Cep (Porcini) mushroom
Black truffle of Perigord
Mussels are small molluscs with shells ranging in color from dark blue or black to brown on the outside and pearly silver on the inside. While there are many species of mussels, generally only marine mussels are consumed, the most commonly eaten varieties being the blue or common mussel, the Mediterranean mussel and the New Zealand mussel. The small, dark blue common mussel is fished or farmed in the Atlantic ocean, the northern Pacific ocean, the English Channel and the North Sea. The larger Mediterranean mussel is cultivated along the Mediterranean coast as well as the south-western coast of Europe. The New Zealand mussel is cultivated along the coastlines of New Zealand. Spain leads the way in European mussel production while Canada is the main producer in North America, and China holds the title of largest producer of mussels in the world.
While mussels can be either harvested or fished, most of the mussels that find their way to our plates are of the farmed type, also known as mussel culture. There are three different methods for cultivating mussels: on ropes, in seed beds and on wood pilings (intertidal growth technique). Rope cultivation is done by suspending seeded lengths of rope in the water whereas the seed bed method, also used in oyster cultivation, is less used. The intertidal method consists of growing mussels on wood pilings planted into the ocean floor, partially submerged. This technique, practiced along the Atlantic coast and the English Channel, produces small, fleshy, tasty mussels that are particularly appreciated for their good quality. The «Moules de Bouchots de la Baie du Mont Saint-Michel» was the first in its category to be awarded the AOP label (Appellation d’Origine Protégée). Furthermore, mussels cultivated using the intertidal technique will soon be labeled “Guaranteed Traditional Specialty” (« Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie" or STG in French), a European hallmark of character and quality.
Mussels are at their best between the months of July and January, whereas during the period of February to May they tend to have a milky aspect. They are most often consumed in cooked dishes; however they can also be eaten raw. Among the many different ways to prepare them: «à la marinière » (with white wine, shallots and parsley), in cream sauce, « en mouclade » (with a butter-flour mixture and curry spices), stuffed, gratin-style, in omelets, on skewers or even fried.
The pear belongs to the botanical family Rosaceae, or the rose family. It is oblong in shape; its skin can be yellow, green or red covering tender, succulent flesh. It is a particularly fragile fruit so too much handling should be avoided. It oxidizes rapidly once peeled so it is advisable to douse it with lemon juice when working with the raw fruit, in the same way as with an apple. A pear continues to ripen after it has been harvested, and should be harvested before reaching full maturity in order to fully appreciate it.
There are a great number of different pear varieties, such as Williams, Doyenne de Comice, (commonly known as ‘Comice’) and Conference, all of varying shapes and colors for specific uses in both sweet and savory preparations. Pears can be found year round in France, in autumn, Beurre Hardy, Conference and Comice should be favored, and in winter, Angelys and Passe Crassane. The Williams pear, harvested in summer, is the main variety used in canning and preserving in syrup and also in the production of eau de vie and liqueurs.
The pear lends itself well to dessert making with desserts such as the famous Charlotte or Pears Belle Helene, a well known French classic combining a pear poached in syrup with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Pears may also be enjoyed poached in wine, caramelized, or in a sorbet, mousse or compote. They are a perfect match for chocolate, as in the recipe Chocolate and Caramelized Pear Tart. The pear also has its place in savory recipes, particularly in sweet and sour combinations such as an accompaniment to meat or in the form of chutney.
The cep (porcini) mushroom is synonymous with autumn and widespread in Bordeaux-style cuisine.
Cep (Porcini) mushroom is characterized by a firm white stalk, and a wide, dark brown cap that can grow up to 30 centimeters in diameter. Cep mushrooms possess a nutty flavor and are one of the most prized by mushroom gatherers the world over. A number of varieties exist such as the bronzed cep, summer cep and the Bordeaux cep.
This variety is best used while very fresh because they deteriorate quickly after being picked. Purchasing dried porcini is very common. When using the dried variety, ensure that they remain fragrant. If the dried variety is dry and crumbly, they will most likely be old and flavorless.
Porcini are prized for their versatility in cuisine: They can be eaten uncooked in a salad, stuffed, grilled, in a casserole or a flan. In Bordeaux, where the cep is a local delicacy, it is often cooked just with oil and garlic or parsley.
