Category Archives: food

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French food safety

This is another part of my “offend the French” series. But actually I think anybody who takes a step back to look at the issue of French food safety objectively cannot deny the stark contrast between France and the US on these issues.

One of the things that has probably surprised me the most about France is the utter lack of food safety regulations and practices. I understand that back in the US we are known to go very overboard on sterilization, and that’s not what I’m advocating for here. In France, the problem is quite the opposite.

Here is probably the best (worst?) example that I’ve seen of not caring at all about hygiene as it pertains to food. We were on the Paris metro last month when we saw a girl not paying attention (reading the phone or something) as her baguette brushed against the vertical hand rail the whole time. While this may be among the most disgusting examples I’ve seen, this disregard for baguette cleanliness is pervasive. When you buy a baguette, the worker places it right on the counter. When eating, it is normal to place that bread right on the table, even in public places.

We have seen many other instances in which the locals don’t even pause to consider the transfer of germs. We’ve seen dish rags dropped on the floor, picked up, and immediately used to dry dishes. I’ve seen all types of silverware and food picked up off the floor. This happens frequently in restaurants and it also happens at the lab. At the lab, when something gets spilled on the floor, the table sponge is used to wipe it up. I’ve seen the dish towel at work used as a bib for a child and then returned to the hook. This isn’t obsessive sterilization that I’m seeking. I’m honestly shocked that a modern first-world country doesn’t seem to have discovered germ theory.

To me it goes further than concern about disease. I see it as a matter of pride. Everybody knows that the French are proud of their food culture. But “having pride” doesn’t seem to translate to “taking pride.” In my culture, if I take pride in my cooking, serving food that hasn’t been on the floor is part of the deal.

The lesson: Keep an eye on the people handling your food in France. Or actually I think I’d enjoy dining in France a lot more if I were oblivious.

food France wine

Saint-Vincent de Montagny-les-Buxy

January is the time of year when Burgundy winegrowers trim branches from their vines and celebrate Saint Vincent, patron saint of vineyards and vintners. For the second time, Eric and I attended the Banquet de Saint-Vincent de Montagny-les-Buxy. This Saint Vincent celebration is a whole day affair, involving a lot of food and even more wine.

Always on a Sunday, the celebrations begin with a small procession of vintners dressed in ceremonial garb making their way to a local church. After a religious service, they parade to the local war memorial and pay homage to those lost in the two world wars. The procession then starts again, this time headed to a local domaine. Each year a different vintner gets to be host for the ceremonial first drink of the day, and at this point the activities become more jovial. A white wine is served along with gougères. In our experience, everyone joining in the festivities usually crams into the vintner’s cold warehouse area and must jostle to get at the drinks and snacks. Perhaps the wine is too cold and the atmosphere a bit lacking, but eventually a group clothed in traditional regional outfits will step outside and perform a variety of songs and dances. Everyone’s spirits rise in anticipation of the rest of the day.

Lunch starts at 2pm, and can last five to six hours. It is held in Buxy at the Salle des Fêtes, probably the only facility in the area large enough to hold all the guests and equipped with a kitchen that can turn out hundreds of plates of food over the course of the afternoon. This year the organizers were kind to seat us next to the only other native English speaker in attendance and in close proximity to many of the winegrowers we have become acquainted with.

Over the course of the afternoon, six courses of food were served. After the first two courses, we were given a little extra time to digest between each course as the brotherhood of winegrowers performed skits on the stage. While our understanding of French is by no means perfect, the skits were still entertaining for us to watch. We wined and dined over the course of the afternoon and into the evening. Not only are local wines served with with the meal, but the tradition is that winegrowers and attendees bring in bottles of wine from their own cellars. This allowed us to taste and sip on at least 15 different wines throughout the afternoon. We were provided with a spittoon and ample water, so we could move from one wine to the next without worrying about finishing every last drop or getting too tipsy.

Every course of lunch was superb, and dessert — cake decorated with large sparklers — was paraded before the crowd before it was sliced and served. It was a lovely, gut-bursting meal.

After the lengthy lunch, the party really gets started with a live band and dancing. The music is a bit old-fashioned and polka-esque, but I wouldn’t really expect anything else given the average age of the crowd. Eric and I tempted fate by going for a spin on the dance floor again this year, and somehow we managed not to take anybody out. I think it’s safer when we just watch though. Everyone is jolly and satisfied by this point in the evening, and it is nice to take a little break from all the eating and drinking just to watch the French be French. Not too long though, because a buffet is served just a few hours after the lunch feast has ended.

