Category: Life in Médoc

The wacky and wonderful world of cèpes

Freshly picked cèpes mushroom and wild cyclamens

After all the excitement build-up since the kids started school, days of searching in vain, we finally found beautiful cèpes. I have been sharing a few moments from my mushroom adventures through Instagram, discovering amazing parts of the forest I never knew. Every morning, I feel like an explorer, entering the woods with my stick, scrambling the leaves, and always looking down. I have lost my trail several times, playing games of twister with the fern, spiky branches and leaves everywhere. Total freedom. If I was in the girls scouts, I think I’d deserve a few brownie points for bravery and eagerness.

Into the wild

It’s rare to meet fellow mushroom pickers where we are, but I have met a few retired farmers holding large cèpes-filled baskets. It is considered very rude and inappropriate to ask where they unearthed their cèpes. Everybody has their secret places and they are not to be shared. Cèpes are most likely to be found by oak trees, but they can really be found everywhere. I heard that grandfathers reveal their lucky cèpes locations on their deathbeds. It’s in the family’s vault. There are also women curiously referred to as mushroom witches. They know where to go and can feel the cèpes from afar. These women go home with thirty kilograms of brown buttons every day. Whatever it is, there is an element of magic in the forest. I believe it is enchanted, filled with secrets and powers. The overwhelming energy makes me feel like a stronger person. The other day, I stumbled across the most fairytale-like view. Thousands of pink and white wild cyclamens glowing in the darkest part of the woods. I don’t think I could have asked for a better movie-set. Now I should really believe in fairies!

My husband took the kids mushroom hunting Sunday morning. It was pouring with rain, but they were all geared up and super excited. They came back home totally drenched, but their faces were brightened with the biggest smiles. They found twenty gorgeous cèpes very near our house. For lunch, I prepared buttered tagliatelle with garlic cèpes (fried in garlic and parsley) for the kids. For us grown-ups, we had cèpes omelette and cèpes carpaccio (sliced raw) with olive oil, salt and pepper. The kids were so proud, and I could see how gratified they felt when we thanked them for ‘providing’ food for the family.

Cleaning cèpes is simple. I use a knife, toothbrush, a damp cloth and a potato peeler. Cut off the tip of the mushroom’s stalk, scrape off as much earth as possible, peel a single layer of the stalk. It is not advised to wash them in water, because they are like sponges. You can wipe them with a damp cloth for a proper final cleaning.

Médoc is immersed in cèpes culture. Here, the cèpe mushroom is the king of the forest and one of the most sought-after delicacies. They are so hearty and flavorful, with the perfect combination of earthy and sweet taste. There are so many ways to enjoy cèpes, this is only the beginning of this fall’s love affair. Here are a few recipes I’ve been cooking this week.

Basic cèpes cooking tips:

● Always season cèpes with salt as soon as you start to cook them.
● Cook mushrooms on a high heat so the water evaporates faster
● If your frying pan is small, cook mushrooms in batches to avoid soggy mushrooms (if there is too much water released at once, the mushrooms won’t brown and cook in its own juice)
● If you want to store cèpes, it is best to wrap them in a cloth and stored in the refrigerator. Never put them in a plastic bag.

Potato and cèpes soup (serves 4)

400 g fresh cèpes, sliced (+ 1 tbsp butter, one garlic and one shallot, finely chopped, for frying)
8 medium potatoes
3 cloves of garlic
A pinch of nutmeg
3 tbsp butter
6 tbsp crème fraîche (or more depending on your taste)
2 tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and pepper for seasoning

Peel and chop potatoes into medium chunks. In a large pot, add potatoes, salt, nutmeg and garlic. Pour water just enough to cover the potatoes. Cover with a lid and cook for 15-20 minutes. Mash soup with a potato masher. Add butter, pepper and crème fraîche. Cover and set aside. Now you can prepare the cèpes, which will take a few minutes. Melt butter in a frying pan, add finely chopped shallots and garlic and fry for a few minutes. Turn heat to high, add sliced cèpes, sprinkle with salt, give the pan a good shake – this should take one minutes. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve soup in large bowls, add a generous amount of cèpes per person, sprinkle with more parsley.