The chestnut is a fruit with a shiny brown casing that comes from the sweet chestnut tree. It is surrounded by a thick husk with long, sharp, needle-like spikes.
Unlike other nuts, chestnuts have high starch and water content but low levels of protein and fat. Chestnuts are a staple food in Corsica, the Massif Central and some areas of northern Italy and Sardinia. The Dordogne, Lozère, Ardèche and Corsica are the main chestnut producing areas of France.
Chestnuts are extremely versatile. They can be roasted before being peeled and eaten. They can be cooked and candied, known in France as “marrons glacés” or used cooked and purred to form a cream. They can be peeled and then cooked in a variety of ways and used as an accompaniment for a variety of vegetable dishes. They are also used to make chestnut flour.
Internationally renowned as one of the best French cheeses, Normandy is proud of its Camembert. In 1983, Camembert was given not only AOC status, a symbol of quality in France, but also AOP status, a symbol of quality in Europe. AOC Camembert is produced in 5 departments in Normandy; Calvados, Orne, Manche, Eure and Seine Maritime. Available year round, Camembert is made from unpasteurized cow’s milk; it is hand-ladled and has a soft center and a white mold crust. It is thanks to the quality of the milk produced by Normandy cows that this cheese is so remarkable.
A good Camembert should give off a delicate slightly moldy smell, be perfectly round in shape, soft and creamy yellow in the middle with a thin white mold crust which is slightly marked, referred to as “rust” (red pigmentation).
In Normandy, Camembert is traditionally eaten neither too firm, nor too soft but somewhere between these two extremes but it is really a question of personal taste. In a specialist cheese shop more flavorsome and inventive Camembert’s can be found such as Camembert with cider or with Calvados.
Camembert is often found on French cheese platters and also in picnic baskets. Camembert has become increasingly popular in recent years with cuisine Chefs in recipes such as breaded Camembert, Camembert fritter, or Camembert in puff pastry for example. Chefs particularly appreciate combining Camembert with apple as in our recipe of the month!
Garlic is a bulbous plant from Central Asia which is used as an aromatic element in the culinary world. It is the most pungent and spicy member of the bulb family, but the flavor sweetens and mellows when cooked.
The bulbs, commonly known as "heads of garlic" hold several cloves which have a thin white or pink skin. The bulb itself is covered with several skins, which can be of different colors.
Garlic can be harvested either "green" or "dry". Green garlic or new season's garlic is harvested at the beginning of May and sold within 24 hours. Dry garlic - the most commonly used garlic - is harvested from mid-June but only sold at the end of July, giving it time to dry.
Garlic, like olive oil, is an emblematic ingredient of Provençal cuisine. It is used to great effect in aïoli, a dipping sauce made from crushed garlic, egg yolk and olive oil - not to be confused with grand aïoli, a Provençal dish consisting of salt cod and vegetables served with aïoli.
Yeast is a microscopic mushroom that accomplishes fermentation by producing enzymes and is used as a leavening agent in a variety of types of dough. Fermentation is the process by which yeast reacts with sugars transforming them into carbon dioxide gas and alcohol. The dough then rises due to the gas that is trapped inside. These gases must be retained in the product until the structure is set enough to hold its shape. The alcohol evaporates completely during and immediately after baking.
Yeast is available in two principal forms: fresh (compressed) and active dry. Compressed yeast is generally preferred by professional bakers. An exact measurement of leavening agents is important because small changes can produce major defects in baked products. Yeast is a living organism and, as such, it is sensitive to temperature.
As springtime steadily approaches, seasonal ingredients start to appear in French markets. However, they will only be available for a few months, and so it's a great idea to make the very best of them. Asparagus is one of the ingredients that marks the start of the warmer months, and May is the perfect time to enjoy all of the different varieties of this vegetable that France has to offer.
Though there are different types of asparagus -- white, green, purple and even red – they are all essentially the same, but each type is grown in a different way. If grown underground, the asparagus will be white. Once the tip emerges from the earth, it will turn purple. If the asparagus is grown above ground with access to sunlight, it will turn green.