Eric and I stayed until shortly before midnight, just long enough to fill ourselves at the buffet, but we couldn’t imagine drinking any more wine after doing so for the last 12 hours. Many of the winegrowers and their friends were still going strong, dancing across the floor and lining up at the buffet for more food. Eric and I practically rolled ourselves out the door and toward the hotel we had rented for the night. I have no idea how the older French ladies and gentlemen have the stamina to keep partying into the wee hours of the night after so much eating and drinking, but perhaps it is just years of practice. I guess that will give us reason to keep coming back to the Banquet de Saint-Vincent de Montagny-les-Buxy whenever we can!

food France Germany wine

Wine tasting in Burgundy

We have been living in Burgundy for about a year and a half now and we have really gotten into the wine culture. In the past, I have never been a huge fan of wine or alcohol in general. I drank from time to time, and I sometimes enjoyed it just fine, but it was never a big part of my life. However, wine is an important part of the culture here, and beer was a big part of the culture when we were living in Germany. So as outsiders it kind of makes sense to really embrace these drinks as a way of learning about the cultures. When living in Germany, we tried many types of beer, I toured a couple breweries, and we even went to Oktoberfest once (which is nowhere near where we were living). Now that we are in France, we have really embraced the wine culture, to an even greater degree than we embraced beer in Germany. This is a great way not only to learn about wine, but also to see a lot of small villages around the region. We rarely drink at home. Because of our relatively cheap weekend hobby, we have really gained an in-depth knowledge of these places and the people. We’ve even become acquainted with some of the producers, who have been very welcoming and generous to us.

Terroir

One thing that makes Burgundy unique, as compared to tasting anywhere else in the world, is the incredible diversity available from only a couple grape varieties. Most of the grapes here are either Chardonnay (white) or Pinot Noir (red), though there are a few minor exceptions (Aligote and Gamay, for example). In terms of differences then, the concept of terroir is very important. It’s a very complex subject, but basically the ground expresses itself through the grapes. Grapes grown in a different village or even on a different part of the same slope will have different sun and wind exposure, as well as different minerals and water availability in the soil, for example. This affects the taste drastically and, from what I’ve heard, there is basically no other place on earth with such diversity. Also, this concept is very historic here. Many of these vineyards were mapped out by monks centuries ago, because even they understood that different plots of land produce wine of different quality, some of which is subjective, of course.

Finding Burgundy wine events

There is a wine tasting event within an hour’s drive almost every weekend. However, one thing that I noticed when we first moved here is that it isn’t entirely clear how to best find these events. Yes, there is a website that lists a lot of them, but it is poorly designed and it lists special festivals and open houses right in the same list as tasting opportunities that go for months. There just isn’t a great events calendar for Burgundy wine tasting and certainly not in English. That said, you can check the following sites for some information:

It is also sometimes possible to look at the websites of any villages that you find interesting. They often will list local events.

Tiffany at Saint Vincent Tournante 2014 in Saint Aubin

Occasions to taste wine in Burgundy

Just to give you an idea of what to expect and the general etiquette, here are a few types of occasions on which one might go wine tasting in Burgundy:

  • Regular tasting at an individual domaine: Some domaines have an open tasting room many days of the week where one can just come in and do some tasting. In this setting it is considered good form to buy something. We usually do buy at least a bottle of whatever our favorite was from the tasting, within our price range of course, and this way we always have a collection of wines at home that are not always super fancy but very decent stuff that we like. For example, we often go to Domaine Berthenet in Montagny. They are open most days and they have quite a solid selection of good wines.
  • Portes Ouvertes: This is where an individual domaine or even an entire village has a free tasting event. For these, you just follow the signs and taste wines. Usually it does not cost anything, but once in a while they will charge a couple euro. Though it is considered good etiquette to buy something if it is free, realistically these events are crowded and not everybody buys. Our deliciousness threshold to buy at an event like this is higher, because we can’t taste at every place in town and buy something everywhere.
  • Wine festivals: This is what we mainly attend. For various reasons, throughout the year many of the little villages have special festivals. For these, you generally pay 5 or 6 euro to buy a glass and walk around the village tasting wine at each domaine. Just due to these events, we have way more glasses than the number of people we could ever entertain in our home, and each village has their own glasses so it’s a fun collection for us. Because you pay to participate in one of these festivals there is less expectation to buy bottles. In fact we’ve been to events where the producers didn’t even have bottles available for sale.
  • Expositions: Sometimes in the larger towns (think Beaune or Mâcon), there are indoor events with an admission charge. These events typically also have food available to sample and buy. The downside of being indoors is that you are isolated from the character of the town, and instead it really is just about the food and wine, but we do usually try to walk around the town afterwards.

