Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Itxassou Cherries

Along the whole length of the mountain chain of the Pyrenees the cherry orchards flourish in the lower foothills, where the alluvial soil and sheltered micro climate offer the perfect growing conditions. From Ceret in Languedoc Roussillon to Itxassou in the Pays Basque cherries are big business. Ceret is famed in particular for the Burlat variety which was introduced by Joseph Guitard in 1952, it has a firm flesh which is good for preservation and transportation and used mainly in savoury dishes such as Stuffed Pintade or Stuffed Goose, Similarly it can be pressed and rolled into a Pork Roti.

Through little hamlets like Itxassou (famous for its dark cherry jam) and Cambo les Bains (where the Dépardieu movie Cyrano de Bergerac was filmed), the cherry trees that were once close to extinction are now blooming again. In 1994 a group of farmers moved to protect and re-establish the cherries – which are centred mainly around Itxassou.
Itxassou specialises in local cultivars; Bigorre and Xapata for eating, Peloa for syrups and Beltxa for jam and compotes. The trees are planted on very steep terrain and harvest gathering is manual, long and laborious. There are currently over 4000 cherry trees and they hope to reach up the mountains to 6000 feet in 10 years time.

Most of these species are indigenous:

The Xapata

A yellow orange cherry and more acidic than most is sold mainly fresh as its juice is very clear and not popular for jam making as it makes a clear/brown jam.

The Pelo

Dark red if allowed to mature and takes its name from its sheath. These are difficult to transport because they are rather soft but their juice is colourful - almost black. It is used to produce the famous black cherry jam.

The Beltza

The rare famous jam making cherry known as the Black Basque – it only grows in this part of the world. It has tiny fruits and its jam is often paired with Sheep's Cheese or as a filling for Gâteau Basque. Black cherries appeared along the trails Itxassou from the 12th century onwards and in the 19th century cherry wood fuelled the fires of Bayonne. The "red gold" was sold in the markets around, in Cambo les Bains to the Pas de Roland and along the road from Bayonne to St. Jean Pied de Port.

The origin of the culture of growing cherries stretches back through the centuries and strangely enough the Patron Saint of the village is named Saint Fructueux (Fructuosus in Latin). Fructus translates as fruit from Latin! He was Bishop of Tarragona and was arrested during the persecutions of Christians under the Roman Emperor Valerian (reigned 253 – 260) along with his two Deacons, Saint Augurius and Saint Eulogius. They were burned at the stake at the local amphitheatre in Tarragona in 259. Legend has it that as they burned their ropes charred away freeing them and they held out their arms to resemble Christ's crucifixion on the cross.

Another local legend is that Roland (or Orlando - the son of Charlemagne's sister) carved a great hole in the mountainside along the valley of the River Nive to get to Roncesvalles, with his legendary sword Durendal that had once belonged to the Trojan hero Hector.

Cherries are so important to the region that Cherry Festivals are held – usually in late May-early June. In Itxassou the festival is quite literally a moveable feast as the date is set 50 days after the first blossoms. The festivals involve stone spitting competitions, music and dancing in the streets. Thousands of visitors are welcomed for the festivals and the Grande Marche de la Cerise sells tonnes of cherries each day.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Red Wine from Champagne

Bouzy Rouge is the red still wine from the Champagne region. It hails from the Grand Cru vineyards of Bouzy and is made from Pinot Noir on selected plots at mid-slope, from special old grapes which strengthen its maturity. It is light in style, is made for early drinking and can be very good. It falls under the Coteaux Champenoise Appellation Contrôlée (AC Champagne is reserved for the sparkling wines).

Bouzy Rouge was served for the coronation of Louis XIV in Reims and the cellar archives in Versailles prove that the King selected this wine from Champagne for himself. It comes from the vineyards of the Montagne de Reims and was once known as the "wine of the mountain". The Montagne de Reims isn't really a mountain as such, more a hillside, but its slopes do accommodate some of the best vineyard sites in the Champagne region.

