Is Asparagus an aphrodisiac?

Pasta with asparagus, lardons, mozzerella and basil.

Pasta with asparagus, lardons, mushrooms, onions, cream and scattered with parmesan

We are celebrating the arrival of our lovely garden asparagus again – a wonderful time of the year and in abundance in our vegetable garden.

There are so many recipes to try with it both fresh and raw, we have it in quiches, soups, salads, pastas – the list is endless. Our favourite is in pasta with mushrooms, lardons, onions and cooked asparagus thrown in at the last minute. Apparently in ancient times, asparagus was renowned as an aphrodisiac! Regardless of its powers to put you in the mood though, this savory vegetable contains a stimulating blend of nutrients, making this member of the lily family alongside onions, leeks and garlic a fantastic food for your health. We will have to let you know if it lies true to its ‘aphrodisiac’ reputation, (Brian insists that this is a fallacy – as with oysters and he’s eaten enough so he should know)!  but one thing we can vouch for is it causes stinky pee!  Scientists aren’t entirely sure why. Most evidence seems to suggest that not everyone can smell the odor and some scientists think that not everyone produces it. Either way, there are no harmful effects.

And so we will continue enjoying our harvest and sharing garden produce with our Clos des Guyons guests during their stay! Not sure if they will let us know about the asparagus aphrodisiac affects though!!! That would be telling wouldn’t it!!

The asparagus season has about another week to go and we’re now into cherries – and that’s another story!

Bon Appetit

Sheila and Brian

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A Rare Rosé from the Loire – AOC Touraine – Noble Joué

Touraine-Noble_Joué

Touraine-Noble-Joué

“Le Salon des Vins de Loire” in Angers is the largest professional wine event in the region, however this year I am not going to write about all the new wines as I do every year but instead I’m posting about a particular wine that I have long known about for many years but never got round to tasting until this year when I found it on the stand of Jean-Jaques Sard. The wine is Touraine – Noble Joué, a relatively unknown wine appellation. However, it’s more than merely a wine because it has an incredible history of which could be titled, “the fall and rise of a wine”.

It’s a very good Rosé or more correctly a “Vin Gris” ie., a white wine made from red grapes. In this case a subtle blend of the three “P’s”:- Pinot Noir, Pint Gris and Pinot Meunier, which are not exactly common grapes in this part of the Loire.

Some weeks after tasting the wine at the “Le Salon des Vins de Loire”,  I decided to take a trip over to the vineyard together with my friend Robert, to meet Jérémie Pierru who has taken over the management of the vineyard from Jean-Jaques Sard. After a pleasant lunch on route in the medieval fortress town of Chinon, we continued our journey onwards to the vineyard at the hamlet of Le Pavillion just outside the village of Esvres to the East of Joué le Tour.  We had an uneventful journey apart from the GPS bizarrely saying that we had reached our destination whilst we were in fact in the middle of a three-lane motorway!  There you go!  When we finally arrived we were met by Jérémie who gave us a superb welcome and guided tour, clearly very proud of both the wine and what he had achieved as slowly but surely he develops the vineyard and the commercial presence of what is a unique wine.

It was fascinating to discover it was a favourite of the Valois King Louis XI who reigned from 1461 to 1483 thus the wine has an ancient and honourable history!  However the wine then became lost as the vineyards were swallowed up by the encroaching city of Tours, although it was still winning several awards at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris.  In fact its “home”, Joué le Tours is now an urbanised suburb of the city full of petrol stations and DIY stores so,  on first appearance, it’s difficult to see where the vineyards are.

The wine was resurrected in 1975 using the original cépages, by a group of winemakers including Jean-Jaques Pierru together with the help of the IANO, the French appellation control body.  Thus we can really say that this wine has been brought back from extinction. Like the sweet Coteaux de Saumur which I spoke about on my last wine blog, the wine is incredibly rare, the whole appellation being no more that 30 hectares, tiny for a Rosé.