Note that here I’ve only listed the types of events that are generally practical for our income bracket. There are some events where you pay something like 70 euro and walk around tasting wines in a vineyard. These may be cool, but we haven’t done one yet just because it’s not really necessary to spend this type of money to taste really good wines in Burgundy.

There are some events that are seasonal and they occur in many villages around the same time. For example, the past couple weeks has been filled with events related to Saint Vincent. We actually attended a banquet in Buxy (for the Montagny appellation) two weekends ago, for the second year. Maybe Tiffany will be writing about that, because it’s an awesome story in itself. In addition to these various events around Burgundy, each year one village holds the Saint Vincent Tournante. This is a big tasting event and it is worth seeing at least once if you get the chance. We went last year when it was held in Saint Aubin. However, last weekend we opted not to go to the 2015 event. It’s just not as interesting to us as the little festivals in random villages. There are crowds to fight through just to get a taste, the number of tastes are limited (this is sometimes technically the case at other festivals, but it is rarely enforced), and it’s expensive (15 euro for 7 tastes this year). Additionally, outdoor tasting at this time of year is not really great for enthusiasts because the wine is always too cold.

Stay tuned…

This was a broad overview of how to taste wine in Burgundy. Of course there are also businesses, such as large cellars and wine shops, where wine can be tasted. We do go to these sometimes, and some are awesome, but here it was my intent to talk about opportunities to get a little more culture. Hopefully we will begin writing some things about individual villages and events we like. We are not experts on wine, but we are learning. We want to share what we can.

Arizona food USA

USA todo list

We recently spent several weeks in the US. I made quite a tour (Connecticut, Arizona, Nevada, and Ohio). Here are the things that I missed and made sure to have when I was there.

General

  • Root beer: It’s very hard to find it in Europe. In Paris, there are a couple international grocery stores where a 12-pack can be purchased for about 24 Euro, which is too rich for my blood. On our first night, at a diner in CT, we enjoyed root beer floats!
  • Wendy’s Spicy Chicken sandwich: We do have American fast food here in Europe, but not Wendy’s. I’ve always had a thing for the Spicy Chicken so this is always on my list when I come home.
  • BBQ: I didn’t go to any specific BBQ joints, but I did have some meals with BBQ components.
  • American breakfast: They don’t like to eat hot food for breakfast in Europe. This is a problem for me because a typical American breakfast is just about my favorite meal in the US, regardless of the time of day. All I need is eggs over easy, breakfast potatoes, and wheat toast.
  • Boating: I miss my boat. It is in storage at the moment, but some friends have another one that we took out for some wakeboarding two times while I was in Ohio.

Phoenix area

  • Chino Bandido: This might be my favorite restaurant in Arizona (though there are at least two locations). Normally I go to the Chandler location, but this time I met up with a friend at the old one in Phoenix.
  • Four Peaks Brewing Company: Or is this one my favorite? I prefer the Tempe location, and I always get the Four Peaks Cheeseburger, medium with pepperjack, and fries. For a drink I always go with the Oatmeal Stout milkshake. When I lived there it felt a bit too rich for my blood at about $6, but now that Four Peaks is a special trip, I always get one. I’ve heard good things about most of the menu, though I haven’t experimented much.
  • Cheba Hut: This place has started to spread around the US a bit, but I guess it started in Tempe. I generally go to one in Mesa and this trip was no exception.
  • XTreme Bean: This is my old coffee shop hangout around the corner from the house in Tempe. It can get a bit crowded but it’s close, conducive for working, and pretty tasty.
  • Steve’s Espresso (deprecated): I used to really like this place because they use a French press and are very conveniently located in Tempe, but this time I discovered that they got rid of the WiFi. I understand there are principled debates to be had about the desired atmosphere in coffee shops, but WiFi is generally non-negotiable for my needs.

My primary regret is that I didn’t make it to Waffle House. I could go for some grits.

food France Germany technology

Apps for travelers and expats

Technology allows us to travel and move much more efficiently than would have ever been possible 20 years ago. I do try to be as minimalist as possible in my technology usage. Having accounts all over the world can present security threats. Additionally, simplifying our technology means less to carry around when traveling and moving, and less data to be stolen or lost. But, that said, I also like to be prepared. I have a 3-year old Macbook Pro and Tiffany has an older Macbook. These are pretty versatile, light, and have good battery life. For phones, I use a Galaxy Nexus and Tiffany has an iPhone 4. We also have some external drives for Time Machine and storing TV shows and such.

Keep in mind that we don’t just travel, but we are also expats. Every day is sort of like traveling for us, so our needs are broad. I will be listing the apps we use for our Macs and our phones (the OS in brackets just tells where we use it). Also I will break them into categories for general travel apps, apps for traveling Germany, and apps for traveling France.

 

General travel/expat apps

  • Aperture [Mac]: This is important for me, because I take a lot of photos when we travel, and I usually post the best ones to Flickr. This is why I’ve included it, though realistically it’s generally the sort of thing that you just need once you get home. Aperture is Apple’s pro photo processing app. If you are serious about photography, I highly recommend it.
  • DEVONthink Pro Office [Mac]: We use this to manage our paperless office. There is a lot of bureaucracy in France, and a lot of paper. I scan every paper we get, use OCR in DEVONthink (available only in the “Pro Office” version) to convert it to a searchable PDF, and file it in the database. Tiffany and I are currently sharing the database using the built-in Dropbox sync feature which saves the “sync store” to a shared Dropbox account. Note that you cannot store the database itself in Dropbox as this can lead to corruption, particularly if you access it from two computers at once. The Dropbox sync feature locks the sync store during writes, to prevent corruption. Unfortunately this makes use of Dropbox’s “Apps” feature, storing the files in a directory that cannot be shared using the normal sharing mechanism in Dropbox. To get around this, we both share a single Dropbox account. I must say that we had a sync problem last week that led to some changes being lost after a really big revision on one computer. But, I think if we are more careful when making large changes going forward we will be fine. I chose this solution over others, like Evernote, because I wanted the ability to control the database for security reasons and because free solutions go away.
  • Dropbox [Mac], JottaCloud [Mac]: The cloud is important when traveling around. If my laptop is not handy, or broken, I may need to access files from another computer. You probably already have Dropbox (if not, click here for referral), but it’s a good way to have free cloud storage. The NSA undoubtedly has access, but it is more mature and stable than JottaCloud. I use JottaCloud for files that don’t change rapidly, due to past experiences with sync bugs. The nice thing about JottaCloud is that it has no operations in the US, meaning that the NSA will have a harder time getting access. JottaCloud doesn’t have a referral link, but if you ask me I can refer you with an email address.
  • Skype [Mac, Android]: I don’t like it much. It’s closed-source and buggy. But for some reason everybody uses it so it’s a must-have.
  • Google Hangouts [Android]: It’s horrible compared to Google Talk, which it replaced, but it’s my primary way of messaging from my phone (which I rarely do, really).
  • Wunderlist [Mac, Android, iOS]: As expats, there are always a lot of gears in motion to satisfy bureaucratic requirements. We use the free version of this app to sync our todo lists.
  • Tunnelblick [Mac]: This is an open source VPN app that I use with the VPNBook service. I also used Hotspot Shield for a while, but I didn’t like the ads. Sometimes things (videos, etc.) are blocked in certain countries or establishments. These apps can often get around that. They can also  I don’t have any loyalty to a particular app or service, but it’s a good idea to have one installed if living overseas.
  • Google Authenticator [Android]: This mobile app generates verification codes for 2-factor authentication on many websites, including Dropbox, Google, Linode, and GitHub. Security is extra important when traveling. If a laptop is stolen or data is intercepted on an insecure wifi network, 2-factor authentication provides great additional security to prevent unauthorized access to your accounts. Of course this means you should try not to lose the phone, but even if you do most accounts will still allow you to login from trusted devices for some time period before requesting a new code. In this way, you can likely still access Google from your laptop even after you lose your phone.
  • Google Maps [Android, iOS]: This one is kind of a staple and its use should be self explanatory.
  • Google Translate [Android]: This translation app even allows me to take a picture of some text, highlight it with my finger, and get a translation. Between this and normal keyboard-based translation, it’s very handy.
  • OnTheFly [Android]: ITA Matrix is the most powerful flight search engine, accessible via the web. You still have to buy the tickets on another site, but I know from first-hand experience that searching here can save you money. In my understanding, many other search engines actually use ITA Matrix under the hood. This is the mobile app. I don’t use it much, because normally I book from my couch. But I figure it’s a good idea to have for unexpected itinerary changes.
  • TripAdvisor [Android, iOS]: We use this to look at restaurant reviews almost every time we eat while traveling, though I guess it also works for other attractions.
  • Where’s My Droid [Android]: I’ve luckily never used it, but it should help find a stolen phone.
  • Undercover [Mac]: Again, I’ve never had to use it, but it helps locate stolen Macs.
  • Moni [iOS]: Tiffany uses it to categorize our expenses while we are traveling.