As a red hued clairet in the 17th century Bouzy Rouge graced many fashionable tables – it is a bright ruby red colour, crystal clear and is reminiscent of cherries.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Whisky From Champagne

Frenchman Thierry Guillon is successfully distilling malt whisky amid the vines of Montagne de Reims. Guillon says the Champagne region is a natural home for whisky:

“apart from growing vines, this area is a major barley producer. The Scots and the Japanese come to Reims and Troyes to buy their malt.”

A trained wine expert, but self-taught in whisky-making (Guillon has visited Scotland only once) keeps his three stills in a converted tractor shed behind a house on a wooded hill that was once his parents' country cottage. A small visitors' centre has been accommodated in the old wood shed and 700 oak casks of maturing whisky are in 12 second-hand ship containers.

The secret ingredient is fantastic spring water which a diviner found 35 years ago. The water is filtered by passing through beds of clay and chalk. The rock salts which remain are perfect for the Single Malts. The Champagne barley malt which is used is slightly smoked, imparting a subtle aroma to the finished Whiskies and the barrels used come from Champagne.

The distillery produces only individual malts and seeks to obtain original whiskies with products from the local area: barley rather then malt, spring water, yeasts and finally barrels of oaks coming from Champagne. These whiskies have an aroma of dug peat, with smoky undertones of wood and leather and flavours of plum and roast chestnuts.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Très Vieux Marc de Champagne and Très Vieille Fine de Marne

The difference between the Très Vieux Marc de Champagne and Très Vieille Fine de Marne is that the Fine de Marne is made of distilled wine and champagne and the Marc de Champagne is a traditional Eau de Vie (brandy) that is produced by distilling the grape skins, seeds and stalks, which are left from the pressing process in the first stages of Champagne production. Marc is much stronger in taste while the Fine is finer in taste (closer to a Cognac) and is often used for making chocolate truffles.

Marc de Champagne is aged in oak casks and reduced to an alcoholic strength of 40%. In France, it is usually drunk at room temperature, in a round wine glass so that all the subtle and warm flavours can be appreciated. In other countries, such as Spain or Italy, it is often drunk chilled or on the rocks. It is also used as a base in a long drink. You can also use this Eau de Vie in cooking, to flavour sauces, ice creams, sorbets or even to flambé meat.

Très Vieux Marc de Champagne is enjoyed during a French meal as a traditional "trou champenois" (digestion aid). It is also ideal with a sorbet, ice cream or coffee.

Très Vieille Fine de Marne is quite a rarity nowadays. Fine is the French word meaning "fine", as in "high quality" and is a term for some high quality French brandy (generally AOC), not including Cognac and Armagnac. Varieties include: Fine de Bordeaux, Fine de Bourgogne, and Fine de la Marne. People used to refer to having a couple of fines after their coffee but the term, though once common, is now dying out.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Ratafia de Champagne

The Ratafia of my youth used to be a cordial flavoured with peach or cherry kernels, bitter almonds, or other fruits but Ratafia de Champagne is a sweet aperitif made from grape juice obtained exclusively from the Champagne region and fortified with Marc Brandy from the region. This is Champagne's version of Pineau de Charentes. Normally the grapes have been left on the vines to over ripen and dry out (passerillé) and are then crushed and fortified with the Marc.

During ageing the Ratafia acquires its mellow and bright amber colour. The syrupy flavour of the Ratafia comes from the fructose, the natural sugar contained in the grape juice. Just before the end of the process, the Ratafia is around 18° alcohol. It has the flavours of of candied fruits and citrus fruits bark. Ratafia de Champagne should always be drunk chilled and preferably without ice. It can be served as an aperitif or as a dessert wine. Try it with melon, blue cheese or foie gras.

Although the French are convinced that they coined the term Ratafia – so called because it used to be drunk at the ratification of treaties, some say that it originated in New Orleans as part of the special Creole dialect and others say that it is a combination of the words Arraq (Malay liqueur distilled from fruit, grain, sugar cane or the sap of coconut palms ) and Tafia (rum).

Caviar and Bordeaux?

Caviar and Bordeaux does not quite have the same ring to it as caviar and Champagne but you will be surprised to learn that Aquitaine, the region in which Bordeaux lies, actually makes its own caviar!

