Cheese of the Week: Epoisses

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Cooking and Eating

The cheese education is one of my favorite aspects of living in France. Most of the cheese eaten here are quite difficult to find outside of the country. Here is my latest find:

Epoisses is a cheese made in the Bourgogne region of France. Like all good cheeses, it is stashed away in secret caves to mature, and then rinsed several times a week with alcohol. (In the case of Epoisses, it is rinsed with a mixture of rainwater and marc de Bourgogne, a fancy French way of saying “moonshine.”)

At this point in the review, I would like to just take a step back and go on record as saying that everything in this world, EVERYTHING, should be rinsed several times a week in a mixture of rainwater and moonshine. Can you imagine how much better off everything would be? If you rinsed “The Godfather” with rainwater and moonshine regularly, it would come out looking like “The Godfather II.” Rinse Al Gore with rainwater and moonshine a few times a week, he’d become Barack Obama. Give Obama the same treatment and he’d become JFK. There isn’t anything in this world that wouldn’t benefit from a rainwater/moonshine rinse, so go ahead, start looking for ways to improve your life. You are welcome.

OK, back to the cheese. Epoisses was wildly popular in France in the 1800’s, even becoming Napoleon’s favorite cheese. (Another entry for best band name ever!) However, due to the fact that France most of its cheese mongering men during the World Wars, Epoisses fell out of production. The cheese was revived later in the 1950’s and now has a special place in the French culinary scene. How special of a place? This special:

It has oft been said that Epoisses has the force of Charles le Temeraire and the sensibility of Madame de Sevigne.

HAHAHAHAHA! My goodness, that one gets me every time. If you do not understand the reference, it is really a pity. I am quite the expert in French culture and get the reference perfectly. Really, I do.

epoissesBeing such a hit in France, I was especially looking forward to my first taste. The taste, however, is not the first thing you notice. The first thing you notice upon opening the little box is the shiny, almost laminated orange exterior, the fromage equivalent of John Boehner in the sauna. Then, the smell hits you. The professional tasters out there mention the pungent smell as “earthy” or “meaty.” They can’t use terms like “funk” or “pretty funky” “sweet Jesus, that is really just too much funk.”

I wasn’t put off so much by the smell though, as the taste. I noticed a hint of cat piss in it, which either meant that the cheese was reaching the limits of it’s ripeness or that “Lucky” the neighborhood cat had taken some liberties with the open air market at which I bought this cheese. For the rest: whoa. This cheese is strong. There is a lot going on, so I recommend trying this cheese for the first time like I did, in an empty, unlit house.

Words I would use to describe this cheese: gym locker room, wrestling in the dirt, Greek cab driver.

Words I wouldn’t use to describe this cheese: boring, simple, a hit with children.

Serve Epoisses at room temperature with a pinot noir, a Belgian beer, or some moonshine. If you must serve with white wine, something a little sweeter would be better, as a drier white would take your mouth down a path it will not enjoy.

I Hate Paris in Winter

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

I rather dislike Paris in Winter. There, I said it. Oh, sure, the food is top class, the museums are amazing and Paris fashion week brings out some of the more “interesting” looking creatures in our species. Still, it’s just not enough.

What’s wrong with Paris in Winter, you ask? Just five things. Five big things.

It’s dark. The sun comes out late, leaves early, and, to make it worse, even when it’s “out” it’s not really out. It hides behind clouds all the time so the light is quite filtered. On the “out” scale from Liberace to Aldus Dumbledore, Parisian winter sun is definitely more Dumbledore on the scale. Everything is dim and shadowy and depressing, and I hate it. It’s like everything here is lit the same way as the basement of the New York Public Library.

It’s wet. Parisian winters are damp. We are in the midst of a pretty dry season here, and even so everything is usually just moist enough to be annoying. Imagine a kitten following you and sneezing in your face every minute or so to get a sense of what I am talking about. Sure, it will also rain properly, and once in a while even snow, but mostly the Parisian winter bombards you with tiny, irritating droplets just large enough to be un-ignorable. Generally, people walk around with an agitated look on their face. Wouldn’t you if you were constantly being bombarded by kitten mucus?

Well, at least it's shepherd's pie weather...

Well, at least it’s shepherd’s pie weather…

It’s cold. I am cold in Paris. I wear a hat, gloves and a scarf to leave the house here, and this is quite difficult for a person who doesn’t want to even wear pants when he leaves the house. Are there colder places in the world? Yes. Why anyone would want to live there is beyond me. In terms of preferred climate, I am sticking to places that are pants: optional.

It’s full of vampires. Not to get too young adult fiction on you, but there are a ton of good looking vampires that live in Paris over the winter. Annoyingly, all the vampires here act like they want to have sex with you, but when you get close, they wonder if they are really ready after all. Then, these other vampires get all jealous and think that they should have sex with you first, and then fights break out. In the end, there’s a lot of male grappling, no sex and a lot of longing glances. It’s pretty shitty. Come to think of it, that may explain all of the people who are here for Paris Fashion Week.

