Cervelle de Canut

fullsizeoutput_3cf

You may not be surprised to hear that I chose to spend my summer in Lyon not for its culture or nightlife, or for its beauty. I chose it for its food.

Lyon has a long and celebrated culinary history that ties in heavily with the city’s famed silk industry. The silk workers, or canuts, began to occupy the land at the top of the Croix Rousse hill in the 19th century, and have left an indelible stamp on the city, even though there is no silk made here in any meaningful way anymore.

Rather, the canuts came, ate, and shaped gastronomy in Lyon for the next two centuries. Tiny restaurants began popping up all over the city in the 18th and 19th century, serving local working men with tripe and andouillette sausage (made from tripe), as well as a host of other dishes made from cheaper cuts of meat.

These restaurants, usually run by women who had been let go as domestic servants, became incredibly popular and are known today as bouchons. These small, cosy restaurants are dotted around the city and still serve up the same traditional fare as they did in the last few centuries.

Many of the bouchon’s traditional dishes are a touch scary – I, for one, am not sure I’ve got it in me to eat tripe. One, however, is not scary at all, despite its name: cervelle de canut, or silkworker’s brain.

Cervelle de canut is made from a mixture of herbs and faisselles, a kind of fresh cheese that to me sits somewhere between yogurt and cottage cheese. I’m sure it is the kind of thing you could serve as an aperitif but I’ve had it twice now for dinner, sat at the table with a spoon, a baguette, a few bits of cucumber and a bowl of delicious herby cheese.

While you can buy it from the fromagerie or the local market, it’s incredibly easy to make, and it is with that in mind that I share with you the recipe I used.

Note: I used cow’s milk faisselles as I am in France and there’s literally an entire aisle of the supermarket dedicated to fromage blanc. When you inevitably can’t find faisselles in Auckland, you can just use good quality greek yogurt instead – it’s not exactly the same but it’s pretty dang close.

Cervelle de Canut

300g cow’s milk faisselles (or yogurt)
2 big tablespoons of soft goat’s cheese (it needs to be softer than feta – chèvre will be much more suitable)
1 big tablespoon of cream cheese or cottage cheese – just to make it even cheesier
Half a shallot, minced
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon chives (you can also use other soft frenchy herbs like tarragon or chervil)
2 tablespoons olive oil
splash red wine vinegar
splash white wine
Salt and pepper

This recipe needs no further explanation, really: just put everything in a bowl and stir it till it’s combined, and add more of anything you think it needs more of. You can add some minced garlic as well but I really hate raw garlic so I left it out. Chuck the bowl in the fridge and let it chill out for a couple of hours before you get stuck in – it really needs some time to meld together.

I would go with some fresh bread for an accompaniment, but it also went nicely with cucumber (and will probably be good with a bunch of other fresh vegetables). I paired it with a rosé from Provence the first time and a Picpoul de Pinet the second time – any light, fresh wine with a lot of acidity will work really well here.

 

No Pain, No Gain

fullsizeoutput_3c7

There’s been a lot of talk about cheese here at the Cheese Diaries, which is fair enough, given the name of the blog. But the truth is that it hasn’t just been the cheese that’s been capturing my imagination this last month.

My tastes have been satiated by something a lot more simple: bread.

I’ve always been a bread gal. Back in New Zealand, I hated starting the day without a couple of bits of Vogel’s toast slathered with peanut butter (related: if anyone wants to send me some smooth Pics, they should feel free). I have historically preferred bread over crackers when it comes to cheeseboards, and the thought of a gluten-free or low carb diet fills me with horror.

But bread is such an unassuming thing that when you’re asked to say what your favourite food is, it’s incredibly unlikely that you’d offer up bread as a response. Which is why when I decided I was going to go to France and eat all of the cheese, I didn’t think much into the bread I was going to have to eat as a conduit for that.

The truth is, the bread I’ve eaten in the last month has rivalled the cheese in terms of deliciousness.

Every day, a new baguette or croissant or some such thing has wheedled its way into my shopping basket accidentally, and been delivered home precariously in the basket of my bicycle or nearly stabbed someone breadily on the bus. Once home (sometimes sans its irresistible nubbin end), it is sawed into bits and slathered in just the right amount of butter and eaten, often standing over the sink because it was too delicious to waste time sitting down.

There hasn’t even been a huge amount of variation in the bread I’ve eaten. The baguette has been my go-to pain for the last month, and my average amount of baguette-per-day is far higher than I am willing to admit here. The baguette may have its downsides (awkward to transport on a bicycle), but in my humble opinion, its ratio of crispy, chewy crust to fluffy inside is perfect – particularly when sliced on the bias. It has proved an excellent vehicle for much of the cheese I’ve eaten.

The baguettes I’ve eaten have ranged from fancy bakery loaves wrapped in a rustic twist of paper to sticks I grabbed from the tiny Carrefour on the way home from class. The baguettes are delicious either way – even the low salt version I accidentally brought home one time was very edible.

However, this last Sunday, I left it until a bit late in the day to buy bread and could not find a humble baguette for love nor money. After some very audible grumbling and cursing Lyon’s name (it was hot and I was hungry), I found a bread stall in the market that was out of baguette, but had a range of other breads.

I came home with a loaf that was labeled pain campagne, which just means ‘country bread’. It was rounder and thicker than a baguette, with a slightly browner colour. It still had a pleasing crust-to-inner ratio, with the same baked-in ridgelines as baguette that can tear the roof of your mouth to shreds if you aren’t careful. The crust had a slightly caramelised flavour that was out of this world, especially when paired with salted butter.

Hopefully I can tear myself away from the hallowed baguette more often so that I can discover new kinds of bread like my old friend pain campagne here.