We tasted the 2014. In the glass, Noblé – Joué has a very attractive pale pink aspect which reflects the red grapes used.  On the nose, what hit me first of all was an almost Chenin like note of pears and beneath that red fruits and a very aromatic floral overlay.  Really refreshing and with an excellent length for a Rosé. This wine would be excellent nicely chilled on a warm summers evening, accompanied with charcuterie and the famous ‘Rilletes’ of Touraine, fresh pasta, meat or fish grills.  Esentially dry the wine has a tiny hint of sugar which pleasantly rounds it of.

Winery at La Perrieres

Winery at Le Pavillion

I don’t suppose that it will be easy to get hold of this rare wine outside the Loire, but certainly those staying at our gites at Le Clos des Guyons or doing one of our Wine Tours here will be able to taste it and we can only hope that as the wine becomes more established so will its availability and success.  I loved it!

Bon dégustation!

Brian

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And our final Galette des Rois this season, a very French tradition!

The Gallette de Rois

The Gallette des Rois, (or Epiphany Cake) a very French tradition.

The seasonal tradition of having the cake Galette de Rois for Epiphany in France has at last come to an end for us after eating lots of them this year. Thank goodness and I say that because of all the calories we have consumed following Christmas! (The plus side though is they are so delicious).  In the Loire region, as you can see from the photograph, it’s made from puff pastry and then filled with frangipane, jam or chocolate, Mmmmmm! Each gallette contains a plastic or porcelain feve (that is a small charm) with the finder being King for the duration of the occasion, who then wears the cardboard gold crown supplied with the cake and  has the obligation to host an evening in the following year. The family tradition is for everyone to gather together and the youngest child (or adult) goes under the table and points out the guests, who are then given their portion of the cake;  Easy!  This year the tradition has had added appeal as 100 gold Napoléon coins have been hidden in random gallettes by leading French Patissiers giving a valuable surprise to the finder!  Not us unfortunately. And as you can see in the picture we had our Galette with a glass or two of Anjou Rosé.

Until next year then. Bonne Galette

Now back to work again.

Sheila and Brian

Roast Pork Stuffed with Boudin Noir, Apples and Sage

Roast Pork, black pudding , apples and sage

Je suis CharlieThis is what we served to our guests as part of the main course and it was very well received.  It’s basically the side of pork after the loin has been removed.  Depending on what side of the pond you’re on it’s either belly-pork or pork-belly.  Here in France it’s call the “poitrine” and whilst a lot cheaper to buy than prime cuts with a bit of work it can be a really impressive dish.  It’s true that it can take a while to prepare but not that long and it’s quite simple, even I can do it, and with the addition of carefully chosen ingredients it can be really stunning.

So off we go.  Buy the poitrine.  Ask your butcher to remove the ribs or do it yourself.  I find it strangely satisfying but I’ve always been a bit odd!

poitrine de porc

This is one of the few meat purchases which doesn’t really depend on weight but on length. Work out how long you want it to  be depending on the number of people you want to feed. Then visit  your butcher and wave your arms around like you’re describing a fish you’ve caught.  A length of as little as 10/12cms. will easily be enough for 4 people.

Make sure that you choose a poitrine with lots of meat on it as some can be very fatty.  It’s worth going to a really good butcher even if you have to pay more.  And, during the preparation, remove any excess fat that you come across.  If pork fat bothers you you’ll just have to make yourself a green salad instead I’m afraid!
So you’ve got your poitrine and now you’ve got to pretend you’re a surgeon and proceed to carry out the necessary operations.

Boning out belly pork

Don’t worry if you leave more meat on the ribs than you intended, all the better when you turn them into BBQ’d pork ribs afterwards.