Cèpes en persillade (serves 4)

Should you not have any cèpes, many other seasonal mushrooms works well with persillade.

1 kg fresh cèpes mushrooms, sliced in half if they are small enough (see photo), or sliced.
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
1 large shallot
3-4 tbsp butter or olive oil, for frying

Peel garlic and shallot and chop them as finely as possible. I use my food processor – quick and easy. Finely chop parsley. Set aside.
In a frying pan, melt butter, add finely chopped shallots and garlic and fry for a 1-2 minutes. Turn heat to high, add sliced cèpes, sprinkle with salt, give the pan a good shake – this should take 2-3 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Cèpes omelette – serves one very generous omelette

4 medium-sized cèpes (sliced)
3 eggs
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp chopped shallots
A handful of chopped parsley
1 tbsp butter or olive oil, for frying

Whisk 3 eggs in a bowl till slighly frothy. Set aside. In a medium-sized frying pan, melt butter (or olive oil) add garlic and shallots and fry for 2 minutes. Add sliced cèpes, season with salt, stir well and cook for 30 seconds on a medium heat. Take a few cèpes and set aside to garnish the omelette. Add beaten eggs, salt and pepper, lower heat and cook for 3 minutes (depending on how you like your omelette cooked). Sprinkle with parsley. Take off from heat, gently roll omelette on each side. Return pan to heat for a few seconds. Place on a plate, plate saved cèpes on top of the omelette, sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

Cèpes carpaccio

4 small cèpes per person
Olive oil, salt and black pepper for seasoning

Only choose smaller cèpes for this recipe. Slice cèpes into thin slices. Place on a plate, drizzle some olive oil, salt and pepper.

Kouign Amann

One of the best things about the fall season is mushroom picking. Someone had whispered in my ear they had found three large gorgeous cèpes in their garden last week-end. After hearing this, I never leave home without rubber boots and a basket in the hope to bring back a bounty of my own. Since I moved to Médoc, I have discovered reliable mushroom trails close to my house. Where to go, how to pick them, and more importantly what not to pick. It is so revitalizing to go on daily walks in the woods and meadows, filled with untouched wildlife in every corner. I love the different shades of light you see as you walk along, especially when the sunlight sparkles through the trees and fern, bringing its warmth and wonder to everything it touches. As the kids don’t have school on Wednesdays, it seemed like the ideal time to go on a family mushroom picking excursion. So there we were, along with a our dogs (not all of them, but most), on a champignons quest.

We entered the woods, looking all over for shiny brown buttons. The dogs, as usual, managed to find what their hearts desire. A dead bird, a fox skeleton, a deer’s paw. Non merci! After an hour of searching in vain, we were all a bit disappointed, but it wasn’t a total loss. You know it’s still a good day when your daughter says: ‘Maman, this was a real adventure’! Walking back home, we talked about how the moon and the rain affect the mushroom’s growth. Because the secret of nature is patience.

Back home, the kids were longing for the goûter. It’s the tea-time break that is the most important hour in the life of les enfants. On Wednesdays (in France, most kids until the age of 11 don’t have school on that day), they enjoy a little grown-up style tea and cake moment in the playroom. They sit together and, as they are drinking a vervain tisane, they feel very grown-up and discuss important school issues. ‘Did you like the food at the canteen this week, do you like your new teacher, who is your new best friend?’ Mia had requested the butter, sugar and caramel cake, just like the one Amélie Poulain makes in ‘Amélie’.

This old-fashioned Breton cake is called kouign amann. Brittany is all about warmth, coziness, comfort and butter. It’s a caramelized cake made of the most basic ingredients: butter, flour, sugar and yeast. You will need patience (for the dough rising), and a good hand to fold in the butter and sugar in a few layers. The kids adore this caramelized treat, and I think they also find the unusual name mystical. Old Breton words like kouign (cake) and amann (butter) sound like a language from an enchanted forest. It’s a very rich cake, especially in butter. Vive la France!