French sturgeon swam wild in the River Gironde until the early 1960s and fishermen used to catch large quantities of them until over-fishing led to the trade being banned in 1982. The French sturgeon is the European sea sturgeon (Acipenser sturio), also known as the baltic sturgeon and is now a protected species. They are found on the coasts of Europe, except the Black Sea and have even been known to cross the Atlantic Ocean to the coasts of North America. Like many other sturgeons, they spawn in the rivers off the coast.

Sturgeon have been around for 300 million years and little in its snout-nosed structure has changed since Triassic times. It has no scales and no bones. Instead, a row of plates ranges down its back and sides which can be lethally sharp.

The modern industry in the Aquitaine Basin is based on farmed sturgeon (a Siberian species of sturgeon) which yields caviar with fruit and nut flavors similar to Ossetra. The main production facilities are at Saint Seurin sur L’isle, near to Saint Emilion. Caviar d'Aquitaine is still madly expensive at about £50 for a 30g tin but it’s also much less scary than other substitutes, like so-called Laotian Caviar, made from catfish roe.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Edmond Barnaut

Philippe Secondé is the current descendant of Edmond Barnaut and is of the 5th generation of Champagne makers. After earning a degree in enology, he took over the family firm in 1985 and went on to significantly increase the House’s vineyards, modernize its cellar, expand production, and move its viticulture footing to the quasi-organic lutte raisonnée structure (ploughing between rows, using only organic composts, and minimalist fungicide applications). The cellar is situated approximately 28 metres under his premises.

Accessed by a lift his cellar is dug out of chalky rock and provides the perfect environment for cellarage. This is very important as his Champagne is aged in the bottle between 2 to 8 years. Today Champagne Barnaut farms 30 acres in the Grand Cru vineyards of Bouzy and 13 acres in the Marne Valley.

With its sister village of Ambonnay, Bouzy lays claim to having the finest vineyard sites for Pinot Noir in the appellation of Champagne. Its 833 acres of vines grow up the rolling foothills of the Montagne de Reims and face due south, ensuring the best possibility for ripening every year. The result is Champagne’s richest and fullest-bodied wines.

Edmond Barnaut was one of the first pioneers in Champagne to create his own brand outside of the controlling centres of Epernay and Reims. In 1874 he set up shop in Bouzy, where he owned vines and where he married Appoline Godmé-Barancourt, heiress to additional vineyards in the village. The first cuvée made of two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay was launched. And it’s still made today, under the Grande Réserve label, with its reserve wine coming from a solera system begun by Edmond himself and maintained through five generations of Barnaut descendants.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Champagne and Chicken Dishes

The French drink Champagne with their food and you'd be surprised at how many dishes Champagne enhances. Champagne pairs very well with chicken dishes – even oriental ones, especially those using lemon grass, or mild curries. Champagnes made with a blend of Chardonnay have a rich mouth feel with the flavours of tropical fruit, apples and figs and go well with chicken in cream based sauces. Blanc de Noirs Champagne's (made only with the black Pinor Noir grape) are crisp with flavours of lemons, melon and spice and are great with fragrant spicy chicken dishes, especially Thai or Vietnamese cuisine using cilantro, ginger and chillies. Rosé Champagnes are bright and fresh with flavours of raspberry, cherry and melon and pair well with smoked chicken and dishes with high levels of herbs. Vintage Champagnes with bottle age are great with rich dishes made with cheese such as Parmesan and pates.

Recommended Champagnes

These Champagnes are made by Philippe Secondé of the renowned Champagne House Barnaut:

Champagne Grande Reserve Brut £16.13, made with 67% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay. Golden in colour with fine, lively bubbles it has the smell of intense fruits: apricot, honey, roasted hazel nuts and smoke. When in the mouth it attacks the taste buds with a good balance of those fruit and leaves a lovely lingering, full bodied, dry (Brut) after taste.

Champagne Blanc de Noirs Brut £16.13, made with 100% Pinot Noir. Good golden colour with fine bubbles which produces scents of spices, chocolate, minerals, wheat, fresh flowers, plums and white fruits. In the mouth it is full bodied, well balanced with plenty of spicy fruits which creates a long, dry unexpected after taste.

Champagne Authentic Rosé Brut £18.10, made with 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. A lovely, almost strawberry in colour Rosé, full of fruit and berries and a full bodied fruity 'Kir Royale' taste with the dryness of the Pinot Noir lingering through.

