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FaustianBargain

The Great French Cheese Tragedy

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Found this when I was googling for some info on Spanish cheese...I dont know if it has already been discussed in other forums, but I thought this to be an appropriate topic for discussion here...

French mobilize to save cheeses under threat of extinction

There are some interesting bits:

"In 30 years, more than 50 have been struck off the menus as the proportion of industrial cheeses continues to grow while cheeses made from unpasteurised milk only represent seven percent of our consumption," said Veronique Richez-Lerouge.

[..]

"The Mont-d'Or galette, which had been produced for some 400 years, disappeared this summer following the death of the last producer who knew the secret of how to make it," she said.

[...]

"Tastes are becoming more uniform, European standards are more and more draconian, more than half of the cheeses which receive a quality rating are made from pasteurised milk, large stores no longer have cheese-cutting counters, and outbreaks of listeria have been blamed on unpasteurised milk, even though all products such as pasteurised milk, fish and meat are affected by bacteria," Richez-Lerouge said.

It does sound rather bleak, but is it true?

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In any market economy, products that are in demand find a way to survive. Those that are not in demand do not.

Its a shame that some of these obscure French cheeses are dying out, but if nobody wants to consume them, there isn't much to be done.

The pasteurization issue contributes to this somewhat, but as France becomes more and more integrated into the EC and has to adopt all its standards, its a necessary evil.


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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The pasteurization issue contributes to this somewhat, but as France becomes more and more integrated into the EC and has to adopt all its standards, its a necessary evil.

That is exactly what I thought. Even though it is a bloody shame. At this point, it is becoming increasingly difficult for France to wrestle her way out of the EU as there is too much at stake. I really doubt if they can ever be recovered.

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In any market economy, products that are in demand find a way to survive. Those that are not in demand do not.

Its a shame that some of these obscure French cheeses are dying out, but if nobody wants to consume them, there isn't much to be done.

The pasteurization issue contributes to this somewhat, but as France becomes more and more integrated into the EC and has to adopt all its standards, its a necessary evil.

It is not necessarily a question of whether people want to consume them. It is becoming increasingly difficult for people to be able to consume them. This is not necessarily the product of the market economy, but of regulation, that is at best debatable for its benefits. As for the EC standards they may be "evil", but are they really "necessary"?


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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To some extent regulation is going to make some of these cheeses harder or impossible to produce. However, in the case of products where "the last guy who knew how to made it just died" and regulations do not affect the aspects of production, its a demand issue. Because clearly if it was a demand product, the method of production would have found a way of ensuring its survival.


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Not necessarily. Where trade secrets are jealously guarded by tradition, keeping a secret to your dying day could be an honorable thing to do. The rest of the world be damned, you've done your duty to keep the secret.

This is where reverse engineering comes into play.


Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Because clearly if it was a demand product, the method of production would have found a way of ensuring its survival.

Not so! Plenty of Americans want REAL proscuitto and jamon serrano, but can we have get it? No, because its not "safe!" I can't get lardo for the same reason.

Food safety regulations are draconian and not a necessary evil. Preventing rats from getting ground up into chuck is one thing, but not regulating raw milk products is another. Sure, they carry a slightly higher risk of getting something, but that's my business.

And if you think demand ensures survival, then you never heard Ruth Reichl's story on NPR radio about trying to find a bialy in Bialystock, Poland. No one knows how to make them anymore, but they remember them fondly and wish someone could make them.


Edited by scordelia (log)

S. Cue

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Because clearly if it was a demand product, the method of production would have found a way of ensuring its survival.

Not so! Plenty of Americans want REAL proscuitto and jamon serrano, but can we have get it? No, because its not "safe!" I can't get lardo for the same reason.

My thoughts exactly. The EU is becoming uncomfortably similar to the U.S. Isn't there already a ban on aging cheese on straw mats? A practice with centuries of tradition behind it...

If it's infuriating that we in the U.S. can't obtain real proscuitto or jamón ibérico, how tragic will it be when those products are banned in Europe?

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Because clearly if it was a demand product, the method of production would have found a way of ensuring its survival.

Not so! Plenty of Americans want REAL proscuitto and jamon serrano, but can we have get it? No, because its not "safe!" I can't get lardo for the same reason.

