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John Talbott

How far outre is French cuisine?

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There has been little mention here of the Sept 3/10 New Yorker Food Issue but John McPhee’s article, unavailable except in hard copy or abstract, on his Life List (of eccentric foods to try) started me thinking; aside from the occasional oddity in Asian places & markets, what are the most eccentric foods we’ve encountered over the years in France? (Nothing like fried Mexican bugs in Chicago or prairie oysters in the West or squirrel in the South, not to mention dog in Viet Nam or fish eyes, or the stuff of Tony Boudain’s shows.) Tripes, pied de porc? nah; tete de veau? OK; frogs’ legs, escargots? old hat; abats, andouille, horse meat, goose fat? more of; but I strain to think of anything really eccentric like McPhee comes up with (e.g., bee spit, muskrat, white pine-needle tea.)


John Talbott

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There is fromage fort, old scraps of cheese kept in a pot, doused with strong spirits and left for weeks of an intense fermentation. I never could stomach that.

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I think it depends on your starting point. I doubt many of the foods you listed would be considered strange for most Society members, but would be unthinkable for many Americans.

I am very thankful that I am not squeamish in the least bit and will happily try most foods. I know plenty of Americans (and some natives come to think of it) who wouldn't dare try things like blood sausage, pig's feet, organs meats and even strong cheeses. I think becoming involved in the cuisine of a country helps you become more immersed in its culture. This has certainly been true for me in France. I often have French friends tell me I am 'more French' than they are because of the way I eat.

Probably the strangest thing I have eaten in France would be cow's utters (crisply fried in a salad), duck tongues (delicious) and pig's ears, which were rather bland and had a disagreeable texture. The last two however, were not in a French restaurant as you may have guessed.


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There is fromage fort, old scraps of cheese kept in a pot, doused with strong spirits and left for weeks of an intense fermentation. I never could stomach that.

I have heard rumors of a cheese which is said to be covered in live maggots but have yet to have seen it. Can anyone confirm its existence?


www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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There is fromage fort, old scraps of cheese kept in a pot, doused with strong spirits and left for weeks of an intense fermentation. I never could stomach that.

I have heard rumors of a cheese which is said to be covered in live maggots but have yet to have seen it. Can anyone confirm its existence?

Yes, it's made in Sardinia called Casa Marzu. It's a Pecorino that's infected with a fly's larvae. Apparently the larvae can make some surprising leaps, and eye protection is recommended while eating the cheese (no joke).

More info can be found here:

http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/comments/4112/

Bon Apetit! :cool:

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It all does depend on one's usual food "boundaries." Mine are pretty wide. And in general, in France they're far wider than in America. Calf's liver? Pretty genteel hereabouts. Or rabbit? Just another white meat. Tongue? Classic grandmother's cooking. Etc.

In France, I've enjoyed duck hearts, rabbit liver, lamb's brains, a civet de rouget which used the fish's guts in the sauce, etc. etc.

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There is fromage fort, old scraps of cheese kept in a pot, doused with strong spirits and left for weeks of an intense fermentation. I never could stomach that.

I have heard rumors of a cheese which is said to be covered in live maggots but have yet to have seen it. Can anyone confirm its existence?

Yes, it's made in Sardinia called Casa Marzu. It's a Pecorino that's infected with a fly's larvae. Apparently the larvae can make some surprising leaps, and eye protection is recommended while eating the cheese (no joke).

More info can be found here:

http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/comments/4112/

Bon Apetit! :cool:

Also, in the good old days a Stilton cheese wasn't considerd ripe until the maggots started crawling.

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I have heard rumors of a cheese which is said to be covered in live maggots but have yet to have seen it.  Can anyone confirm its existence?

Covered in maggots, that sounds unlikely, but I have seen old Auvergnat shepherds (tall, Gipsy-looking grannies wearing purple blouses and a large straw hat) choosing Saint-Nectaire cheeses at the Pontgibaud market. They picked those that had maggots running on them. That was about 20 years ago. I am not sure things have changed a lot.

Some aged tommes de Savoie and various fourmes in the Massif Central have a porous, lacy rind from the cirons (small worms) eating them. The older the cheese, the lacier the rind. Now some people will cut off a thick layer of the rind, making sure they leave all the cirons behind, but I have seen some others peel off only a thin part of it and enjoy extra protein.

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What about andouillette?

The reason I said

abats, andouille, horse meat, goose fat? more of;
was while they exist in the US, one sees/eats more of them here. On more reflection, is another difference that in the US items are more regionally available (andouille/andouillette in the bayou, mountain/prairie oysters the West, horsemeat in Cambridge, goosefat around D'Artagnan, etc) while in France they're universally available?

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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French andouille and andouillette are both chitterling sausages. Different than the cajun andouille which is more like our "saucisson à l'ail".

Salade de museau is worth trying, with lots of shallots. I like it a lot.

Civelles are really delicious (and very expensive too) but I think the garlic dressing does most of the job.

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I have heard rumors of a cheese which is said to be covered in live maggots but have yet to have seen it.  Can anyone confirm its existence?

Covered in maggots, that sounds unlikely, but I have seen old Auvergnat shepherds (tall, Gipsy-looking grannies wearing purple blouses and a large straw hat) choosing Saint-Nectaire cheeses at the Pontgibaud market. They picked those that had maggots running on them. That was about 20 years ago. I am not sure things have changed a lot.