Champagne Vintage Brut Millesimes 1998 £26.42, made with 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. When a Champagne maker has an exceptional harvest a millesime is declared and Philippe Seconde's 1998 Champagne Vintage Brut Millesimes is simply divine. It oozes quality with loads of small bubbles exploding refreshingly in the mouth leaving a clean fruity and long after taste.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Poulet Véronique

This recipe always reminds me of our dear friends Jean-François and Véronique Julien, makers of Chateau La Fleur Morange. Véronique is a fantastic cook and not only does this recipe have her name but it also includes grapes!

1 chicken
2 oz butter
tarragon
¾ pint chicken stock
½ lb red and white grapes
lemon juice
2 or 3 tbsp thick cream

Rub the chicken well with butter and put the remainder with a small bunch of tarragon inside the bird, cover with buttered paper, pour in ½ pint of stock and roast for up to an hour. Peel, pip and slice the grapes, squeeze lemon juice over them and cover. Carve the chicken, strain off the juice into a saucepan, deglaze the roasting pan with the remaining stock and add the contents to the saucepan and reduce. Add the cream to the gravy, add the grapes at the last moment and spoon over the chicken.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

The Marans

We keep Marans and they lay the most beautiful dark chocolate coloured eggs – apparently these are "the hens that lay James Bond's favourite eggs". Fleming wrote that when in London, Bond maintained a simple routine. Sitting down to The Times, he breakfasts on two large cups of "very strong coffee . . .and an egg served in a dark blue egg cup with a gold ring round the top, boiled for 3 1/3rd minutes. There is also whole wheat toast, Jersey butter and a choice of Tiptree 'Little Scarlet' strawberry jam, Cooper's Vintage Oxford marmalade and Norwegian Heather Honey from Fortnum and Mason, served on blue Minton china. Breakfast is prepared by May, his Scottish housekeeper, whose friend supplies the brown eggs from French Marans hens.

Marans are named after the town of Marans which is an Atlantic port, about 12 miles north of La Rochelle, at the mouth of the River Sevre. The canal system there forms the famous Marais Poitevin, more often known as the Green Venice. Fens, often covered in briny water during the winter high tides, wrapped in mist at night, surround the town. Marans were bred here in the marshy areas and can cope with damper conditions. Since Roman times, Marans has been a port specialized in cereals that arrived mainly by river or canal from the surrounding regions. This favoured the development of poultry farming and ships used to carry live chickens on their voyages.

However, it was not until 1880 that the Marans started to appreciate a widespread reputation, due largely to the rivalry between two brothers, both poultry merchants in London. One of them was one of the biggest wholesalers of white Russian eggs, then the most important poultry producing country in Europe. His brother, whose ships often docked at Marans, had the idea of competing with the white Russian egg trade by selling the dark brown eggs of Marans which were bigger and fresher. There are 4 recognized varieties of Marans: Black, Dark Cuckoo, Golden Cuckoo, and Silver Cuckoo.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Faverolles

Faverolles are named after the village called Faverolles, in the Department of Eure-et-Loir, about midway between the small towns of Houdan, Dreux and Noyent-le-Roi, in a district where poultry-raising is carried on extensively, supplying a large portion of the fowls sold on the Houdan market, one of the most important in France.

Faverolles are such superior table birds that some of the first Faverolles to enter Australia were specially imported by a French chef who raised them to supply top quality chicken for his restaurant.

I like to think of them as the poodles of the chicken world as they have beards, muffs and feathered feet. The Faverolles were used as a utility breed known for their excellent table qualities and superior egg laying during winter months. The French have a dish for which the Faverolles was used exclusively. It is called "Petite Poussin" or "Small Breast." Today they are regarded as a show fowl. They are said to be the Peacock of the poultry world for their contrasting colour between the sexes and the brilliance of colour in the male birds. They make excellent back yard fowl and have a genteel personality. The most common colour is salmon but there are other varieties, including white, black, cuckoo, splash, and blue.