Food safety regulations are draconian and not a necessary evil. Preventing rats from getting ground up into chuck is one thing, but not regulating raw milk products is another. Sure, they carry a slightly higher risk of getting something, but that's my business.

And if you think demand ensures survival, then you never heard Ruth Reichl's story on NPR radio about trying to find a bialy in Bialystock, Poland. No one knows how to make them anymore, but they remember them fondly and wish someone could make them.

You can still buy real Spanish Jamon in Europe (and it's coming to the US shortly). Both of those products have a large European following and are in no threat of disappearing.

If those products are unable to survive in their native markets where food safety regulations are not an issue, then it is a demand issue. Obviously EC regulations are starting to have an impact, but that's something we're all going to have to live with. Europe doesn't want to be backwards anymore, and I can think of a lot of reasons why modernization and regulation would also be good for them and good for us, food wise.

The Bialystock story is also a lesson in market migration and demand -- you might not be able to buy them in Poland (which, BTW, had this small problem with this little ill-tempered German dude with a short mustache in the 1940's that may have contributed to the Polish Bialy-scarcity issue) but you can buy them in the New York Metro area (I buy them every Sunday) and in other parts of the country.


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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"In 30 years, more than 50 (cheeses) have been struck off the menus as the proportion of industrial cheeses continues to grow while cheeses made from unpasteurised milk only represent seven percent of our consumption," said Veronique Richez-Lerouge.

50 cheeses disappearing in 30 years doesn't seem that much to me in regard to the number of cheeses remaining and the number of cheeses rediscovered. Not that I think they should have disappeared at all, but produce has been appearing and disappearing in this manner throughout European history, and 50 in 30 years doesn't exactly look like a cheese-genocide to me. Thousands of secrets have died with their sole keeper since at least the Gauls.

What I gather from this article is not so much the standardization and blandification of taste (which is an unjustifiable calamity, market economy or not, but which is also no news at all) as the many efforts and initiative made by individuals and associations to preserve our culinary historical heritage, which is not only about cheese. The efforts towards the preservation of animal heritage (regional cow breeds), high-quality meat, local grape varietals, traditional apples, pears, cherries, forgotten vegetables, etc., is a force not quite as strong as the European steamroller, but it is far from useless. Though still modest, it is growing to become a counterpower against blind standardization. People who count on authenticity and taste are not going to be deprived of their choices so easily. There are even people who fight for this within the EU government.

I believe that preserving quality, wholesomeness and variety should not be called "going backwards". Nobody wants to go backwards in Europe but nobody wants to jeopardize our treasures either. What should be achieved is a better control of the machine. The EU indeed functions like a big machine nobody really knows how to manage. Nobody *wants* the death of raw milk cheeses, it is just that everybody seems to be caught in a kafkaian structure, between overcomplicated texts, lack of communication, and the ever-present power of lucre no one has really managed to counteract yet.

While some raw milk cheeses may be endangered, I see more raw milk camemberts available in supermarkets (not only chic places like Lafayette Gourmet) than ever before. And certainly many more than back when raw milk cheeses were not supposed to be endangered. There has never been such a wide choice of good-quality food available in Europe; my main concern is that, for the time being, simple good stuff has become rare and expensive, so it is more readily available for rich people. The true perversity of the situation is that a chicken of "normal" quality (i.e. a chicken just the way it should be) has become a luxury item, and a chicken of below-average quality has become the norm. But I hope that eventually, in terms of food production, society will gradually follow the current movement and the quality of "average" food will improve.

Laws and regulations are not written in stone. Once it will become more widely known that raw milk is indeed not the origin or listeriosis but that over-sanitized foods become less germ-resistant, the rules will be adapted accordingly.

Much more serious than the disappearing of a secret cheese formula with the passing away of the druid who made it in his cave is, to me, the legal apparatus actually forbidding the making of some excellent traditional foods or making their production impossible. It is true for cheese production, fruit production, cattle breeding, etc. This is not a necessary evil, it is a deeply inhuman and pervert streak in the EU apparatus, the result of ignorance and laziness, and it needs to be fought. The EU is still trying to define itself, mistakes were inevitable, and any law apparatus of such importance is there to be questioned, adjusted and amended as necessary.