There’s terrorism. In case you didn’t know, Paris was the site for a recent terrorist attack. There was quite an unsettling week when we didn’t really know what was going on. At one point, Malcolm’s school was closed due what was termed a “direct threat,” and I thought, “Great. I have to wear pants and now this?” The threat to the school was deemed not credible, and life here is slowly returning to normal. Terrorism is a fact of life in the world we now live in, but reminders are always very scary. Like the smell of a skunk that lingers even after you’ve given your dog a tomato sauce bath, the terrorist-related ugliness persists in spite of the passage of time and the posting of armed guards at your kid’s school. Besides, it’s not as if life back in Oakland, California, USA is free of gun violence. The world is a pretty shitty place when you think of it. Doubly so in winter.

So there. Paris in winter is less good. Maybe that’s why you never see marketing along the lines of “Come to Paris. It’s dark and wet and cold, and if the terrorists don’t get you, the vampires sure will!”

 

Reflections On A Year in Paris

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Living in France

In October, we celebrated our one year anniversary in Paris. Whoa. That went blindingly quick. You know how sometimes, at the end of a party, you are unintelligible, your pants are nowhere to be found and you can’t remember the name of the Germans you are in a hot tub with? That’s the way I feel now. (As you can see, a year here has done nothing to improve my metaphors.)

Leaving our USA lives was quite difficult, mostly because it was such a llllllooooooonnnnnnnngggggggg period of time. Or it was supposed to be a long period of time. The year has flown by, a series of whooshing memories, highlighted by painful quasi-French interactions, travel memories and some really good wine. I feel the need to take stock of things, and will do so now:

I guess I should have translated the word "Bijoux." This picture is less cool if it turns out to mean, "Disposable Chopsticks."

I guess I should have translated the word “Bijoux” before including here. This picture is less cool if it turns out to mean, “Disposable Chopsticks.”

When we first got here, we were understandably interested in “French” things. We wanted to learn all the little differences and soak them up. We delighted in the fact that salad comes after dinner here and that you don’t need to refrigerate your milk or eggs. The French have a slew of official and unofficial holidays with unique ways of celebrating them. We loved the differences! Then, slowly, Paris started to lose its shine. I noticed that Asian rug stores had going-out-of-business sales every month. Episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer (nee, Buffy Contre Les Vampires) are always on. When low voter turnout lead to right wing political gains in the last French elections, I had to ask myself, “Is it really all that different here?”

There are also amazing scenes all over this city. I will never tire of just heading out with a camera and capturing some magic.

There are also amazing scenes all over this city. I will never tire of just heading out with a camera and capturing some magic.

Perhaps out of the realization that life in Paris isn’t too dissimilar from life back home, we are starting to revisit things we thought we had to give up while here. I have been reunited with hot sauce (and it feels so good!) We golf. Movie night is a perfectly respectable way to spend an evening, and I spent much of October waking up in the middle of the night to listen to my San Francisco Giants win the World Series. Old habits die hard and we have stopped fighting. If the French can at Burger King, is it wrong that I wear tennis shoes every once in a while? I think not.

The museum scene here is staggering, still. Malcolm is really into World War II right now, having begun reading the Henderson’s Boys books by Robert Muchamore. On our way to the World War II exhibit at the Musee de l’Armee, we detoured. Malcolm wanted to show us stuff he had seen on a field trip to the Musee d’Orsay and we happily obliged. We ended up with a relatively uncrowded viewing of Whistler’s Mother, Von Gogh’s Starry Night, sculptures by Rodin and numerous other masterpieces. Back home, we might detour to stop at the mall or grab something at Starbucks. Here, the unplanned activities involve seeing some of the most famous pieces of art in the history of the world. Like I said, staggering. This is quite the unique opportunity.

The Eiffel Tower is like a dead whale being eaten by a pack of sharks. You wouldn't want to get close (tourists, pickpockets, etc.) but afar: pretty cool.

The Eiffel Tower is like a dead whale being eaten by a pack of sharks. You wouldn’t want to get close (tourists, pickpockets, etc.) but from afar: pretty cool.

The food scene in Paris is radically different than we would have guessed upon arrival. The charming open air markets that dot the landscape here sell factory farmed fruits and vegetables from decidedly un-French places like North Africa and South America. Hamburgers are a hot commodity on menus here. 70-90% of Parisian restaurants are reheating frozen food. Mind you, the onion soup made in centralized kitchens is pretty good, but then again, so is an Awesome Blossom. If you want to find fresh food prepared by real chefs at a restaurant, you have to work much harder than you think. The processed food industry has hit the French food scene and hit it hard.