Later that night, as I slipped into bed, I heard terrifying sounds in the forest. Our mornings are graced by visiting deers, but at night we hear the wild boars at play. I can hear them from afar, their deep grunting echoing in the forest. They are probably on the same trail as we were earlier, eating all the fresh acorns I saw. Will they come to my house? It’s funny, but two years ago, I would have been horrified and up all night. The new ‘country me‘ thought, ‘I hope they won’t eat my precious cèpes’! (the ones that aren’t there yet… perhaps next week?)

250 g/ 2 cups plain flour
200 g/ 3/4 cup salted butter ‘demi-sel’ (room temperature)
200 g/ 1 cup granulated white sugar + extra for dusting
10 g/ 1 tbsp fresh baker’s yeast
1 good pinch of salt/ fleur de sel
120 ml/ 1/2 cup lukewarm water

In a large bowl, prepare the dough. Dissolve yeast in 3 tbsp lukewarm water and wait till it becomes frothy. Mix flour, salt and add dissolve yeast in center. Gradually add water and start kneading. I do everything by hand, and it usually takes me about 15 minutes of good kneading until I get a soft and supple dough. Shape into a ball, and leave to rise in the bowl covered in a cotton cloth for 3 hours at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 210°C/450F

Step 1: On a floured surface, start rolling the dough to a square shape, about 1 cm thick. Spread 50 g butter, 60 g sugar and fold the dough over the butter/sugar on each side (as if you were wrapping a present in paper – the present being the butter/sugar, the paper being both sides of dough). Fold to form another square.
Step 2: On a floured surface, use a rolling-pin and roll the folded dough into a square shape. Repeat as step one with butter/sugar and folding.
Step 3: Place folded dough in a floured cling film and leave to rest for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Step 4: On a floured surface, roll out refrigerated dough one last time. Shape in the form of a square. Place 70 g butter and remaining sugar and fold like in step 1.
Step 5: Place in a buttered round cake tin. Gently press the dough with the palm of your hand to fill in the cake tin. Spread remaining butter on top of dough and sprinkle with a 1 tbsp of sugar. Place in oven and bake for 22-25 minutes, depending on oven strength.
Tip: As this cake is all about caramelization, I would advise to start checking every 2-3 minutes towards the end as it is so easy to over-caramelize or even burn. Starting 17 minutes or so, as soon as it looks slightly golden brown, it’s ready. As I have been making this cake for years, I have learnt from my mistakes.
Step 6: Leave to rest on a rack for 15 minutes before transferring to a plate. Use a round-tipped knife to lift/ unmould the cake. Serve warm.
Tip: Should you want to prepare this cake in advance, I would recommend reheating it by bain-marie (steaming).

Bordeaux – Part I

Choosing cheese and eggs at Fromagerie Deruelle.

Last Saturday, I strolled in Bordeaux searching for things I can’t find in the country. Don’t get me wrong, I have a very large choice of fine food here in Médoc, but I love the city’s vibe and what it has to offer. Bordeaux is a real gem, studded with ‘épiceries fines‘, ‘caves à vins‘ and ‘chocolatiers‘ in every street corner. The bourgeois flair is mesmerizing. Some cities have a rosy tint, others have shades of gray, but Bordeaux, is well, bordeaux. It’s my favourite colour, from a juicy Chateaubriand, a perfect dress, an elegant glass of wine, Italian shoes and a cashmere scarf – all the things I like.

Goodies at le comptoir Bordelais.

I am starting a little ‘mini-series‘ on my trips to Bordeaux. There is so much to see and visit every time I go to there, so what a better way to start than with food. Whenever I am in town, I have a few incontournables addresses that are on my to-do list.

Fromagerie Deruelle.