Ptipois, did you miss the reference to Sardinian Casa Marzu in a response to Felice? It's not merely a rural legend. Cf. the initial post in this topic and its link to a first-hand report from Albiston here.
Some aged tommes de Savoie and various fourmes in the Massif Central have a porous, lacy rind from the cirons (small worms) eating them. The older the cheese, the lacier the rind. Now some people will cut off a thick layer of the rind, making sure they leave all the cirons behind, but I have seen some others peel off only a thin part of it and enjoy extra protein.

There's also Mimolette up north with its mites.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Ptipois, did you miss the reference to Sardinian Casa Marzu in a response to Felice?  It's not merely a rural legend.

I did not miss it, but I answered about French cheeses to stay on topic. Apart from the examples I recalled, I have never heard of maggot-ridden cheese in France.

There's also Mimolette up north with its mites.

That's indeed what we call "cirons". They are found in aged mimolette, not in regular mimolette. The rind of aged mimolette (where the critters are lodged) is too hard for eating anyway.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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Can someone explain - do the mites and maggots and worms actually do something for the flavor or texture, or is it more the shock value?

As far as my experience goes, neither of them do anything for the flavor. Cirons do make the edges of the cheese mealier and bitter, which is not particularly interesting. Some primitive cheeses like the delicious fourme de Valcivière have rinds that are so heavily eaten by mites that they feel soft and fuzzy to the touch.

On the two photos below you may see some fourmes de Valcivière I saw at the Aurillac Européennes du Goût festival last July. It is a rare cheese not unlike fourme d'Ambert but the taste is closer to Stilton. These are heavily attacked by mites, which you can clearly see by the texture of the rind. The second photo shows the cut cheese, with the slightly translucent heart (fourme d'Ambert looks more opaque) and you see how deep the worm territory goes. Close to the rind, the cheese has a mushroomy bitter taste.

1410031810_3036efb01d.jpg

1410032548_ac7ebae358.jpg

Regarding the Saint-Nectaire, for some reason the presence of maggots was an indicator of quality to my Auvergne grannies, but the maggots were not inside the cheese, they were wiggling on an otherwise intact rind. I have never seen worm-eaten saint-nectaire. It can get mouldy, but is not attacked by beasts.

If you want my sincere opinion on the subject of worm-eating in the French countryside, I will tell you that in the old days people did cut off some of the rind but they also ate the odd worm with their cheese without paying much attention to it. But I have often noticed a more recent, provocative attitude displayed in front of Parisians ("See, what's a few cheese worms, we eat it all, we're not sissies like you"). I suspect a lot of that stuff to be somewhat theatrical and a few of the more outrageous stories to be apocryphous.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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While, to the best of my knowledge/memory, no maggots or mites were involved, I do remember with some pleasure a bemused country hostess, surprised by our ethnicity, who told me, "No, that proves it. You are not American. Americans do not eat the rind." :biggrin:


eGullet member #80.

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While, to the best of my knowledge/memory, no maggots or mites were involved, I do remember with some pleasure a bemused country hostess, surprised by our ethnicity, who told me, "No, that proves it.  You are not American.  Americans do not eat the rind."  :biggrin:

Clearly, Madame, you do not fit the mold.


"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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While, to the best of my knowledge/memory, no maggots or mites were involved, I do remember with some pleasure a bemused country hostess, surprised by our ethnicity, who told me, "No, that proves it.  You are not American.  Americans do not eat the rind."   :biggrin:

Clearly, Madame, you do not fit the mold.

I certainly can't top that reparté.

A question: are we talking home cooking here, or resto? Cheeses aside, where does one get dishes such as salade de museauare or civelles? Are they the provenance of village bistros, the home cook, or ...?



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Salade de Museau is readily available and, I think, accessible to the meekest palate. It is, very simply, what we know as 'head cheese'. If that is off-putting, think of it as a cousin of ham in aspic. It is usually sliced thin and tossed with vinaigrette. It is really very user-friendly. Just call it something else, if you must.

Edited to add that you will find it at just about any traiteur and as a cheap starter in the simplest bistrots. In Paris, the Machon d'Henri on rue Guisarde serves up a lovely plate.


Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)

eGullet member #80.

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Salade de Museau is readily available and, I think, accessible to the meekest palate.  It is, very simply, what we know as 'head cheese'.  If that is off-putting, think of it as a cousin of ham in aspic.  It is usually sliced thin and tossed with vinaigrette.  It is really very user-friendly.  Just call it something else, if you must.

Edited to add that you will find it at just about any traiteur and as a cheap starter in the simplest bistrots.  In Paris, the Machon d'Henri on rue Guisarde serves up a lovely plate.

One precision: I do not know what "head cheese" precisely means in English, I mean if it refers to beef or pork. In French things are clear: "fromage de tête" (literal translation of head cheese) is pig's head terrine (or pig brawn), "museau vinaigrette" aka "salade de museau" is beef snout.

Both are delicious and taste rather similar, the pig version being a bit softer and the beef version slightly crunchier. Pig is diced, or served as a slab, and beef is thinly sliced. Both are dressed in the same vinaigrette, or rémoulade: lots of mustard, lots of shallots, lots of black pepper and vinegar.

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