Monday, July 29, 2013

To Get To The Other Side

I have been here a year, and I leave in a week.

This didn't turn out at all like I'd envisioned, but since my visions are usually either impractical, improbable, or impossible without a serious amount of effort on my part, it's not particularly surprising. Instead of being a slim and oh-so-French woman with a portfolio of cheese-related interviews and stories, ready to launch myself into a round of self-marketing and book proposals and about to be inundated with offers to finance my random wanderings in exchange for the occasional magazine article, I'm about the same weight as I was when I left (she says nibbling another slice of hazelnut and pork salami), having done little in the way of cheeseblogging and even less in paid cheese writing, and frankly wondering what it is, really, that I want to do. Yes, it's another post about uncertainty! Yay!

Most of my uncertainty right now, actually, is tied to the fact that I'm about to go live with strangers for a month, which I am sure will turn out fine but that sort of thing is always an adjustment, especially after having this apartment pretty much to myself for the last 12 months. And also to the fact that I haven't started trying to cram all my belongings into my suitcases. I'm leaving that for the weekend, having not quite figured out the logic of packing all my things including computer stuff while still using all my things including computer stuff. And why spoil a 40-year tradition of packing at the last minute now?

Friday it was the annual garlic and basil fair here in Tours, and this year I didn't buy any garlic, since I still have some from the farmer's market. But I bought a pot of basil, and am looking forward to a tomato and basil salad tonight, perhaps with zucchini-and-anchovy fritters. Depends on how hot it gets. It's fairly cool this morning and less muggy than last week, after several midnight storms went crashing through. According to the weather forecast more rain and thunder will be here later, but it's bright blue out there right now. I'm waiting at the apartment for the people who are supposed to come by and clean the water heater, which has been making odd noises for a while, so I can't get out and walk in the clear sunshine, but that's on the agenda for later.

In my researching over the last few weeks for what might turn out to be another book, I came across a mention of smoked garlic, a specialty of northern France in the area around Arleux. They have a garlic festival there as well, the first week of September, but only since the 1960s. The garlic is braided and then smoked over peat fires for a week, which perfumes it and also lengthens the storage time; the braids can be kept up to a year without getting all dried out or starting to sprout.

I don't remember seeing the smoked garlic at the fair last year, and I don't remember the smoked-cheese stand either, but it looks like Le Fumoir de Sologne is a fairly new enterprise. It's the first time I've come across a smoked version of the Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine, and it was delicious. I'd like to get more details of the process they use, other than that it's "fumé au bois de hêtre" (smoked over beechwood) at some temperature between approximately 50F-80F, which I would assume is on the lower end of the scale for the cheese products, because otherwise it's smoked fondue. I got to the stand in the middle of a conversation between the proprietor and two men taking notes on a clipboard (probably getting paid for doing what I would be doing for free in the same interview, sigh) as he explained that different results were achieved by smoking the cheese after it ripened for a bit, as opposed to before it starts ripening, but then they moved on to the smoked chicken and fish, and I moved on through the crowd, as it was much too hot and muggy to stand around. One of the thunderstorms had grumbled off just a few hours before the fair opened under a hot sun, and between the humidity and the packed sidewalks, it was like a sauna in the center of town. I grabbed my pot of basil and fled.

I hadn't had breakfast that morning because I was frantically taking notes to get through the books I had to return to the library before it closed at noon on Friday for three weeks, but sweat was already dripping down my face and I'd forgotten a handkerchief. A big pan of paella looked good with its écrevisses and langoustines but it wasn't served cold, and the steaming cauldrons of andouillette sausages were even less appetizing than usual. Instead, I bought five salami for 10 euros (hazelnut, green peppercorn, blueberry eau-de-vie, chestnut, and one more I can't remember) and had slices of those for lunch with a glass of cold rosé.

The water heater repairman has been and gone, and the sun is leaving as well as more clouds pile up around the edges of the sky. Off for a quick walk, then back for more work. Paid freelancing instead of my personal project, and not related to cheese at all. It will be interesting next month to be surrounded by cheese again, and to see if I get more interested in the topic, at least enough to write about it.

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