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This is such an interesting debate, and it's hard to know if it is a tempest in a teacup or a real problem. Certainly, in his book "A Goose in Toulouse" Mort Rosenblum addressed the issue of EC regulation, not only on French cheese production but on meat and the retaurant business and a few other agribusinesses. He also addresses things like changing tastes, the difficulty in making money in starred restaurants, market forces and the like. An interesting book for those reading this thread who want another look, albeit one now 5 years old, into this topic. (It's not heavy on analysis, though, or particularly academic in nature, so take that into account).

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It is precisely to combat the erosion of small artisanal food production across Europe and eleswhere that The Slow Food Movement was born. To say that the marketplace will sort everything out based on demand is too simple. This may work for products with wide distribution in which availability and price are not limiting. I'm not so sure that this applies equally well to small production economies. The very act of transforming these products into "competitive" mass market products often ruins them. An example of this to me is Stonyfield Farms yoghurt. The need for consistency of product across the market tends to result in a more innocuous and less interesting product. Smaller producers with a bit of marketing savvy and connections can and many do overcome this. That this is true is a testament to the interest and desire that is out there for these products if they can be had.

All of the above is not to say that the demise of every product that goes to the grave with its producer is tragic :laugh:


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Actually, I think that the infrastucture supporting "modernization" is going to collapse once we pass peak oil production and that this is not going to be too far off.

Agribusiness will not be able to continue in its twentieth century form.


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Actually, I think that the infrastucture supporting "modernization" is going to collapse once we pass peak oil production and that this is not going to be too far off.

Agribusiness will not be able to continue in its twentieth century form.

Well, yeah, if you subscribe to the theory that biodiesel is our next major fuel source.

Any car who's exhaust that smells like French Fries is okay with me, but I think hydrogen fuel cells are problably what we're gonna see instead.


Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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To understand how the EU works to bring food to it's median level, we can move away from health and sanitation. Over French and Belgian objections, the EU in it's wisdom bowed to UK interests and have defined chocolate as a substance that may contain partially hydrogenated plant fats in lieu of cocoa butter. Flavor and quality as may be judged by a connoisseur are often the last to be considered and the first to go when bureaucrats set the standards.

Cheese that has traditionally been made in caves whose walls are permeated with mold, now has to be made in dairies whose walls are tiled and must be hosed down daily. It certainly sounds cleaner, but it's obvious that the molds which came naturally to the cheese now have to be introduced artificially as best they can be isolated. Cheeses whose development has traditionally depended on a certain temperature, now have to kept at a lower temperature to meet regulations. They no longer ripen the same way.

Yes the market will sort it all out. I'm reminded of the story of one of those who fought the bloody religious war to rid the south of France of the Cathars. When asked how the soldiers could tell who was really a Cathar and who was not a heretic, he replied that they should all be killed and let god sort it out. Perhaps the worthy among us will find real cheese in heaven.


Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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To understand how the EU works to bring food to it's median level, we can move away from health and sanitation. Over French and Belgian objections, the EU in it's wisdom bowed to UK interests and have defined chocolate as a substance that may contain partially hydrogenated plant fats in lieu of cocoa butter. Flavor and quality as may be judged by a connoisseur are often the last to be considered and the first to go when bureaucrats set the standards.

Cheese that has traditionally been made in caves whose walls are permeated with mold, now has to be made in dairies whose walls are tiled and must be hosed down daily. It certainly sounds cleaner, but it's obvious that the molds which came naturally to the cheese now have to be introduced artificially as best they can be isolated. Cheeses whose development has traditionally depended on a certain temperature, now have to kept at a lower temperature to meet regulations. They no longer ripen the same way.

Yes the market will sort it all out. I'm reminded of the story of one of those who fought the bloody religious war to rid the south of France of the Cathars. When asked how the soldiers could tell who was really a Cathar and who was not a heretic, he replied that they should all be killed and let god sort it out. Perhaps the worthy among us will find real cheese in heaven.

