27 August 2011

Produzione Artigianale di Formaggio...Handwerks-Käseproduktion

We were fortunate enough to be invited to take a private tour of a very small producer of raw milk cheese.  At 900 meters of elevation in the incredibly scenic Italian Dolomites, they raise nine cows to produce 40000 liters of milk per year.  The cows are sent up into the mountain pastures for 1 1/2 months to graze on the fabulously lush green grasslands then they are sheltered and fed the dried grass that is carefully cultivated in every pasture available.

According to Herr Landwirt/Signore Coltivatore, the grey cows give 5000 to      6000 liters of milk a year and the black and white cows give 11000 liters of milk per year. but the black and white cows will only give milk for 3 to 4 years and then I suppose they become that week's beef special at the local market.

The raw milk is used to make a variety of different cheeses including ricotta, mozzarella and herbed hard cheeses.  

Herr/Signore was in the process of making a batch when we visited.  He makes cheese twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays using 250 liters of raw milk each time.  The milk is gently heated to 32.3C using indirect solar heat and a culture is added and let rest for 20 minutes to begin the curdling process.  A wire comb is pulled through the vat for 30 minutes to break up the curds and keep them from becoming too solid.  

The next step is to drain off the liquid.  This liquid contains no fat and can be used to make ricotta or fromage frais or to bathe in to keep your skin dewy soft...personally I would stick to spreading the fromage frais on my brot/pane.

From the 250 liters of milk he processed this day, 30 cheese molds were formed.  Each mold was turned and pressed four times over an hour to completely drains off the whey.

The cheese is then held at 15C and 80% humidity until ready for market.  The oldest cheese that he had in his cooling room was made in February 2011.
 Herr/Signore and son proudly offered us a tasting of a local white wine along with the many varied types of cheeses that they make.  Just as with bread making, it is completely amazing the different textures and tastes that you can achieve from the same basic ingredients and process.

22 August 2011

You Just Need to Get Over It!

OK let's put it out there straight!  The toilets in parts of Europe...Italy, Spain, France especially...are for the most part totally revolting to a clean freak!!  I would hazard a guess that most Americans...well the female persuasion at least...would choose to go nature potty over using these sad pathetic excuses for a toilet.

But in order to be able to gaze on the incredibly beautiful cities of Europe, you just have to release all your notions about cleanliness, smells and public toilets being fit to share.  Think of it as your war story to share at home.  Doesn't it just reinforce the notion that America is so far above these countries because at least our restrooms smell like the mountain fresh air...albeit chemically produced and dangerous to the environment and small children's brains??  Maybe all Americans should be required to tuck a can of Glade along with their passport and money pouch.

But I do confess that in all of my years in Europe and all of my many, many, many journeys to the WC, I have yet to truly master the infernal Turkish toilet.  I mean seriously how are you supposed to even use this thing without collateral damage??

Turkish Toilet
 The new popular public WC in France is this piece of engineering magnificence in the pictures below...I must say that these toilets are a huge leap forward from the Turkish toilets, but for a woman, the skier's squat is still a necessary skill to perfect before visiting Europe...that or never straying from the clean freak countries (you know who you are...Germany, Switzerland and Austria!!)

Bon courage, but really...you just need to get over it!!

WC at the grocery store LeClerc

WC in a rest stop in Italy

Truth in Advertising

Appreciation of the taste with time...

I just have to say that every time I brush my teeth, this makes me laugh!  Talk about truth in advertising!!  We use this toothpaste that our dentist suggested. It has a base of baking soda and very little to cover the flavor of it.  I admit that it even makes me gag if I brush too early in the morning!  But the darn stuff works...so I guess I will stay with the face on the left, but keep on brushing!!

20 August 2011

Road Trip!!!!

 In August, every French family is required by law to get into their car and drive somewhere.  Additionally, all law abiding Dutch and German families with children - couples without children are allowed to wait until September for their migration - are asked to join in this pilgrimage to the sun, sea and fun by  packing every last item they own into their camping cars and station wagons and drive as far away from their homelands as possible. 

Everyone meets for this annual migration on the autoroutes of the south of France.  The A7 and A9 become parking lots for the weekends of August.

So now that we feel quite at home here in the south of France, we decided to do right by our adopted country and take an August road trip.  Thinking we would be clever and contrary and miss all of the traffic, we decided to meet Mike's parents in the Italian Dolomites.  As the rest of the world was migrating south, we would be breezing past them on the northern route. 

We left at the crack of dawn...with two teenagers this translates to 7 ish....and gleefully noted the already heavy traffic on the southbound lanes of the A9.  In spite of the fact that we decided to drive right on the days of the most traffic for the entire summer, we were able to sneak out of town and up through Valence  well before the northern migration had time to even rouse itself from the final night of their summer in the sun. 

We decided to stop off in Annecy before heading to a one night stand in the French Alps. 



As evidenced by these photos, Annecy is very beautiful but we also found the beauty to be tucked into certain corners or buried in the midst of some serious urban spread.  Between the crowds, traffic and an awful lot of modern ugliness in architecture, we were happy to check it off our list of must-see towns and moved on towards Italy.

18 August 2011

Our Little Travel Companion

Jazzy has to be the absolute best travel companion!  He pulls the most attention wherever we go...we meet people that we would never meet...He gets even the stuffiest people to melt into smiles...and  he never gets grumpy, hot, hungry, tired, hormonal or bored!!

Le Jardin des Sens

In celebration of our 19 years, we decided to indulge ourselves at Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier. This starred restaurant did not fail to please and over-satiate our appetites!!

Our mouths were more than amused by the four amuse-bouches that were served with our rosé champagne in the garden area.  Nibbles of parmesan shortbreads, chèvre filled choux, cubes of foie gras dipped in crème fraiche and a verrine of something pink, cool and delicious with a caviar on top.

The dining room was a large sloped three tiered glass enclosed garden room with an entrance down the center.  You felt as if all eyes were suddenly on you as you made your way down the catwalk.  Black jacketed servers flowed effortlessly through the room as if choreographed.  Hands were never empty.  Eyes searching for the empty glass.  

The plates glided on and off our table magically and the hours passed in slow motion through a fog of perfectly arranged masterpieces.  The amount of courses became completely comical with the three courses of desserts.  When the server brought us empty plates, our faces must have registered disbelief at the possibility of more food.  She laughed before reassuring us that they were merely for the coffee service and no more food would be coming our way.

The creativity and ingenuity of the chefs continue to astound us.  Le filet de turbot  rôti, lasagne de calamar façon « gardianne »au caviar d’aubergine, fricassée de mousserons de pays dans leur jus was our favorite course and the incredible number of different flavors that exploded in our mouths from this small but exquisitely prepared dish amazed us.  To imagine the attention to the subtile tastes and smells and textures and colors of food that it takes to produce such works of art astounds me!



La salade pressée de homard aux oignons doux, gaspacho de melon,
roulé de légumes croquants, tuile au vinaigre.

Le filet de turbot rôti, lasagne de calamar façon « gardianne »
au caviar d’aubergine, fricassée de mousserons de pays dans leur jus.

Les filets de pigeon rôtis sur l’os, sa cuisse en ballottine glacée au banyuls,
compote de pommes à la vanille, poêlée de champignons, jus façon « bécasse ».

La sélection de fromages affinés.

Le pre-dessert
Gourmandises et petits fours.

Les fraises de pays, crumble à la noisette,
sorbet et coulis fraise basilic.

Sphère de chocolat lacté coulant,
crème légère aux fruits de la passion et son sorbet mousseux.

Et finalement.....