Tag Archive | France

Say cheese! Or kaas…

I love cheese. There. I said it. I wouldn’t be much of a Dutchman if I didn’t… my country produces the best cow-milk cheeses in the world. Keep your cheddars, your Gruyères and your Emmental… it’s Gouda that wins it for me every single time. Preferable an aged Gouda, almost as crumbly as Parmezan, with crunchy salt crystals locked inside its yellow insides. There is nothing more delicious and rich than that. Kaas, that’s what we call it.

Old Gouda, the best cheese there is

Old Gouda, the best cheese there is

Chances are you have never had a proper piece of Dutch chees (unless you are in Holland).That has many reasons, the main one being that we keep the best stuff for ourselves. The Dutch cheese we export is, well, awful. Especially Edam. I have yet to meet a Dutchman who eats Edam cheese. It may be pretty-looking, those cute red bowling-balls, but we Dutch consider Edam for tourists only. Gouda is king, and the best Gouda doesn’t even come from anywhere near that city. Anywhere in Holland will do, actually. Rich pastures enough! But even exported Gouda is horrible; soapy, orange and cheddar-like. Avoid! And come to Holland to try the real stuff.

Edam: pretty but only for tourists

Edam: pretty but only for tourists

Anyway, enough with the chauvinism. Every country has its own wonderful cheeses in Europe. France has got thousands even, made from milk from cows, goats and sheep, and sometimes a blend of these. You have big hard yellow cheeses, soft fruity white ones, pungent orange ones with a sticky rind, and fragrant blue cheeses. A rainbow of cheese, literally. And I love almost all of them.

France, cheeselover's heaven

France, cheeselover’s heaven

Whenever I travel, I go out of my way to try the local cheeses. Not from the supermarket, but from the farmers, or from little épiceries. And I have made wonderful discoveries that way, plus quite a few disappointents. To start with the latter… I have yet to find a cheese in the Czech Republic that has some flavor to it, and the Turkish cheeses are also a delicacy that is entirely wasted on me. But a real fresh Greek feta cheese, eaten on a terrace overlooking some deep blue expanse of Aegean, with a crisp white wine on the side… that’s truly the food of gods.

Feta cheese in Greece... heavenly

Feta cheese in Greece… heavenly

And then there is Australia. Oh dear. Australia. In Australia you can either have fantastic, artisanal farm-made cheese, for which you pay absolute fortunes… or you buy cheese in the supermarket like 99% of the people, and then you have the most awful factory-made stuff you can imagine. Australia loves processed cheeses, like Americans do. Cheese that basically has melted and resolidified in square blocks, which is then sliced and individually wrapped in plastic (!), and which melts in ten seconds when shoved in a toaster oven. It’s the same sort of ‘cheese’ that fastfood restaurants slap on top of their cheeseburgers. It’s yellow, it’s gooey… and that’s where the resemblance to proper cheese ends. I was utterly disgusted, and to my dismay the producer of this cheese-travesty had had the gall to call it ‘Tasty Cheese’. Tasty? No sir, it is not. ‘Bland’ is the kindest adjective I can find, but ‘Revolting’ is more truthful. America is -as always with food- even worse. There, processed cheese is very much the norm, in all kinds of light varieties even. I prefer to stick a Post-It memo on my sandwich. Yellow, square and even fewer calories! Worst is cheese that comes in an aerosol, called ‘Eazy Cheeze’. Because it’s so difficult to cut a slice of cheese, apparently. Nuff said.

You might as well eat Post-Its...

You might as well eat Post-Its…

My partner knows how particularly spoilt I am when it comes to cheese, and he was wise enough to whisk me off to a farmer’s market where I was delighted to buy an Australian Brie that was very similar to a proper French one, as well as a nice aged Pecorino-type that would not have been booed in Italy. For two chunks of cheese, weighing about 400 grammes together, I paid something like 30 euro’s. That’s Australia for you. Either you pay through the nose for something truly delicious… or you buy substandard industrial crap and still pay more for that than you would for a proper cheese in Europe.

I hereby declare war on Tasty Cheese and all its disgusting brothers and sisters. I am so glad you can’t buy that sort of industrial filth in Holland. Long may it remain so. Because there is simply nothing better than a proper Dutch Gouda.



AAAAA: a smelly feast in France

I must admit that I do like certain kinds of offal. Most kinds of liver, sweatbreads… yum! But I really do not like the more visceral types of organ… tongue, brains, kidneys… no thank you. And I have eaten enough tripes in my life to know that there is no way of preparing them that will ever make me want to eat them again!

So why oh why do I like andouillettes as much as I do? Oh, these French delicacies look innocent enough, and I am certain many tourists in France have had the shock of their lives when they trieds these sausage-like objects.

Why? Well: andouillettes are basically sausages filled with intestine and herbs. As if someone took pork intestines and stuffed them with more intestines. The result is a very chewy rubbery substance, with some indiscernable chunks of mystery in it, spiced up with garlic, onion, parsley and other herbs. Add to it the distinct whiff of excrement and you now also know why this French delicacy has never really made it out of France.

I must have been 10 years old when I ordered my first andouillette in a restaurant in Touraine. I was traveling with my parents and brother and I absolutely loved French food. My parents encouraged us to try new things, and so it was without hesitation that I decided to order the dish with the prettiest name of the menu. Andouillette.

When the brown sausage arrived it looked nice and familiar enough, but cutting it open revealed the whiff of tripe I knew from ‘soto babat’, a tripe stew that was one of my Chinese grandma’s specialities. It was also not easy to cut, but I soon discovered that the taste, combined with the mustady sauce, was really quite divine! But then I also became aware of the fact that it is very, very difficuly to bite through intestines. So when I swallowed, half the bite went down, and the rest did not. I felt the rubbery tendrils dangling down my throat and it really was most unpleasant.

So, no matter where the Andouillettes come from (Troyes is famous for them but so is Vouvray and Vire and  quite a few other places) and whether they are AAAAA certified or not (Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique)… I always make sure I have a very sharp knife and I cut it up into very small pieces before tucking in!

Andouillette: beware of the sausage-like appearance!