During the past three weeks we had the opportunity to have conversations with many French people about their upcoming vote on the EU constitution. Of those we encountered, virtually all were planning to vote "No". I, jokingly, proposed a slogan for those opposed: "It's the cheese!" One woman, who argued very intelligently on the necessity to ratify the constitution countered that Americans simply could not understand. She said that culturally the Swiss and the English follow the law, but, paradoxically, were not involved in the ratification. The French, however, she maintained, simply ignore legislation that they do not like. It was her position that by and large the French will go on doing things the way they always have, that officials will simply look the other way as they often have, and that only a minority proportion of producers will actually follow the letter of the EU requirements.

This may be true for very small producers who are working off the books anyway, but not for those with any commercial presence. However, it would be lovely if her analysis were true.


eGullet member #80.

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I agree with her analysis. This is the village where I grew up. Not much has changed there over the decades. It's a Bourgeois village. There are castles, it's mostly made up of locals but a few have a second country home there. I recall the population is around 3000. The local farmers find it worthwhile to bring great produce to the weekly market which is the primary source of produce for the villagers. There is no way that the local police will come down on farmers for not maintaining EU standards. The city of Lyon which is a few minutes away might be another story. Tourists you know. :raz:


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

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While French officials may be willing to look the other way (and I for one pray that they will), do we really want a system where artisanal producers are forced to operate under the regulatory radar?

I don't think that matters such as these are best left to market forces alone, because the markets involved are usually very small and/or vulnerable. It would be a mistake to assume that the products we love (and some we don't) will endure regardless of the pressures imposed on them by regulators or that the general public will always be there to jump in and vigourously protect endangered products.

Artisanal producers need collective voice (to an increasingly larger extent we are seeing more organization; one small example being the various SlowFood presidia). More importantly, regulators should actively encourage the production of local/artisanal products, or at very least not create a climate which makes it more difficult to make them. I think governments can and should play an active role in preserving culturally significant (I know that's a really vague and not terribly useful term, so feel free to come up with a better one :biggrin: ) products.

By the way, one of the products in Slowfood's Ark of Taste (Canadian Red Fife Wheat) has because available at our local farmers' market this week. A small but significant victory?


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

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While French officials may be willing to look the other way (and I for one pray that they will), do we really want a system where artisanal producers are forced to operate under the regulatory radar?

Remember Charles de Gaulle's comment about governing a country with so many cheeses?

I doubt the EU will be sending food police into France unless International incidents want to be cultivated. French officials aren't gonna go looking for law breaking cheese makers. I can see some "pressure" being applied to major retailers to not carry certain products. Hey, more power to farmer's markets and small businesses.

Laws will be amended.


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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I doubt the EU will be sending food police into France unless International incidents want to be cultivated. French officials aren't gonna go looking for law breaking cheese makers. I can see some "pressure" being applied to major retailers to not carry certain products. Hey, more power to farmer's markets and small businesses.

Laws will be amended.

Chefzadi echoes what we have experienced in France. I think that, like the US's present prohibition of importation of all meat products from France, starting, I believe, with a ban on foie gras, the EU statutes will affect people farther from production, and perhaps export, but not those who are fortunate enough to buy locally.


eGullet member #80.

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Chefzadi echoes what we have experienced in France.  I think that, like the US's present prohibition of importation of all meat products from France, starting, I believe, with a ban on foie gras, the EU statutes will affect people farther from production, and perhaps export, but not those who are fortunate enough to buy locally.

But I'm one of those people :sad: ! I like my smelly french cheeses, which I my boulanger brings in weekly.

While draconian regulations might not have a great effect in France (Chefzadi is probably right about the EU food police), I think we have the right to be seriously concerned about the spirit in which such regulations are made.

Maybe the effect of similar legislation is more of a concern in here in North America, where something like raw milk cheese is not so ingrained in local culture and where the CFIA or USDA might actually come and shut you down? I sometimes get worried that one day I'll go to the market and not see the dutchman with his unpasteurized goudas.


Martin Mallet

<i>Poor but not starving student</i>

www.malletoyster.com

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I go along with the "mixed bag" paradigm. On one hand some cheeses are dying out in France while, on the other, young budding food artisans are setting up small goat and coe farms for making cheese. I go along with the belief that France won't become like Switzerland where one no longer produces the raw-milk Vachrin de Fribourg or Mont d'Or. However, it's not an "either-or" situation, at least where I spend my time in France. I don't like any of the affineur-owned cheese shops in the Nice-Cannes area: One keeps his cheese out too long and the other often offers cheeses that haven't been aged long enough. The greed that has permeated the French culinary sector doesn't necessarily stop at the door of food artisans, and just because you can find lots of raw-milk cheeses at the Lafayette Gourmet or Carrefour doesn't mean they are also impeccable, especially when they come already cut and wrapped in cling wrap, and possibly stored and conserved in less-than-ideal conditions.

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The greed that has permeated the French culinary sector doesn't necessarily stop at the door of food artisans, and just because you can find lots of raw-milk cheeses at the Lafayette Gourmet or Carrefour doesn't mean they are also impeccable, especially when they come already cut and wrapped in cling wrap, and possibly stored and conserved in less-than-ideal conditions.

Sounds like market forces at work!


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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While French officials may be willing to look the other way (and I for one pray that they will), do we really want a system where artisanal producers are forced to operate under the regulatory radar?

I don't think that matters such as these are best left to market forces alone, because the markets involved are usually very small and/or vulnerable. It would be a mistake to assume that the products we love (and some we don't) will endure regardless of the pressures imposed on them by regulators or that the general public will always be there to jump in and vigourously protect endangered products. 

Artisanal producers need collective voice (to an increasingly larger extent we are seeing more organization; one small example being the various SlowFood presidia). More importantly, regulators should actively encourage the production of local/artisanal products, or at very least not create a climate which makes it more difficult to make them. I think governments can and should play an active role in preserving culturally significant (I know that's a really vague and not terribly useful term, so feel free to come up with a better one  :biggrin: ) products.

By the way, one of the products in Slowfood's Ark of Taste (Canadian Red Fife Wheat) has because available at our local farmers' market this week. A small but significant victory?

While I think that what you say is valid, my increasing understanding of French socio-economics (and I want to interject here that this understanding is infantile in its scope) causes me to support chefzadi's rationale. At the same time, Mallet, I want to emphasize that you are also completely correct.

The EU regulations will cause producers who engage in the larger or, how shall we say it, the legitimate market, to conform to its rigid regulations. Their produce will become more homogeneous as it conforms to the norm. Those consumers who rely on the larger marketplace or on export will necessarily confront this kind of product from here on. However, those who live in smaller communities where the market is less controlled (or controllable!) may well continue to enjoy the regional products we have come to enjoy; this level of product may well be available to better restaurants and, indeed, through contacts to small affineurs throughout the country and therefore in boutique cheese shops. Extrapolating from this, it will be the export consumer and the domestic consumer who shops in the supermarche who will lose access to the artisanal product as we have known it.

Repeating, this is simply my conjecture.


eGullet member #80.

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However, those who live in smaller communities where the market is less controlled (or controllable!) may well continue to enjoy the regional products we have come to enjoy; this level of product may well be available to better restaurants and, indeed, through contacts to small affineurs throughout the country and therefore in boutique cheese shops

You're not conjecturing too much. Of course neither you nor I are economists. :biggrin:

But if you look at Montmerle where I grew up it's in the Beaujolais where the Rhone and Burgundy converge. Throw a stone in it and look at the expanding circle, the ripples will expand to cover some of the best terroir in France. The neighboring villages are also pretty bourgeois, I say that to mean that consumers have some money to spend on food. Thanks to George du Boeuf and Beaujolais Nouveau (you can say what you want about the quality, hey we drink it in fresh in carafes like it's supposed to be) the local vineyards are not suffering from surplus production like other regions of France. It fuels the local economy and helps us maintain other culinary traditions. So the artisanal farmers have a pretty good size market who have the money and sense of tradition to spend. My parents bought from their parents, I buy from them. About 3000 built in customers in a single village, surrounded by more villages. It's a good place to be an artisanal maker and gentleman farmer.

As much as I love my beautiful Algeria, this is the landscape of my childhood. Okay, I wouldn't swim in the Saone like I did when I was a boy. It's not as clean as it used to be. Some things do change.


I can be reached via email chefzadi AT gmail DOT com

Dean of Culinary Arts

Ecole de Cuisine: Culinary School Los Angeles

http://ecolecuisine.com

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