picture – good thing he's tall, or we would definitely have lost him in the crush! The stripey yellow building on the right-hand side is the macaronier and salon de thé where those marvellous macaroons were made. In the distance is the cathedral, arrayed around which were many cafes.

The first thing we did when we got into the city was head to one of those cafes and have some lunch! Priorities! Here's my dad pouring us some 'Breizh Cola,' clearly a rustic local drink.

My dad and I went for a Croque Monsieur, that ubiquitous French ham and cheese sandwich, made with béchamel inside and gruyëre cheese on top. Toasted to perfection.

And Michelle had some moules frites (mussels and fries) in this shell-shaped bowl. With little bits of lardon on top.

Before lunch, as we navigated our way to the cathedral square, we came upon some food stalls in the market, which were fantastic. Giant wheels of cheese! Small wheels of cheese! Saucissons! The signs on the saucissons say 'Veritable Saucisse seche, bien seche, pur porc' for five euro. And there was a 'saucisson du fromage au chevre' for four! In the cheese stall there were (from left to right) a tomme de brebis (apparently tomme is, according to wiki, "a generic name given to a class of cheese produced mainly in the French alps. Tommes are normally produced from the skim milk left over after the cream has been removed to produce butter and richer cheeses, or when there is too little milk to produce a full cheese. As a result, they are generally low in fat," a vieux salers (old salty!), a tomme de chevre, a tomme de saudie, a morbier (the one with the black layer of ashes separating it horizontally in the middle), an andouille sausage and some tomme de pyrenees. We had had a slice of the chevre on the way to lunch, but didn't end up going back for some as we thought we would. Sigh. We'll have to go back next summer.

But perhaps I should start back at the beginning. Michelle has very nicely explained, in her entry on cidre our madcap rush to the train that would take us from Paris to Brest at the start of our French holiday. By the point that we collapsed into the seats that had been assigned to us (and that someone else had taken up temporary residence in), we were starving. So we had some train food. Expensive and of varying quality. This collage shows Orangina, a fizzy orange drink which is ubiquitous there (but which, of course, you can also get here), some fruit salad, a hot cup of thé (which was never served with milk), my train croque monsieur (the less said about that, the better), the stylish bag it all came in, and some rhubarb and strawberry compote, which was delicious. Though not for the cooked-fruit impaired. Below that is la vache qui rit! I love this small wedge of soft cheese, though I really don't know why. Maybe it's the name. Maybe it's the fun of unwrapping its foil wrapper. Maybe it's the red cow on the front sporting earrings made of her own cheese! In any case, it's tasty.

After meeting up with my parents in Brest, we eventually went out for a crepe lunch (with cidre, described a little in Michelle's entry, and to be elaborated upon in an upcoming entry on crepes). We then settled, for the next week, in a little village called Kergudon, and spent the week relaxing on the beach and making food together for sixteen people. Breakfasts would start with me, my dad and MIchelle heading down to the next village to the artisanal boulangerie for 20 croissants, 4 pain au chocolat and 4 brioche. We were not popular with the locals, as we often took the last croissants! But they were delicious.

Tony (my step-uncle) would make his famous scrambled eggs (or egg-flavoured butter, as my dad refers to this recipe) and we would be away! Liberal lashings of Bonne Maman jam (cerise and myrtles sauvages), orange juice and coffee completed the meal, all consumed outdoors at a giant table. Here is some of that fantastic Breton butter, which contains cristaux de sel, small suspended crystals of Guerand salt.

Lunch would be whatever we brought with us to the beach, and wouldn't be very complicated. There were ice creams and ice lollies purchased at the beach, though – I favoured the almond Magnum, a bar with vanilla ice cream in the centre and chocolate and almonds surrounding it. My nephew Joe had one of those stripey twister lollies that he made last about two hours (through careful drip management).

Dinner was an extensive affair, and required several gin and tonics in preparation:

We'd all pitch in to make dinner. One night, Jenny made a pizza dough from scratch, and just off the top of her head. I don't know why this impressed me so much, but the results were delicious – Jenny's one of my food heroes. Here we are doing some prep-work in the kitchen, and below that are the results – a tasty pizza, coleslaw made by my step-brother Jon, some paté, potatoes, some salad and some pickled beetroot, which the British love, and can't seem to give up, even in France!

A couple of nights we fired up the two barbecues on the property and cooked some hamburgers and pork.

Most days we'd stop by the supermarche and wonder at the enormous selection of good (and cheap) wines available. In the supermarket! What a civilized idea. We tried a number of reds and whites, from the very dry to sauternes and other dessert wines. We also tried numerous cidres, biers, chouchenn (the ultra-sweet liqueur made from cidre) and port. More on this to come in WeDrink!

But here, our finest moment in Brittany caught on film – boxed wine! One night this was the only white wine left in any of the cottages, but it had been put in the freezer overnight by mistake. We had a great time trying to thaw it in the sun, and trying to get the spout to produce little drips of white wine for us. It finally obliged!


Meg said...

Oh man, this sounds like heaven. All of it. Twenty croissants! Sauternes! An army of gin and tonics. Beach treats requiring careful drip-management. I think I could happily live in that world forever... can I come with you guys next year?

Meg said...

Oh, and one more thing – the photo of the macaroons matches the colors of the banner so perfectly, I don't want to post anything else, so it can always be there at the top. Gorgeous.

Leeeeesha said...

What an epic post, Laura! I can't wait to read part deux, or perhaps I should say, 'the sequel.'

I don't know if I can say much to disguise my utter jealousy, though. Meg, I'm with you - can I come along next year too, please?

But for now I'll just have to dream . . . how delightful it would be to have an endless array of fresh chevre to choose from every day, in a land where goats and their goaty milk products are celebrated just as much as cows.