Green asparagus is grown in the South of France, and has a strong, slightly sweet flavor. In the town of Pertuis in Provence, growing asparagus has been a tradition since the 19th century. Green Pertuis asparagus is recognized as being one of the best asparagus varieties. A large amount of green asparagus is grown in the Languedoc and around Toulouse, and wild asparagus is also found in the South, particularly in the Cévennes and Pyrenees regions. Wild asparagus looks very elegant on a plate, and is often served as a garnish.
White asparagus, a specialty grown in the Center and Landes regions, has a delicate nutty flavor that is slightly more bitter than that of green asparagus. Its texture is firmer and it is covered with a thick fibrous outer layer which should be removed before eating. “Asperge des Sables” (literally “asparagus from the sand”) from the Landes region has I.G.P (“Protected Geographical Status”) status, and is one of the most well-known varieties of the vegetable. Its white color and tightly closed bud make it easy to recognize. Argenteuil, a town in the Ile-de-France region, was also part of the history of this illustrious vegetable, which used to be grown in the town's vineyards in abundance. Argenteuil asparagus spears are thick and white with a pale pink tip. Today, urban development has meant that the town no longer produces asparagus, but the vegetable is still grown in more rural areas, and has kept its name. The name is also used for certain dishes containing asparagus, such as Argenteuil French-style scrambled eggs or Argenteuil asparagus soup.
Asparagus of all colors is classically boiled or steamed in a bundle; however it is going to be served. It makes the perfect appetizer; white asparagus is served with a mousseline sauce, and green asparagus is served with vinaigrette. The spears can be added to a salad or served as a garnish with meat and fish.
The origin of chocolate dates back to ancient civilizations and, before becoming food for human consumption, chocolate was considered the food of the Gods
The first people to cultivate cocoa trees were the Mayas. The beans were grilled, ground and heated. The cocoa liquor that resulted was mixed with water to produce a bitter tasting beverage. Following the decline of the Mayan civilization, the Aztecs continued to cultivate cocoa -- which they valued as highly as gold - adding sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and honey. The resulting beverage called “xocolatl” was renowned for being nourishing, and fortifying.
In 1502 Christopher Columbus became the first European to discover cocoa beans after being given them as a gift by the natives of the Island of Guanaja (In the Caribbean). He did not realize the importance of his discovery.
The cultivation of cocoa started in Mexico. From there it was established in the Caribbean, moving on to South America and then onto the African Continent in 1822 following the European colonization.
In Europe, several innovations occurred in 1875: Henry Nestlé invented powdered milk and Tobler used this discovery to produce his version of milk chocolate. Lindt created the « conchage » process which increased flavor and smoothness.
The Burgundy vineyard, which covers an area 250 km long by 30 km wide, is found in the east of France, to the north of Chablis and to the south of Maçonnais.
Composed mainly of south and south-east facing valleys and slopes on a predominantly clay-limestone soil, the domains are generally small and embedded in family tradition. The savoir-faire of winemakers has been passed from generation to generation and is recognized in France as a national treasure.
Today, the importance of terroir in Burgundy is still seen as a model for vineyards across the world. The delineation of vineyards into unique terroirs known as climats dates back to medieval times when monasteries played a major role in the development of the Burgundy wine industry. This system is still in place today with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir the undisputed King and Queen of 100 appellations.
Burgundy wines are amongst the most prestigious on earth. This fact is all the more incredible when we consider that a single grape variety is able to produce balanced, almost perfect wine such as the famous Romanée-Conti or the exceptional Montrachet.
Burgundy is a magic combination of geology, climate and know-how and a model of identity and authenticity that winemakers throughout the world seek to copy.
Situated to the east of the Ile de France region, Champagne is one of the regions of France which produces a highly refined sparkling wine with world renown.
The pressed clear juice is traditionally tanked and undergoes an initial alcoholic fermentation. Once the wine is ready, the cuvée is created by blending different still wines produced in the Champagne Appellation. Different years, grape varieties and vineyards can be blended in order to create a quality wine, year in year out, in a style that is unique to each Champagne house. Once the famous “liqueur de tirage” (sugar and yeast) has been added, the bottles are hermetically sealed, laid down horizontally in a cellar and undergo a second fermentation producing the bubbles that are so sought after.
The bottles are stored horizontally for a minimum of 15 months or 3 years for vintage Champagne: This is when the bubbles develop. Other processes allow for the extraction of yeast deposits and the addition (just before the final cork stopper is inserted) of a “liqueur de dosage” made up of wine and sugar which will result in dry or not so dry Champagne. Depending on the amount of sugar added, the Champagne will be Ultra brut, Brut, Dry, Medium or Sweet.
Champagne is synonymous with special occasions, and is traditionally opened to celebrate an event. It is also widely enjoyed as an aperitif, either alone or as a "kir royal", when a fruit liqueur or cream is added. It can also be served with dessert if it is medium or sweet. Champagne can "Blanc de Blancs" (from Chardonnay alone), vintage or special cuvée; there is a bottle to suit every occasion. Nowadays, both cuisine and pastry chefs use champagne in recipes to give a distinctive flavor to dishes and desserts: sorbets, mousses, sabayons and sauces, etc...
« Champagne is to wine what haute couture is to fashion »
There are 70 varieties of truffle in the world of varying size, shape and color.
The word truffle comes from the Latin word “Tuber” which means outgrowth. Truffle is a fungus which lives below ground level although fairly near the surface and in most cases at no more than 30 cm in depth. It is particularly predominant around certain species of tree in particular the oak tree and, being neither grown, nor planted appears spontaneously.
The growth cycle of a truffle generally begins in spring (sometime between April and June depending on climatic conditions) and lasts for 9 months. Around August the truffle encounters a period of rapid growth; summer storms and the warmth encourage rapid multiplication of the cells that make up the truffle. In this very short period of time (around 10 days) the weight of the truffle is determined. October marks the end of the truffle growth period and as of November the truffles begin to ripen but will not be ready to be collected until sometime between December and February when they have fully ripened and give off their unique odor.
Today, pigs or dogs are still used to find truffles as they can easily pick up the delicate truffle odor. If the truffles are not ready then the ground is recovered so the truffles can continue to ripen.
The black truffle is a rare and treasured delicacy and the most prized in France is that of Périgord. Known as the "black diamond", it is one of the star products of the Périgord region. Undoubtedly the most flavorsome of the existing varieties of truffle, it is used in both dishes from the Périgord region and the rest of France. Nowadays its name does not guarantee that it originates from Perigord as it can be found in a number of other areas in France and even in Italy and Spain but it keeps the botanic name “Black truffle of Perigord” which forged its reputation.
Truffles can be eaten either raw or cooked. They are often used simply to add flavor for example to oil. A variety of other products exist such as paste and sauces which have the advantage of bringing the delicate truffle flavor to a dish at a moderate price. It is said however that a true truffle connoisseur will only eat the truffle whole, either raw or cooked, but with little accompaniment.
Foie gras is a jewel in the French culinary world’s crown. Eaten on special occasions, it is traditionally found at Christmas and New Year parties served either cold or hot depending on individual taste.
Goose or duck?
Choosing foie gras
Choosing foie gras can also depend on the weight required. Goose foie gras generally weighs between 600 and 900g, and duck foie gras between 400 and 600g. Goose foie gras can even reach 1 kg and, occasionally, even more and duck foie gras can reach up to 700g. One should however be wary of foie gras which is overly heavy, even if it looks okay, as the cells may be fragile and break up during cooking releasing all the fat.
Raspberries are small fruits, roughly 2 cm in size, pink-red or yellow in color and grow on raspberry bushes.
They are sweet, full of perfume and slightly acidic. Raspberries are low in calories, rich in pectin and the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium and iron. Raspberries can be grown in the open or in greenhouses. The latter can be found on French markets from April, whereas those grown in the open are only available from mid June to October. There are numerous varieties of raspberries but they are grouped into two categories: “ever” bearing and summer-bearing. Yellow raspberries are more difficult to find than the red but are just as sweet. There is also the loganberry, a hybrid variety of American origin which is a cross between a raspberry and a blackberry. Much bigger and darker than raspberries, loganberries are available in autumn. The horticulturist James Harvey Logan created the fruit by accident during the 1880s whilst trying to develop a new variety of blackberry. Instead of crossing two blackberry plants he crossbred one blackberry and one raspberry plant, thus creating this variety.