Fromagerie Deruelle: Elodie Deruelle opened her fromagerie in April 2011. Why did she open? It was her dream and she chose the location because ‘there’s an excellent bakery opposite‘. With a background in agricultural studies, Elodie spent her formative years farming and worked in Paul Bocuse’s Halle de Lyon before settling in Bordeaux’s booming rue du Pas Saint Georges, right next to the Place Camille Jullian. It’s my favourite part of Bordeaux, as most of the best and original stores are in this area. Elodie is from Bourgogne, so she offers a lot of cheeses from her region, the Brillat-Savarin, l’Epoisses and a big choice of goat’s cheese, which is her favourite type. You will also find extraordinary Saint Marcellin and cervelle de Canut cheeses, as well a an original selection of wines and bread. As soon as I enter her store, the kids immediately beg me for ‘an egg and soldiers with Comté cheese’ dinner, so I always buy a dozen of fresh farm eggs. Her opinion on pasteurized cheeses? ‘Ce n’est pas possible!’ (it is not possible – but she does save a few good quality ones for the pregnant ladies). This fromagerie is beautiful and Elodie is passionate about her work. Fromagerie Deruelle, 66, rue du Pas Saint Georges, 33000 Bordeaux.

Window shopping at Fromagerie Deruelle. Who can resist?

Le comptoir Bordelais: This beautiful old-fashioned ‘épicerie’ is owned by Pierre Baudry, who’s ‘Comptoir Arcachonnais’ (in the Arcachon bay) is very popular with the Cap-Ferret-Archachon crowd. Anything you wish for is granted here, from wines, candy, foie gras… all the local specialities. The entertaining and dynamic team is here to guide you – it will be hard to go home empty-handed. Le comptoir Bordelais, 1 bis, rue des Piliers de Tutelle, 33000 Bordeaux.

Temptations at le comptoir Bordelais.

Maison Servan: This is the gentleman’s épicerie fine where you can have lovely chats with the owner on good eats, Bordeaux, wine and life. I love going there to buy a huge pain Poilâne. He is also a skilled winemaker for various chateaux around Saint-Emilion, and we particularly liked Chateau La Vaisinerie with whom he is the ‘technician’. A sophisticated place to be. Maison Servan, 22 Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 33000 Bordeaux.

Thomas Capdeville at Servan.

Amazing hams at Pierre Oteiza.

Pierre Oteiza: This is the holy grail of charcuterie. Pierre Oteiza, from the ‘Vallée des Aldudes’ in France’s Pays Basque, breeds exceptional meat, one of my favourite being the black pig. This is one of their ten stores around France, where you can find all the Oteiza brand products, from hams to pumpkin soup. The store is tiny and magical – I love the Basque black berets and scarves – it’s so farmer chic! Pierre Oteiza, 77 Rue condillac, 33000 Bordeaux.

The butcher chef

Cannelés with black pig, foie gras and vine leaves

M. Yves Bruneau

When we moved to Médoc, one of the first things we did was drive through the vineyards for some chateaux spotting. As we explored further, we couldn’t help thinking how unreal it was to live in such beauty, and that it would become our everyday reality, not a two week holiday summary. I needed to find my bearings, and didn’t know where to start. Luckily, we stopped at a nearby village, Pauillac, and drove South to Bages where I found my first gem, a butcher. As I stepped in, I couldn’t see anyone. However, I noticed some interesting and peculiar cannelés (French pastry from Bordeaux with a tender custard center and a dark, thick caramelized crust). They looked savoury, wrapped in vine leaves. All they needed was a tag with ‘Eat me!’ and I would become Alice in Wonderland. Something in my heart told me that this was the place to be. Then I saw big names all over the place – Bazas, Pierre Oteiza, AOC Prés-Salés du Mont-Saint-Michel. I smiled to myself thinking I had struck gold. It is not an everyday thing to see all these famous meat labels in one place. That’s when M. Yves Bruneau stepped out of his butcher’s ‘back office’.