Barbecued Poussin

1 whole or half poussin per person
melted butter for brushing

Sauce

2 oz butter, melted
5 tbsp wine vinegar
bouquet garni
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp onion juice
2 tbsp red wine
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper

Mix the ingredients for the sauce together. Split the poussins down the back, wash and dry thoroughly. Brush the poussins with the butter and cook on the barbecue until brown. When golden brown start basting them with the sauce and continue until the birds are well cooked. You can reduce the remainder of the sauce and serve apart if you prefer.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Queen of Chickens – The Bresse

Bresse chickens are prized like fine wine – they even have their own AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée) and were the first livestock to be granted such protection. AOC status was granted based on the unique characteristics of flavour given by local soil and grain, as well as the dedication of the local farmer's association to protecting quality.

The Bresse originates from the Bresse area of the Rhône-Alpes region and the birds are highly valued for their rich, gamey depth of flavour, fine, tender flesh and delicious, clean-flowing fat. Such is the demand inside France that few birds make it out of the country. As a premium product, they sell at a premium price.

The most typical examples, known as Bény, have a distinctive red crown, snowy white feathers and blue feet, making up the colours of the French flag or tricolore, making it an ideal national mascot. However Bresse now appear in Black, Blue, Gray and White varieties.

The first recorded mention of the bird was in 1591, when the good citizens of Bourg-en-Bresse, midway between Lyon and Geneva and not far from the Swiss border, presented the Marquis of Treffort with two dozen of the birds in grateful recognition of his bravery in driving off an army of marauding Savoyard soldiers. Its reputation was assured by 1825, when one of the world's first and greatest gastronome, the 19th century epicurean Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, described the bird as "the queen of chickens, and the chicken of kings.”

Poulet de Bresse à la Crème

1 chicken
100g of butter
1 onion, chopped
button mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 bouquet garni
glass of dry white wine
1 litre of cream
lemon
salt, pepper

Joint the chicken. Place the butter in a large pan over a brisk heat, then add the pieces of chicken. Season. Add the onion, button mushrooms, crushed garlic and the bouquet garni. Brown until the pieces turn a rich golden colour. Deglaze the pan with the dry white wine. Reduce then add the cream. Cook for 25 to 30 mins, then remove the pieces. Pass the sauce through a strainer and add a dash of lemon. Arrange the chicken pieces on each plate and coat with sauce.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

French Hens - The Houdan

The Houdan is named after the city of Houdan near Paris, where it was raised in past years for the Paris and London markets. This old French breed was known as the Normandy fowl when first imported into England in 1850.

It's thought that the Houdan is related to both the Crèvecoeur and La Flèche and it is esteemed highly in France for its fine meat qualities and its large white eggs. They are large, heavy looking birds, bred for the table and have a bold, active character.

The Houdan has a range of colours: White, Blue Mottled, Red Mottled and Black. The White and Mottled varieties are more common but developed in North America. It's thought that the Blue Mottled (which existed at least into the 1960s) may have been handicapped by their inability to breed true.

Poulet Rôti Aux Amandes

1 chicken
2 oz butter
sprig of tarragon
1 pint stock
1 onion, sliced
2 oz blanched almonds
½ oz flour
salt
pinch sugar
pinch ground mace
2 tbsp cream

Put ½ oz and tarragon inside the bird, rub another ounce over the bird, cover with paper, set in a roasting tin with half the stock and cook in a moderate oven. Baste frequently and turn. After 20 mins remove the butter paper and continue cooking until the bird is browned. Meanwhile chop the almonds as finely as you can, put into a frying pan with the remaining butter and sliced onion and cook until golden brown. Blend in the flour, add the remaining stock, season with salt, sugar and ground mace. Simmer for 5 mins. Carve the bird, arrange in a serving dish, add the cream to the sauce and spoon over the dish.

Monday, 15 June 2009

French Hens - La Flèche

La Flèche were bred in the Valley of La Sarthe, and although some people think that it takes its name from flèche, meaning “arrow” in French it is actually named for the town of La Flèche where poultry breeding centralized.

It's nicknamed the Devil Bird as it's V-shaped comb looks like horns. La Flèche are slow-maturing fowl and are also known as good foragers on open range, happily travelling over large area, good flyers and roost in trees. They were valued both for their tasty white meat and eggs. A cock may weigh up to 8 to 10lbs in weight and the early stock in the 1850s were blacks, reds, and fawns. The French settled on black as the uniform bird during the last century as black fowl commanded premium prices.

