Monday, December 23, 2013

Marché de Noël: Aquitaine Version

The village of Oloron-Sainte-Marie had other Christmas markets and events in and around the park in the center of town this month, but I didn't get to any of them until yesterday, when Florence and I went to the "young agriculturists market" sponsored by the Syndicat Départemental des Jeunes Agriculteurs and highlighting some of the people in their 20s and 30s who have started or are continuing to produce cheese and wine, and pork and lamb and duck products, and bake bread and grow vegetables in nearby fields and communities. Florence and Frédéric had been invited to set up a booth, but it didn't fit into the week's schedule. But I think if they had been there, we would have sold a fair amount. Maybe next year. It was nice to be on the customer side of the booths, however, strolling around with a bottle of semi-sweet local white wine that Frédéric had purchased and tasting things and chatting to people. I ran into one of the professors from the school program and introduced him to Florence, and he said that he'll be teaching another economics class in the upcoming semester. Oh, joy. I thought that part of the program was over ...

Most of the goat cheeses I've seen here are the firm tommes or the soft bloomy-rinds, but this producer has branched out into a goat reblochon, which is a washed-rind type of cheese smeared with B. linens that gives it the orange crust and the whiffy smell, especially when cooked. They were selling toasts made with their raclette-style cheese or with this version of reblochon and that corner of the market was quite fragrant. I tasted a little bit of each and asked about the temperature they kept the milk at when adding the rennet, and the young man at the booth said that they set the curd at 32C/90F which is half again the temperature that Laetitia goes with for her tommes, and is the same temperature that the cheesemaker at the sheep dairy I was visiting last week uses. I'm going to write to Laetitia and pass that information on for her experimentation with new styles of goat cheese.

I also tasted a smidgen of greuil, the Basque/Béarnais version of whey cheese that is similar to the Italian ricotta or the Corsican brocciu, made by reheating the whey left over after cooking and draining the curd to make the aged cheeses, and skimming off the solids that float to the top. The solids are then drained in mesh bags to remove some of the extra liquid, though it stays quite creamy. There was a sheep's-milk version, but I happened to taste a cow's-milk one, and it was very rich. With that small taste plus the nibbles on two or three other cheeses yesterday afternoon, my total consumption of cheese couldn't have been more than a level half-teaspoon, if that, but even that's too much. I know, every time I try to taste cheese, this happens, and I say "never again" - until the next time. But this is ridiculous. And unfair. Why is it that I am so happy making cheese, when letting the merest crumb of it into my body makes me so unhappy?

There was a stand selling Jurançon wines, and one selling two other wines of this southwest region, the dry red Madiran and the sweet white Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh, the latter of which we were drinking. I also had a small cup of spiced vin chaud; the local version is less cinnamon-spicy and more orange-peely than the hot wine I drank at the Christmas market in Tours last year. Also there were no roasted chestnuts to go with it, which was disappointing. There were deep-fried trout fritters, which would have been good with the hot wine, but they were made with wheat flour. Live trout were in a plastic pond ready to be fished for by excited children and sold in plastic bags, for eating, not for keeping like the goldfish you can win at similar events in the United States.

But there was duck! Duck breast marinated in paprika and onions and peppers, or duck hearts with garlic and herbs. I'd eaten a late breakfast at home, so I wasn't hungry, but I did have a piece of the duck breast that Florence ordered, and it was very good. I bought the last two packets of smoked trout from the live fish and fritter booth, and took a card for a possible later excursion for information and blogging purposes. The fish farm of Pédehourat was reopened in 2011 by 27-year-old Roman Veau after a 50-year-old previous fish farm closed due to lack of continuing family interest in that business, but what I find really interesting is that the fish farm was built on the ruins of a former hot springs spa that was razed by the German armies during WWII. I need to seriously look at my calendar because there are now more things that I want to see in this area than I have free days to see them, and then of course trying to sweet-talk people with cars into driving me to those places is also a scheduling consideration.

I bought a bar of fair trade organic dark chocolate from Saint-Domingue (a former French colony and now part of Haiti) from the bread stand, and while the others went over to the playground to let Florence's nephew run around a bit, I avoided all of the children swinging and went to watch children skating instead, at the small ice rink set up along one edge of the square. More and more people arrived at the market as it got on towards 4pm, and I watched them walking by, greeting each other with kisses, pushing strollers and leading sticky-faced children with cones of barbe à papa by the hand, clustering in front of the wine stands, and lining up for the traditional Christmas photo opp with Le Père Noël. Morgan asked unselfishly for peace and love and understanding this year, but if I could wish for one thing it would be a digestive system that is not troubled by anything, gluten or dairy or otherwise, because I miss being able to join in all of the culinary traditions around me. And how can I be a good cheesemaker if I can't taste the milk and the curd and the cheese? A small thing, perhaps, given all of the gifts and opportunities I already enjoy in my life, but still ... please?

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