Germany apps

  • DB Navigator [Android, iOS]: We can search for trains all around Germany, purchase the ticket, and just show the conductor a QR code on the phone’s screen. When I last used it, I had a German bank account. I’m not sure what the payment options are if you don’t. However, the app is extremely valuable even if you must go to a machine and buy paper tickets. For example, an ICE ticket can be used anytime in a given day so this app makes it easy to search for alternate trains if you miss one or one is late/cancelled.
  • VBN [Android]: This app allows me to search and plan tram and bus routes all over Bremen.

France apps

  • FreeWiFi [Android]: If you live in France, Free is an inexpensive choice for home internet (also TV, phone, and mobile phone). The home internet package comes with a router that can broadcast two SSIDs, one private and one public. If you have Free and enable the public SSID (I have, but my box must be broken because I don’t see it), you can access Free hotspots all over the country. This Android app saves time by automatically signing me in.
  • TheFork [Android]: This is the mobile app for LaFourchette, a restaurant search engine that is used around France. In the big cities it can be used to find discounts. It is easy to save 30-50% at a nice restaurant in Paris, for example, if you book through the app.
  • Voyages-SNCF [Android]: This allows for searching and buying train tickets in France. We don’t travel by train much here, as train service is much worse than we are used to from Germany, so we don’t use the app much. I recall that you can only buy tickets through the app if you have a French phone number.
  • SNCF Direct [iOS]: This tracks trains in real time.

One final tip: I always keep scans of our passports and visas on my phone.

food France

Easter Weekend: Wine Tasting and a Château

For Easter weekend Eric and I decided to save money by staying local. Luckily there were several wine tasting events to keep us occupied. First through, I have an observation about Easter celebrations in Chalon-sur-Saône. I have never thought of Chalon-sur-Saône as a particularly religious town, primarily because the largest market of the week is held on Sunday mornings right in front of the most prominent church. I thought surely Easter Sunday would be an exception and there would be no market. When I asked some of the locals, the general response was along the lines of “why wouldn’t the market happen?” Sure enough, there was the usual large market just like on any other Sunday. Other than a small choir passing along our street at 9am in the morning, it seemed like any other Sunday morning.

On Saturday we went to the 11ème Printemps de Monthelie. Monthelie is tiny vineyard town in the middle of the Côte de Beaune, adjacent to Meursault. Most of the wines are red there. At the festival we purchased wine glasses for five euros a piece and could taste as much as we wanted at 16 cellars. For lunch we had some regional favorites that were for sale at the local community hall. Eric had boeuf bourginon and I had a plate of charcuterie and cheese. It was a satisfying lunch before we continued our wine tasting. We had a pleasant afternoon, and the wines were generally good.

After we finished the tasting, we decided to visit Meursault. While normally the main activity in that town would be wine tasting, we decided we had already done enough of that for one day. Instead, we admired the views across the vineyards, visited the small local church, and took a walk to one of the châteaux in the area. Then we enjoyed a couple of hot chocolates at a local café.