Poulet Sauté Parmesan

4 chicken breasts
2 oz butter
1 tsp flour
1 ½ cups single cream
2 ox Parmesan
seasoning
2 egg yolks
breadcrumbs
fresh tarragon leaves

Sauté the chicken breasts in butter till cooked. Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan, add the flour, then add the cream. Stir slowly and allow it to come up to boiling point. Add ½ oz of the cheese and the seasoning. Add the egg yolks and stir till thickened.

In an oven proof dish sprinkle half of the remaining Parmesan, place the chicken on top and cover with the sauce. Mix the remaining Parmesan with the breadcrumbs and sprinkle over the dish. Brown in a hot oven for 5 – 7 mins. Scatter over the tarragon leaves and serve immediately.

Friday, 12 June 2009

French Hens - The Crèvecoeur

The Crèvecoeur is quite rare and is one of the oldest French chicken breeds. Some maintain that it is the oldest but there is dispute over the subject. They are named after the town of Crèvecoeur in Normandy and were first kept in France as dual–purpose chickens, valued for both their white eggs and meat. Nowadays Crèvecoeurs are primarily bred for poultry exhibition and historically there were a blue and white variety as well as the more widely known black. The cocks can reach a weight of 8 pounds.

Most French poultry historians believed that the Crèvecoeur was developed from crossing Polish with the old time common fowl of Normandy, which was often 5 toed (most chickens have only 4). Such fowl were also common in Brittany. Many French writers claim the Corking as originally French, believing that it was introduced to Britain during or after the Norman invasion in 1066. The British prefer to believe that a reverse movement occurred. In fact, the Romans were probably the original source of such birds in both areas and it is likely these fowl crossed the channel many times.


Poulet en Casserole Normande

4 chicken pieces
1 ½ oz butter
12 shallots
2 rashers of streaky bacon
2 good flavoured apples, peeled, cored and chopped
handful of chestnuts, peeled
seasoning
¼ pint cider
bouquet garni

Brown the chicken all over in hot butter. Remove it and put the shallots into the pan and sauté over a medium heat. After a few minutes add the bacon, increase the heat and when the contents of the pan are turning colour add the apples and chestnuts. Shake over a brisk heat for a minute or two. Arrange the chicken pieces in layers with the mixture from the pan in a casserole dish. Rinse the pan out with cider and pour into the casserole. Add the bouquet garni and cover the casserole dish tightly. Cook in a slow to moderate oven for 1 ½ – 2 hours.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

French Hens

I love keeping hens and there is nothing more enjoyable than leaning on the fence in the sun watching them scratch in the dirt softly clucking away to themselves whilst on the hunt for the odd bit of grain. They always make me laugh, especially when one hen finds a choice morsel and makes the mistake of pouncing on it with a squawk of delight which inevitably brings every other hen in the vicinity dashing in a very unladylike manner to try to take it from her.

There are hundreds of chicken breeds in existence and they have been domesticated for thousands of years. The first pictures of chickens in Europe are found on ancient Greek pottery dating back to the 7th century BC.

It's thought that chickens came to Europe from the east and until recent evidence suggested that domestication of the chicken was under way in Vietnam over 10,000 years ago, it was believed that they came from India. They were imported to Greece from Persia and the Greek poet Cratinus (mid 5th century BC) calls them “the Persian Alarm”.

The oldest chicken breeds in France are thought to be the Crèvecoeur, La Flèche and the Houdan.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

The Landes Maize Fed Chicken

The Landes is renowned for its chicken - the secret behind its poultry is the special feed and a special race of chickens. The free range chickens live of 70-80 % whole Maize seeds giving the yellow colour to the meat. The birds have a stronger taste of chicken and are very tender and juicy. Chicken has been bred here since the Spaniards introduced it in the 8th century and Maize was introduced to France by Gonzalo de Hernani Percazteguy who travelled with Christopher Columbus to Central America in 1492.