I introduced myself, explained how I left Paris for Médoc, how I loved food and cooking. And then he started to talk about his recipes, how he makes his savoury cannelés, how he cooks black pig filets, how he stews veal. I felt like I had met the guardian of my kingdom, and he was opening a new door for my cooking world. How’s that for a first encounter.

Grenier Médocain (left) and vine leaf foie gras

Yves Bruneau is no ordinary butcher. Ex-champion of France in cross-country running, Yves, originally from Normandy, is a true visionary when it comes to the art of being a butcher. He is passionate about his meat (he has been nominated fifth best butcher in France by the prestigious Gault et Millau guide), only chooses truly authentic labels, like the magnificent Bazas beef. To connoisseurs, Bazas beef is one of the finest in the world, only sold at a dozen of the best butchers in France. The unusual grey cattle, bred in the Landes and Gironde region, is destined to masters only. Yves has his own laboratory and dry-ages his meat for five weeks, enhancing the tenderness and producing the perfect taste. One of my favourite meat sold by Yves is the Basque black pig from Pierre Oteiza (Basque ‘master’ farmer and an artisan charcuterie maker) – the pigs are fed acorns and chestnuts, giving the meat a succulent melt-in your mouth nutty flavour. Yves is also a fine chef, always coming up with original ideas, from savoury black pig cannelés stuffed with foie gras, vine leaf infused foie gras, his home-made grenier Médocain (speciality of Médoc made of pig’s stomach, garlic and spices). When asked what is his favourite meat, Yves is proud to say the Bazas beef entrecôte.

Yves was happy to share his recipe for these gourmet cannelés. You can always improvise and adapt to your liking with other types of meat – perhaps veal and porc combined could be a good alternative.

Ingredients: (for 6 canelés)

350 g minced/chopped porc (black pig/pork – a selection of shoulder and belly )
6 pieces of cubed (3 cm) duck foie gras mi-cuit (half-cooked)
6 vine leaves (younger ones are better as they are more tender – boiled in water with 1 tbsp sugar for 10 minutes)
6 small squares of caul fat ‘filet'(for enveloping the cannelé so it stays in shape – you can buy this at your butcher)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven 90°C. Mince or chop pork very finely, add salt and pepper and shape into a ball (about 8cm length and 5cm width). Make a hole with your finger and insert a cube of foie gras inside. Wrap the cooked vine leaf around the meat and secure with the caul faut ‘filet’ so it holds its shape. Repeat this procedure and place in cannelé cake moulds.
Place your moulds in a large roasting tin, pour water so it comes up to nearly half of the mould. This process is called ‘bain-marie’. Bake for 2 hours and 30 minutes. Leave to cool in mould for one hour. Before serving, re-heat for 5-8 minutes in a warm oven.

The spirit in the bottle

Chateau Maucaillou

A lovely pastime of ours since moving to the country is simply to get in the car and drive through the countless villages and vineyards that grace the eastern side of Médoc. It’s a wonderful maze of charming roads and invariably we get a little lost, chasing a beautiful Chateau we see on a distant hill or exploring a small road that seems all too inviting. Ranging from tiny operations, where the wine is literally made in the garage, to splendorous castles filled with rich family histories, Médoc has it all. Many of the villages are high on the authenticity list, not a souvenir shop in sight and sometimes, less conveniently, not even a loaf of bread. But that’s just the way we like it.

