Australia's favourite food blogger, Not Quite Nigella, aka Lorraine Elliott, takes us on a mouth-watering adventure of food and wine on the streets of Paris.
Have you ever visited a city and wanted to see it as a local does? As far as food is concerned, that’s what I hope to do in every city I visit. Today, we are seeing things through a local’s eyes as we embark on a day of 'Meeting the French', a concept that connects visitors with a French local who is expert in their field.
I’ve visited enough vineyards to make my head spin, but if you really want to get your head around wine with a French local then a visit to Myriam’s apartment is a must. The Parisian, who lives in a charming, courtyard-facing apartment, conducts wine and cheese tastings with a difference.
Wine bottles are more straightforward in Australia than they are in France, simply displaying each grape variety. In France, there are three classifications:
1. Vin de France
2. Vin de table
3. AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controle)
Additionally, each French region specialises in a particular grape. For example, Burgundy has Pinot Noir; Loire Valley, Sauvignon and Chenin. The further south you go, the more likely you will encounter blends, with higher alcohol levels.
We try two whites and two reds. Myriam hides the bottles so we don’t make any prejudgements. Myriam shows us the wines under light and talks about the characteristics of judging a wine. She tells us what to look for visually: the dress (la robe), the drops (les larmes) or legs (jambes). Then, once you smell it, you look for the nose (le nez).
We try Sauvignon Vin de France 2010 "Chez Charles”, Noella Morantin (100 per cent sauvignon), Loupiac 2007 Chteau Loupiac Gaudiet (80 per cent semillon, 20 per cent sauvignon), Le Picatier Vin de France 2009 (100 per cent cuve) domaine Pialoux (100 per cent gamay) and Ctes du Roussillon 2010 "Georges” Domaine Puig-Parahy (granache, carignan and shyraz in approximately equal proportions).
A lunch of bread, cheese, salad and wine is served, with three wonderful cheeses. The comte, a favourite of mine, is served alongside a gorgeous Ste Maures goats cheese and a washed rind cheese. The comte is a wonderfully nutty hard cheese that has been aged, and the simple, soft leaf lettuce salad with oil and vinegar dressing and crusty bread slices make up the perfect lunch.
Before we go, Myriam's last piece of advice when it comes to categorising wine is to break things up into these five categories:
– Fruity, e.g. citrus, white fruits, red fruits and berries
– Floral, which are the most difficult flavours to recognise
– Vegetal and spiced e.g. smells that remind one of a walk in the forest after rain; moss; grass; mushrooms etc.
– Animal e.g. a 'foxy' smell, or body parts
– Grilled/toasted/burnt items e.g. toast or rubber
Our next stop is a tour of the Latin Quarter with another Meeting the French guide, Roberto. He tirelessly trawls the streets of Paris in search of the best chocolates and pastry (now, is that a dream job?). His latest find is Gregory Renard, a chocolatier who also makes divine macarons.
We try mango and jasmine; violet and blackcurrant; and pistachio macarons. I particularly like the mango and jasmine, which has an unexpectedly tropical surprise of luscious sweet mango in the centre. Macaron cones like the ones sold here are usually used for communion, while the croquembouche is reserved for weddings.
Renard's shelves are lined with giant cocoa pods rendered in chocolate; mendiants; caramels and chocolate coated nuts. We leave with one of his signature boxes – brown, with white French script writing – filled with his macaron treasures.
Eclairs at Carl Marletti
Next in line is heaven to me – cakes! At Carl Marletti, there is a fashion parade-worthy line-up of cakes as far as the eye can see, in a range of colours and shapes. Choosing is difficult, although the simple citron tart is always going to have its place in the box. For good measure, Carl Marletti kindly give us some buttery sugar cookies which are bite-sized pieces of heaven.
At around €4.80 each, we take our selection of cakes to a nearby cafe to eat (usually this is not permitted but Roberto sought permission ahead of time).
The Lily Valley is a choux-based confection filled with violet custard. Each choux is made crispy by baking it in sable biscuit. It is finished off with icing and violet-shaded squares of caramel. The floral perfume of violet is refreshingly unusual and the crunch and softness of the sable choux and custard a lovely contrast.
The award-winning lemon tart has just the right amount of glossy-topped lemon custard and tangy filling inside a crispy tart base that crunches in the mouth.
The Mont Blanc is a slender chestnut and cream mousse, studded with small pieces of chestnut. I adore chestnut and how generously it is used here.
The last one, a praline mille feuille, is flavoured with rich, toasted hazelnut cream and has two caramelised puff pastry layers. Admittedly I prefer the Pierre Herme mille feuille, as that had additional layers of gavotte and a more tightly packed puff pastry.
A little trip to nearby Rue Mouffetard brings us to a fantastic range of shops, fromageries, fish mongers and fruit and vegetable vendors. Asparagus is in season and fat spears of white asparagus sit up proudly in enormous bunches.
Olivier & Co is an olive oil shop founded in 1997 in Provence. Here they sell what they consider to be the creme de la creme of olive oil – from a sample of 600, 25 are sold here (including one Australian brand whose name they can’t recall).
On each label they display the farmer’s name, the orchard (they don’t use blends) and the type of olive used in the oil. They also remind us that olive oils can only age for two years, after which they should be discarded.
We taste an olive oil from Nice which is mild and would pair nicely with fish, and another from Sicily which is bold and grassy and would pair well with pasta.
Our last stop is Mococha, founded by Marie Helene Gantois. She sells chocolates from three different chocolatiers: Patrice Chapon, Fabrice Gillete and Jacques Bellanger. She also has a range of macarons, including an intriguing tomato macaron which is still sweet but with an unusual, herby flavour.
La Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis
Dinner tonight is at La Brasserie de l’Isle Saint-Louis, former Paris local Rafael’s family brasserie. The restaurant sits on a busy intersection of the le St Louis, perhaps my favourite place in Paris, alongside the Seine River. Here, the waiters are friendly and there is a giant poster of choucroute looking down on us.
Inspired by the smell of the choucroute that wafted past, I had to order it. I was surprised at how enormous it was and how it looked just like the one in the poster. It had chicken and herb sausage, kransky, knackwurst, bacon, simmered pork, black pudding, potatoes and an enormous mound of sauerkraut. The black pudding and the simmered pork were my favourite elements.
The cassoulet, with its range of meats, sausages, bacon and white beans was fragrant with thyme and wonderfully rich and rib-sticking.
I tried some of the steak with pepper sauce and it was very good, perfectly cooked to medium rare and with a copious amount of well-seasoned fries.
Dessert was Berthillon ice cream in pistachio, salted caramel and raspberry. My favourite was the raspberry, in lieu of my favourite flavour, apricot, being out.
So tell me dear reader, have you ever been lost in a city? And if you had to choose what you prefer, would it be wine, cheese, chocolate, macarons... or cake?
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