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  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A PELARDON STORY

 

In France, all cheese is local, but rarely do we actually taste it in the ‘hood’ where it was made.  When I order a goat cheese salad in the town of Uzès near the Pont du Gard, I know I will be served a creamy white disk of Pelardon.  If it came from the farm of Mme. Gueit, I can even picture the faces of the alpine goats from whose milk it was made.  I’ve been there and met them!  

Like many other wonderful foods in France Pelardon’s rich, picante flavor is protected by law.  In 2000 the French government recognized its distinctive character and awarded it AOC status.  This designation specifies the regional boundaries and production practices that must be followed in order for a cheese to bear the Pelardon name.  (Are there cheese police out there?)

 

 That said, there have to be small flavor differences among Pelardon.  As a raw milk cheese it is literally alive with microbes that modify its flavor over time. Changes in temperature and humidity play a role, and each farm has a slightly different microclimate.  Pelardon isn’t just produced, it’s created.  The French like it that way. 

To observe the cheesemaking process close-up my culinary tour group visited Mme. Gueit’s farm in the rugged foothills of the Park of the Cévannes thirty minutes north of Uzès last month.  We were met by Mme. Gueit at the entrance to the large barn on the property where several dozen goats were quietly eating a breakfast of organic hay.  A few curious goats wandered over to greet us. They were attractive, social animals who twisted their heads through the bars of a metal barrier so that we could rub their muzzles scratch behind their ears.

We covered our shoes with paper slippers before entering the small fromagerie across from the barn.  Milk is piped in here from a raised walkway in the barn where the goats are mechanically milked twice a day.  Milk is divided among plastic containers and a coagulant is added.  Within hours milk curds separate from the liquid whey which is carefully drained off before the solids are ladled into molds.

 

The molds are minutely porous and whey continues to drain.  Within two days the curds take on the definitive shape of the Pelardon.  Released from their molds the cheese is ready to eat as fresh cheese.  Most rounds will begin the aging process under Mme. and her staff ‘s watchful gaze.

    

The maturing of goat cheese is easier to comprehend in a fromagerie where there are a full range of examples to observe.   Older cheeses take on a yellow cast and shrink slightly as they are moved back and forth on racks between two small rooms.  One room is humid the other is less so.  Both are cool and smell of the surrounding damp stone walls which must offer some interesting microorganisms of their own to the air.  Mme. Gueit demonstrated textural changes, lifting one then another disk to show us how the cheese first becomes firmer, then later softens and then develops a creamy layer beneath a thin crust. 

I purchased five Pelardons at the farm for us to sample with a glass or wine and bread later that day.  Each exemplified a different stage in the aging process from the freshly drained cheese to a two month old Pelardon that was noticeably shrunken and beginning to show signs of mold on the surface.  Some French “specialists” as Mme. called them prefer this very aged cheese.  Judging by the appearance of the serving plate after our tasting, I would say that my American friends liked the fresher, milder cheeses more than the older examples. 

Visits to artisan producers of local cheese, wine and olive oil in Provence are a special feature of Chez Madelaine's tours in France.  If you would like to see for yourself how goat cheese is made and haven’t yet met a friendly goat, join us on next year’s Provence Odyssey.  Specific information about the September 2018 tour will be available soon.  Enrollment is on a first come, first served basis. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

HUNGARIAN GREEN BEAN SOUP

 

 

 

 

My father lived as an American citizen for more than five decades, but his appetite stayed firmly attached to the cuisine of his native Hungary.  He passed on pizza, hamburgers, French fries and remained faithful to the flavors of pork fat, sour cream and paprika his entire life.   

My mother tried her best to please him with a diet of meat and potatoes à la Indianapolis, her home town. Much later, I would drive to Chicago's only Hungarian butcher on the far north side to purchase fresh blood sausage and other cuts of meat we had enjoyed on a family trip to Budapest in 1985.  I learned to prepare his favorite dishes, but my heart wasn't in it.

 A search in my Hungarian cookbooks for something healthful left me feeling trapped in a culinary time warp.  How was I going to make a meal that was both easily digestible and consistent with a cuisine that boiled and blanketed vegetables in a heavy white sauce?  Even Hungarian salad recipes produced sad, limp layers of sliced cucumbers swimming in flavorless oil, vinegar and sugar dressing.  

 

 

 

The late, great Gourmet Magazine came to my rescue one summer when it published a chilled green bean soup that proved Hungarian cuisine could shake off its heavy winter coat to reveal a sleek, shapely figure.   What set this soup apart from others was the way its delicate balance of sweet and sour flavors complemented the beans. The recipe included the obligatory cup of sour cream, but its richness was muted and welcome in this water-based soup. The beans, cooked al dente, offered a satisfying crunch.

This clean, elegant formula with its refreshing taste, as you may imagine, has made it a family favorite.  Now my father's great-grandchildren enjoy it every summer.  I consider it my contribution to our culinary heritage.

 

 

LINK TO HUNGARIAN GREEN BEAN SOUP RECIPE

 

  • Written by Madelaine Bullwinkel

A YARD TO TABLE STORY

 

 Chances are slim that you will someday buy a house with its own cherry tree. How many of us have even asked a realtor to find us a house with a fruit tree in the front yard?  I guess we were just lucky.  

To be honest, I had mixed feelings when I first appraised our unexpected bonus last August.  This cherry tree had grown up as wild as an unrestrained child.  Branches sprouted at odd angles and tangled in the electric lines.  I was relieved to see an abundance of last season’s shrunken, unpicked cherries on all these willful boughs.  This hopeful sign dimmed when the tree unexpectedly shed its leaves well ahead of the others leaving a bristling silhouette in an otherwise green landscape.  I was embarrassed for it.

To my relief our cherry tree came to life early this spring in a profusion of leaves and blossoms.  Nature cleverly saw to it that each delicate blossom quietly and efficiently pollinated itself.  It was only when the small green peas that replaced the flowers matured two weeks later into bright red fruit did everyone suddenly notice the bountiful cherry tree in our front yard. 

 I had no trouble recruiting a team of underage cherry pickers in the form of our granddaughters for whom this sort of labor is fun.   I’m guessing they ate as many of the sweet fruits as they picked.  I didn’t complain, and neither did they when it came time to pit the cherries by hand for their individual cherry tarts. (That recipe is still classified.  Another time.)

This is the point where I direct you to a cherry jam recipe in my newly reprinted cookbook Artisanal Preserves.  Except there are only recipes for sour cherries in the book not sweet ones.  Never mind.  I went ahead and created a new recipe.  I will walk you through the process.

All cherries have very little pectin, the component in fruit that creates a gel when sugar is added.  Rather than add a high pectin fruit to the cherry puree as I did in the sour cherry recipes, I took a simpler route.  I made a jam of thicken cherry pulp and sugar.

There still is the question of how much sugar to add and how long to cook the jam.   I knew that if I were making a fruit gel, I would add the same volume sugar as fruit.  Since these cherries are already sweet, I guesstimated they would need only half that much sugar.  It's also true that appearance and consistency of jam determines the cooking time.  It’s differs slightly each time. Instead of giving an exact length of time, I describe how to test the jam’s thickness in the recipe.  

My first batch of cherry jam was tasty but not quite as interesting as I had hoped.  I added a small amount of almond extract the second time and was very satisfied.  Click on the title under the photo for the link to the recipe.  Cherries are still in the grocery and reasonably priced at the end of the season.  Enjoy!

 Sweet Cherry Jam with whipped cream and a Cornmeal Muffin (Artisanal Preserves, pg. 164)

Sweet Cherry Jam Recipe

Purchase your copy of Artisanal Preserves