Bordeaux wines are a blend of the robust Cabernet Sauvignon and the smoother Merlot, usually with a dash of other varieties. In Médoc the blend favours Cabernet and this is why its wines are considered more earthy and powerful than wines from the “Right bank” such as St. Emilion and Pomerol. This is an oversimplification, of course, and there are different tendencies within Médoc itself. A wine from St. Estephe (the most Northern of the famous villages) are more earthy than wines from the southern Margaux, which have a reputation for silkiness. Read the rest of this entry »

The magic box

There is no bad weather, just bad clothes. Swedish proverb

Here in Médoc, instead of taking our kids to a toy store, we take them to a ‘pépinière'(flower and plant nursery), which has become their new fairground attraction. Last April, we told our kids they could pick a small plant to take care of. Mia chose verveine (lemon verbena) for its refreshing smell, Louise chose pink geraniums for the colour, and Hudson opted for a raspberry plant for its opulence. We put these three plants in a box, and told the kids it was their full responsibility to take care of the green babies. They proved to be good plant-sitters, and today the plants have grown to perfection! Plants are a symbol of growth, encouraging all of us to adopt new ideas, so it was only a matter of time before the kids fell in love with their ‘magic growing box’.

What better way to grow memories than in your own garden?

Days of wine and oysters

Médoc is not only famous for its fine wines but also for some of the best oysters in the world. There are about 350 oyster farmers on the Arcachon Basin producing 10,000 tonnes of oysters a year. The basin has an enclosed bay with an ideal temperature for oyster farming. Oysters are sold everywhere, from markets to any street corner, and during the autumn season, stalls are setting up ‘en force’, getting ready for the winter, where oysters are the main attraction for the festivities of Christmas and New Year’s eve. In summer, the markets open little stalls where you can sit and have plates of oysters, served with a small glass of crisp and fresh white wine. Yesterday, I couldn’t resist buying ‘take-away’ oysters and have them at home for starters. I always serve them with lemons and a red wine vinegar/chopped shallots sauce.

We love going to Cap-Ferret on summer week-ends – it is about an hour’s drive from where we live. Cap-Ferret is renowned for its understated chic, beautiful white sand beaches, amazing pine forests, sand dunes and little oysters cabanons (sheds built on piles with rounded tiles). It is an idyllic place, like a venetian lagoon, where you get a taste of French paradise.

Butcher for a day

What I enjoy most about butchers is their culinary ‘savoir-faire’. A butcher is like a consultant – meat is your primary material to build from. Each piece has a specific duty and a butcher is there to advise you on what is best for your cooking purpose.  I got to spend a very instructive afternoon with Michel Stein, butcher in Médoc.  Always in a humourous mood, Michel has an excellent selection of meat.  The Charolais beef, Corrèzes veal and various delicacies are extremely popular with the locals of Médoc.  Michel deals with farmers directly and has a very good reputation with his clientèle.  When I queue at Michel’s, I will know what half of the store will be having for dinner – now that is what I call inspiration.  Michel was kind enough to show me the tricks of the trade. I even learnt a few tips on cutting meat, and got to wear a very impressive aluminium disk apron for protection.

In France, people love talking about food. It’s a way of life. When I catch up with my aunt, it’s five minutes on general affairs, and fifty-five minutes on our culinary life.  Once a month, our dog-food delivery man Jacques comes over.  As he stays for coffee, he never fails to impress us with his woodcock recipes.   His account on cooking the bird, the cognac glazing, the pan-fried foie gras and the wine makes me have ‘l’eau à la bouche’ (mouth-watered state) by the time he leaves.   Médoc in the fall is a gourmet’s dream – it’s all about the ‘cèpes’ mushrooms – saying bonjour goes hand in hand with ‘did you find any cèpes today,’. In France, a butcher could be a food ‘shrink’ – he listens to your food stories (on the other side) and tries to direct you in the best possible way.

According to Michel, the bavette (beef flank steak) is the ‘butcher’s choice’.  For a delicious bavette bistro style, fry the meat in a searing hot pan with margarine and lots of shallots one minute on each sides.  Rare is a way of living when it comes to the ‘cuisson’ (cooking).  We discussed the importance of the quality of meat in France, and how unfortunately farmers are becoming more scarce by the year.

The main advice is clear:  we must consume less meat.  You would be doing a favour to the planet and to your health by avoiding large-scale meat production.  If you want to indulge in red meat, try to find a good artisanal butcher.  Less meat, but better quality.