The Gallic Rooster, or cockerel, is the unofficial French national emblem, as symbolic as the stylised French Lily. From the very roots of French history, the Latin word Gallus means both "rooster" and "inhabitant of Gaul". The French rooster emblem adorned the French flag during the revolution. With the success of the Revolution in 1848, the rooster was made part of the seal of the Republic. In 1899, it was embossed on a more widespread device, the French 20 franc gold coins.

The French have always loved chicken as a dish - at the end of the 16th century, King Henri IV is supposed to have said "If God allows me to live, I will see that there is not a single labourer in my kingdom who does not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday" and in the 19th century gastronomic writer Brillat Savarin said, in The physiology of taste: "the fowl is to the kitchen what the canvas is to painters. To charlatans it is the cap of Fortunatus, and is served up boiled, roasted, fried, hot, cold, whole or dismembered, with or without sauce, broiled, stuffed, and always with equal success".

The Landes Chicken is part of the Label Rouge program which began in France in the 60s as a grass roots movement led by farmers there. After the Second World War, as poultry became more industrialized, demand grew in France for the taste of traditionally raised farm chickens. The Label Rouge program focuses on high quality products, mainly meat, with poultry making up most of the products. It emphasizes quality attributes such as taste, culinary qualities, free range production, and food safety. The average consumer can note a positive difference in taste between Label Rouge poultry and industrial poultry - in fact, regular taste-testing is a certification requirement to prove that these products are "vividly distinguishable" from conventional poultry.

The main reason for the superior taste is the use of slow-growing birds instead of the fast-growing birds used for industrial production. The slow-growing birds are from old rustic genetic stocks and are grown longer than industrial birds before they are processed. There are a range of breeds used – around 46 – coming from crosses of old regional breeds.

Landes poultry are still known for being raised in the pine forest, using small portable housing called “Marensines.” George Berbille invented the portable Marensine system and is considered the father of range poultry production in France. In a dense forest, the smaller houses are used to fit between the trees. The houses have knobs where wheels can be attached and are towed by tractor. They are sometimes placed beside cornfields so that birds can benefit from shade and forage for insects.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Barbecued Pauillac Lamb

Once upon a time Pauillac Lamb would have been cooked on an open fire using Bordeaux barrel wood and you can still find recipes for it being cooked over vine branches!

8 lamb chops
1 cup chicken broth
1/3rd cup tomato sauce
1 onion, very finely diced
1 stick celery, very finely diced
¼ cup port
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp Worcester sauce
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
½ tbsp brown sugar

Combine all the ingredients except the chops in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for about an hour or until sauce is slightly thickened. Process in a blender or food processor until smooth. Chill in refrigerator until ready to use. Brush each chop on both sides with about 1 tablespoon sauce and barbecue until done.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Pauillac Lamb Breeds

The Blanche du Massif Central

The Blanche du Massif Central is descended from the ancient Caussenard breed, which for 2000 years inhabited the Causses, the dry regions with poor, stony soil bordering the Massif Central from the South to the South-West.

The Tarasconnais

The Tarasconnais is extremely hardy, thriving on dry rough ground and is able to walk long distances. The breed probably originates from a Syrian population that was imported during early invasions of the region. Over the centuries it has experienced many infusions of foreign blood, notably the African Merino, the forefather of the Spanish Merino, which was imported by the Iberians, conquerors of Spain.

The Lacaune

The Lacaune is famous as it is the red sheep whose milk makes Roquefort cheese. These sheep are also well adapted to harsh conditions and rocky terrain.

The Berrichon du Cher

The Berrichon du Cher was established in the Berry region of France and the original breed was crossed with a Merino in the mid-1780's. Further improvements were made in the 1800's with the introduction of the Dishely Leicester. The Berrichon due Cher is compact, well muscled, and medium to large in build.

The Rouge de l'Ouest

The Rouge de l'Ouest (The Red of the West) comes mainly from the Loire area in France. It's name refers to the area that it comes from an its unique pinkish face and legs. Renowned for its rich thick milk the Rouge was originally kept as a dairy sheep producing Camembert cheese.

The Charolais

The Charolais come from the countryside around the town of Charolles in the Saone Loire region of France where is grazes alongside the famous Charollais Cattle. Like the cattle the Charollais sheep is a medium to large size and well muscled.