The biggest raspberry producer in the world is Russia. Eastern countries in general, such as Serbia, Poland or Hungary, are main producers. France ranks 10th in the world and 6th in Europe. The Rhône-Alps region produces 1/3 of France’s raspberries.
Raspberries are fragile and must be handled delicately. Once picked, they do not ripen and do not keep for a long time. To conserve them, they must be put in syrup or eau-de-vie, a fruit brandy. They freeze well, allowing chefs to use them throughout the year.
Raspberries can be used to create various recipes, including jam, coulis, syrup, jelly, compotes, shaped fruit jelly, raspberry seed oil, or even liqueurs and eau-de-vie. Chefs like to use them in their recipes, especially in tarts, entremets, ice creams, sorbets or charlottes. French pastry shops often offer individual raspberry-based desserts in their shop windows, like tartlets, macaroons or shortbread biscuits. Nevertheless, raspberry lovers enjoy them just as they are or sprinkled with sugar.
In France, the tomato was originally called “the apple of love” or “golden apple” and, for a long time, was a victim of its bad reputation. Originating from North-West and South America, the pre-Columbian civilizations cultivated the tomato which was introduced to Europe as a result of the Spanish conquests in the XVI century. The Europeans were very suspicious of the tomato and it was initially considered to be toxic. Its use, therefore, was initially limited to decorative or medicinal purposes or quite simply to keep mosquitoes at bay. It wasn’t until the XVIII century that the tomato became a source of interest in cuisine. From this moment, the tomato’s development became widespread, it is now cultivated worldwide and its culinary uses are endless.
The tomato is one of the most cultivated fruits in the world and comes second only to the potato in terms on consumption. The wealth of varieties makes it a common and recurring ingredient in many dishes. As a result of eating only the most well know varieties
When choosing tomatoes freshness is, with all varieties, the key: The tomatoes should be firm, fleshy, shiny and with no wrinkles or cracks. In France, tomatoes can be found year round. From March to October the majority are French varieties whereas the rest of the year tomatoes are mainly imported from the Southern Mediterranean where the journey can slightly destroy the flavor. Tomatoes are very nutritional: high water content, low calorie content and full of mineral and vitamins. The tomato is therefore an excellent ingredient for summer dishes, a time during which the tomato is at its freshest and full of flavor.
The tomato is delicious in it’s simplicity when eaten raw, quartered and simply sprinkled with a little fine “fleur de sel” sea salt, or even whole as an aperitif using the huge variety of vine-ripened cherry tomatoes. Today, the top chefs are able to transform the tomato with mastery. It is perfect as a base for a sauce, flavorsome in a jus or a gazpacho, indulgent in jams and marmalades, refreshing in a granita or sorbet, surprising in a vinegar, modern in a jelly, simple in a salad and full of Mediterranean flavors when candied, sun-dried or oven-roasted. Traditionally used in savory dishes, the tomato has, over the last few years, become more and more used for its sweet flavor
The “Gariguette” is a medium-size, elongated and red-orange colored strawberry, with a sweet but acid taste. The flesh is firm to the touch but fondant and juicy in the mouth, and genuinely appeals to those who appreciate good foods.
This is one of the varieties the most sold in France, and it is also the most precocious. In France, the full season is from May to June, but we find this strawberry in the markets from the month of March, often coming from Spain.
The “gariguette” variety is cultivated only in a few regions of France, mostly in Brittany and in the South. Usually, sold in 250 g or 500 g containers
The “gariguette”, and strawberries in general, are tempting fruit that create a unique appetence through their visual aspect. Both pastry and cuisine Chefs adore this variety and use it in their recipes as soon as it appears on the market : fresh, cooked or oven-dried.
Served in salad or soup, as a garnish on tarts, in the famous “fraisier” cake (click here for our Chocolate Fraisier recipe), as sorbet, coulis on a hot dessert, mousse or simply natural, “gariguette” strawberries please all food enthusiasts.