On Sunday we visited the hill town of Dezize-les-Maranges, on the southern edge of the Côte de Beaune. There was another spring wine festival there, with nearly 30 wine producers offering wine tastings. The best we tasted were the reds at Domaine Edmond Monnot & Fils. For lunch we had French street food — a crepe with egg, ham, and cheese; a sausage with a potato; and a waffle with a dusting of sugar. The village was delightful to walk around.

After the festival, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon visiting the Château de Germolles in Mellecey. This ancient home was once owned by the Dukes of Burgundy, and then later by the King of France. Though it was partially destroyed in the French Revolution and has since been transformed into a private home, it is still worth a visit. There was a lovely farm area behind it. The history and meaning behind the interior decorations were interesting to learn about. Overall the tour in English was very good, though I was disappointed we could not see more of the rooms.

I think for a holiday weekend staying local, we did a pretty good job of exploring the sites and culture of Burgundy. I think all the towns we visited are worthwhile if you are interested in finding and tasting wine off the beaten path. Germolles is also a great attraction that is not too far from Chalon.

food France

An afternoon in Buxy, France

Another nearby village we recently visited was Buxy. We had a very French day in Buxy filled with food, wine, and cheese. Unfortunately we were stuck wandering around in the rain again, but it was still a nice visit.

The first thing you notice driving into town is that there are some prominent towers and rock walls that remind you of a fortified castle. There is no castle, but there are some very nice ancient buildings. We started with lunch at Aux Années Vins by the Tour Rouge (the red tower). Their lunch hours are very brief, from 12h to 13h15, but we were the first ones to arrive. We had very good meals. I had salmon with a carrot mash, and Eric had the three course menu with a shrimp and smoked duck terrine, a main dish of chicken and crayfish with vegetables in a creamy sauce, and then fromage blanc. I guess we were lucky we got a table without a reservation because I saw the staff turning away others without reservations when most of the restaurant was still empty. The restaurant filled up throughout the course of lunch, with couples and some groups enjoying the cuisine and wine. The cheese cart looked wonderful, but we decided we were already full enough at the end of our meals.

We next wandered around town until we couldn’t take the rain anymore. The church looked particularly interesting, but naturally it was closed that day. Mostly there are interesting old stone buildings around town, but nothing of significant historic importance as far as we could tell. Perhaps the tourist office would have more info on the buildings in town, but we didn’t attempt to ask because was not located nearby in the center of town. It is actually a bit out of the way along the Voie Verte cycling path, across from La Cave des Vignerons de Buxy, which we visited next.

Buxy Stone House

La Cave des Vignerons de Buxy is the storefront for the local wine co-op. We tasted a variety of local wines, but decided not to buy any this time. La Cave des Vignerons mostly sells wines produced at the co-op combining the grapes various producers, though were were surprised this time to see there were some wines offered from specific domaines, i.e. individual estates. In the fall we had visited the co-op during the harvest season and got to see the grapes going into crushers. The tastings are free here, and it seems you can taste any of the wines in their large collection.

To complete our day trip, we drove down the road a couple of kilometers to Les Filletières to pick up some cheese. La Chèvrerie des Filletières is a goat farm where you can visit the animals and buy a variety of goat cheeses at very low prices. It is a small production, but it offers some our favorite local cheeses. Some of our local friends recommend going the “extra mile” to this place even though goat cheese is widely available in the markets, so you know it is good.

food France

A day trip to Givry, France

A few weeks ago we started our new mission of visiting a small town or village in the region every weekend. Our first town was Givry. Though we had passed through Givry before when we were on a bike ride, we had not seen any of the sights.

Givry is about 10km west of Chalon-sur-Saône, and is known for its red wines, which were supposedly a favorite of King Henry IV. It is a quaint town of old stone buildings, monuments, and vineyards.

We first tried to visit the church, Église de Givry, a surprisingly imposing structure just outside the center of town. Sadly every door was locked, but perhaps if we go back during tourist season it will be open to the public.

We next walked towards the old hôtel de ville, which is a building with a large arch built over the main road into the center of town. The arch is a unique site, and it is decorated with a “France moderne” emblem on one side, and an emblem representing Givry on the other side.

Givry hôtel de ville   Givry vineyard

At the center of town there is an ancient grain market, the Halle de Blé. It is a round structure with a spiral staircase at the center. It too was closed, but we peaked in the glass windows.