So, there you have it, the state of our state of mind, if you will. To be sure, France has changed us, but not as much as I might have thought. We have a little over seven months left in our adventure, and nobody knows what we have in store. Actually, now that I come to think of it, the Germans in the hot tub said something about knowing our future. If only I could remember…

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

Posted by Big Daddy Paul in Paul is a Dork

One of the French traditions that I am loving the most right now is the Sunday Roast Chicken. (Don’t even think of stealing the name for your bowling team. I got dibs.) Sacrosanct, like scarves or complaining about your landlord, there is nothing finer than sitting around the table on a day of rest, enjoying fresh, uncomplicated food with your people. Based on my recent experiences making this traditional meal, I have prepared a step-by-step guide so that you can do this at home. Here it is:

Step 1- Get a chicken. Why settle for a supermarket chicken? My favorite is to go to our open air market and select one from the many butcher stands there. On Saturday, my favorite butchers had a nice, plump 2.5 kilogram chicken, complete with information about the farm it was raised on. Even without a detailed description of how this bird spent its days, I could tell from the meaty legs that it got a lot of exercise playing games like, “Chicken rugby” or “Holy crap, here comes the dog, run for your lives!” With a bird in the hand, I returned to our house to cook it.

Step 2- Prepare the bird. Some people are overly fussy about their pre-roasting routine, brining, marinating, and/or seasoning under the chicken’s skin. Here, the meat is so wonderfully chicken-y that I just rub a lot of salt and pepper on the outside. This last time, I got ready to do so and discovered this:

IMG_2501

So, yes. I guess on prior trips to the market the butchers took pity on meand removed the head (and feet!) themselves. Perhaps I have begun to fit in a little around here, and this one made it home looking a little less “Marie Antoinette” than I would have hoped. I briefly procrastinated by removing the internal organs before gearing up for the final task. If this happens to you, don’t worry. You have the skills to do this.

Step 3- Cut the head off the chicken. It’s simple really. Even so, when it happened to me, I stared into the dead chicken’s eye for a few minutes and, unable to proceed, I decided to take a quick detour from the task at hand.

Step 4- Open a bottle of wine. Sure, you probably going to drink some with the Sunday Roast Chicken, anyways, but I needed some wine to just get to the point where I could get the stupid thing in the oven. I drank the wine (more like a shot than I would care to admit,) and even forced some down the chicken’s throat. None of the involved parties should be sober when cutting off a chicken’s head.

Step 5- Do it. With my newly found liquid courage, I commenced the beheading. I split the job into 2 steps, since I wanted to keep the neck for use in making chicken stock. First, I severed the head at the top of the neck. It went through surprisingly easily. Then, I rolled back the skin of the neck near the chicken’s body and found a place to hack through with a knife. When I was done, the trachea fell out of the neck, as did the contents of my lunch shortly thereafter.

Step 6- Gross your kids out. Having a newly severed chicken head is a wonderful way to get back at your kids for getting on your nerves. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Step 7- Roast the chicken. I heated up the oven to 190 degrees and then rested the bird on top of a layer of potatoes.

I really wanted to make this post about the simple, wonderful tradition of a family meal together. But seriously. I had a chicken head! What was I supposed to do, pretend it wasn’t there? Not me. You all know how to roast a chicken, it’s not rocket science. What you probably don’t know is what to do with a chicken head and some free time. I got you covered. Without further ado, here is how the chicken head and I spent the rest of the day.

First, I introduced my friend to my fantasy football team. He said I should have drafted Andrew Cluck.

First, I introduced my friend to my fantasy football team. He said I should have drafted Andrew Cluck.

 

Then, we re-enacted some famous scenes from movies. If I was a famous movie producer, I sure wouldn't want to wake up with this in my bed!

Then, we re-enacted some famous scenes from movies. Don’t mess with those Corleones!

 

Next, we had some philosophical debates. He got his feathers in a bunch over it though.

Next, we had some philosophical debates.

 

Next, we chilled out and watched some TV. I thought he'd only be into animal planet, but it turns out he's into the period dramas.

After, we chilled out and watched some TV. I thought he’d only be into animal planet, but it turns out he’s into the period dramas. Who knew!

 

Alas, only so much time could pass before he wanted to see some more of Paris. He wanted to go up it, but the lines were too long.

Alas, only so much time could pass before he wanted to see some more of Paris. What a beautiful day on the Seine for me and my chicken head!

 

Finally, our time together came to an end. (He started to smell something awful.) His final resting place befitted his status as "Something extra on our dinner that I never really wanted." That's him next to the soda can at the bottom.

Finally, our time together came to an end. (He started to smell something awful.) His final resting place befitted his status as “Something extra on our dinner that I never really wanted.” That’s him next to the water bottle at the bottom.

 

Chicken head, I will always remember our special day together. You taught me a lot, and made me constantly dry heave. Cue the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.

Chicken head, I will always remember our special day together. You taught me a lot, and made me constantly dry heave. Cue the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing.