Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cheese-Tasting Tour

With all the Cheese Clubs, Cookbook Clubs, patisserie tastings, and buche de noel comparisons, I thought it was time to learn some more about French cheese. Given the generosity of Books for Cooks East Bay, I had a gift certificate to Come to Paris which has a listing of some food-related tours. I will admit, I was Skeptical, unsure of what 'my money' would get me, and I had been many times already to the Marche D'Aligre, but I do want to know more about cheese, so I chose one devoted to cheese tasting, and quickly realized how wrong I was.

Now, I'll spout my compliments on the website so that Claude gets her due, but she was awesome. First of all, the other two people on the tour were her parents, in for town from Ottawa for the holidays, and they were such fun! Then, despite the fact that the owner of the cheese shop wasn't there (he picks up cheese on Wednesdays), and the new person who helped us wasn't as gushing as I take it Jerome usually is, Claude walked us through a reminder of the seven types of cheese and we tasted a few to compare: Comte 15 mos and one much older (maybe 24?), the one that's washed in walnut liqueur from the place that begins with an E (why didn't I take notes?), a nice pressed goat and another cow made in an Abbey, similar to Reblochon. The fromager told us the most popular cheeses sold (Reblochon, Camembert, Comte, Roquefert) and we walked out with a few more stories under our belt {tip: to sound like a connoisseur when ordering cheese in a restaurant, and you see Livarot, ask for le colonel, in reference to the four stripes of leaf on its side}.

We then went on to Le Baron Rouge, a wine bar I had heard much about but never gone to where the wine comes out of barrels straight into an unmarked, be-starred green glass bottle with many bio options. Off to the organic boulangerie for a crusty baguette and back to Claude's fabulous loft to make a three course cheese lunch. I was in I'm-so-glad-I-don't-really-work-and-can-do-this heaven.

We started with a fresh goat cheese mixed with herbs from Claude's balcony and layered with a quick sun-dried tomato mixture that went into the broiler and came out melting. In the meantime, we were prepping the components of blue cheese souffles with red pepper compote - slicing the red peppers, separating the eggs, buttering the ramekins. I will admit publicly - I have on my list of things to accomplish before 2008 (yup, there's a rouge list on the bathroom mirror) to make a souffle - and here I was doing this twice-baked easy recipe. Before we even dug into these melted creations, we sampled some banon (wrapped in chestnut leaves) and a gorgeously triple-cremed saint felicien. (I was partial to the latter, still trying to fight the fact that I prefer less strong cheese, although I fully appreciate both).

To finish, Claude had prepared some coeurs a la creme with raspberry confiture that were so good I had to put my spoon down half-way through to not beat everyone to the cleanest plate. I have always wanted to make these as well - so off I will go this week to buy the porcelain needed to do so.

And yet, I'm saving the best for last - next to our egg cups filled with goat cheese and sun dried tomato paste, we had a beautiful salad dressed in Claude's own vinaigrette, and when I say 'own vinaigrette' I am saying her own vinegar. I knew it was fairly easy to start your own 'mother', but I just had never done it, so how thrilled am I to be staring at my own hefty half jam jar filled with a piece of the thing! Off I'll go this week to find the exact stoneware container one needs to let it breathe and grow, but I was so excited to walk home through the Viaduct des Arts with the mother in my purse! I love her already.

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