Across the street is a cozy restaurant where we ate lunch, La Cadole. I had the Œufs en Meurette paired with a local red wine. Eric had some type of white fish covered in a creamy sauce and accompanied by vegetables. We also had a wonderful cheese plate of mildly sweet to pungent cheeses. One cheese plate between the two of us was plenty. Our simple meals sated us for our afternoon of exploring.

After lunch we walked over to the local tourist office and picked up a some information about the area. They suggested a self-guided walk around town showing more sites. Supposedly they have the pamphlet for this walk in English, but on the day we were there they only had German and French versions available.

We first stopped to do some wine tasting at Domaine Thénard. The tasting was free, and we liked both the local reds and whites. We purchased a red to add to our “cellar” of whites. Our “cellar” consisted of three whites placed on the fireplace mantel, which Eric thinks we probably won’t ever drink because we always go wine tasting rather than drink at home.

We walked around the town getting soggy in the perpetual rain. We saw the local lavoir, as well fish- and sea-themed fountains. There was also a statue of the town’s protector built into old fortifications. On our walk we wandered off course when we spotted the vineyards. We were rewarded by finding an area with vineyards that surrounded old stone houses or possibly sheds halfway up the slope. The view was quite nice on a wet February day, and I want to return in the summer to see the vineyards in their full glory.

We had a nice time in Givry, but I am looking forward to going back in better weather when there might be more picturesque photo opportunities.

food France Switzerland

Raclette and Fondue in the Alps

When Eric and I visited the French and Swiss Alps a few weeks ago, a friend told us to try the Raclette and Fondue in both countries because of the regional differences in preparation. This was good advice for the Fondue, but I didn’t notice much difference when it came to the Raclette.

Raclette is a dish where a hunk of cheese is melted by a heat source and then the melted part is scraped onto boiled potatoes and dried meats, accompanied by pickled pearl onions and gherkins. For the best experience, you have to eat fast once you scrape the cheese onto your plate, because the cheese hardens again after a minute or two.

Raclette is a fun meal to share with others, and the cheese is tasty. It is a simple meal in terms of ingredients, but it does require special equipment to melt the cheese. I wonder if it is not better in a home setting though. Since we only had it at restaurants during our trip, our vegetable selection was limited to the potatoes, pickled onions, and gherkins. You could easily have a more interesting spread of vegetables at home.

When we had Raclette in France, we were served half a wheel of cheese. Needless to say we did not come close to finishing it. In Switzerland, however, we were only served a block, probably around half a kilogram or one pound of cheese, which we finished. The amount and the style of heating device were the only real differences we noticed between France and Switzerland.

Raclette in Annecy, France    Fondue in Chamonix, France

The Fondue was delectable in both France and Switzerland, but there were some differences. Since there is a variety of regional cheeses in this part of the world, the cheese used in the Fondue naturally changes from place to place. In France we had Fondue savoyarde with Comté and Beaufort. In Switzerland we had “moitié-moitié,” or half Gruyère and half Vacherin Fribourgeois. The Swiss one tasted the closest to what I expect traditional Fondue to taste like, but they were both deliciously cheesy. I think the French one had more white wine in it, or perhaps omitted the classic Kirschwasser in the recipe.

As with the Raclette, I think you could have more interesting Fondue dinners at home by picking out your own veggies and sides. In the restaurants our choices were limited to bread and potatoes. To me, this got a little boring before the meal was half-way finished. Overall it was still an experience to eat Fondue in the Alps, and it would be interesting to try even more cheese combinations in the future.

For now we are back to eating cheese the normal way — on a baguette — but another Alpine cheese specialty we may try this winter is a baked hot box of Mont d’Or (Mont d’Or au four ou boîte chaude)! I’ll report back on how that is another day.

food France

French Fromage

In addition to learning about Burgundy wine, we have also been testing out many of the cheese (fromage) in France. Every week or so I have been buying a new variety for my lunches at work, with advice from my coworkers, and Tiffany has been getting another one at home at about the same frequency. We are really trying a lot. Of course the ultimate goal would be to eat every cheese on this Wikipedia page, but that may be a while. In the meantime, I made a fromage map on Google showing all of the regions we have tried cheeses from. If you click on a region marker, there is a note about which local cheeses we have tried. I hope to update it frequently.

On the wine front: Look for an upcoming post describing our thoughts after attending the Burgundy wine growers’ banquet next weekend.