Place the tip of a really sharp knife under one edge of the ribs and saw merrily away with the cutting edge inclined slightly upwards so that it closely follows the rib.  Prod around with your fingers to make sure that there aren’t any crafty pieces of bone pretending that they aren’t there.  Later you can marinate the ribs in a BBQ sauce and cook them in the oven, under the grill or even outside, on that strange bonfire thing in a box known, I think, as a BBQ.  This always confused one of my favourite, fictional characters, Rumpole of the Bailey, as he could never quite understand why people didn’t use the perfectly good cooker which was standing redundant in the kitchen. You’ll notice on the picture above that, after removing the ribs there is a section of the poitrine which is standing higher than the rest of the cut.  You need to slice this but leave the far edge attached like an hinge and simply fold it back so that the overall depth of the poitrine is as even as possible making it easier to roll.  The following picture shows you what I mean.

Leveling out the poitrine.

Leveling out the poitrine. You will need to use your judgement on where to slice, always bearing in mind that you want the same depth to the joint.

Now, if you’re still with me, when you’re happy flip the whole thing over and remove around half of the skin as below.  Or all of it if you are strange and don’t like “Crackling”.  If you leave all the skin on it will be difficult to roll.

Preparing poitrine de Porc

After removing half the skin make cuts in the remaining a couple of centimetres apart but try not to cut into the flesh.  Also use the opportunity to remove any excess fat.

You’ll notice that the sheet of meat isn’t exactly oblong it’s more a quadrilateral or, for all I know – or care, maybe even a Triskaidecagon or a Icosagon! Anyway, you need to make it as near as possible a perfect oblong so cut the short sides to make them square with the longer sides BUT, don’t just lob off a vaguely triangular lump but, take your time, and cut in slices, thereby giving yourself bacon for breakfast. Stuffed pork belly, BBQ’d ribs and now bacon.  What value you’re getting!
Now, flip the whole thing over again.  ……..Wake up at the back!! and lay your “stuffing ingredients”  on the flesh after you’ve seasoned it well with salt and pepper and rubbed it into the meat.

Stuffing the rib of pork

So start off with a layer of sage leaves. No need to chop them but don’t use very large leaves and stems as, for some reason that escapes me, they tend not to cook properly even after several hours in the oven and they develop a slightly bitter taste. Then a layer of sliced eating apple, take out the cores and seeds but no need to peel them.  And finally remove the casing (skin) from your boudon noir, (black pudding ) and gauge where to place it to make the whole thing easier to roll.

You know.  I wish I’d never let myself be persuaded to do this, it takes longer to write than to cook!
But hey, ho, onwards and upwards.  Of course you can stuff anything you like into the pork.  Apricots  or peaches would probably work and when the trees in and around Le Puy Notre Dame are full of cherries I’ll try those and the same later on with wild blackberries.

Now we come to the most important, the messiest and also the most satisfying stage of all.  The rolling. The picture below is what it should look like afterwards. Firm, solid and you should be able to bounce it in your hands without it collapsing about you.  If it does artistically surround your feet with a mixture of black pudding, apples and sage – it’s your fault, don’t blame me!

Rolled belly pork

Your knotting needs to be tight, tight, tight.  On this one I strung it longitudinally as well but it’s not really necessary – I just got carried away with the joy of knotting.  Don’t worry if the string goes between the cuts you’ve made in the skin.

Right.  If you can’t do a butchers knot then you will not get it tight enough.  If I tried to explain how to do one  you may well finish up throttling yourself so ask that nice Mister Google and practice on a baguette, the cat, your partners arm, (or even his/her neck if things have reached those depths).  If you don’t want to bother then you’ve wasted a lot of time reading this far.  Sorry.  I’ve embeded a Youtube video below which is one of the clearest that I’ve found
The thing about a butchers knot is that, if you yank on one end, it will tighten and tighten until you can’t pull no more.  The problem with a poitrine is that it is actually quite short as your money-grabbing butcher has already lobbed off the valuable loin and is probably sunning himself in Barbados as we speak.  In fact quite often the ends don’t overlap but simply meet in the middle. (the meat meets as it were – with apologies to Douglas Adams).  But although the two sides will probably not overlap it will still be perfectly formed as long as the stringing is…. altogether now, “TIGHT”.  So gently roll/bend it into shape and then encourage it to stay there by applying a moderate amount of grievous bodily harm.  It other words give it a gentle thumping.  When you have taught it who’s boss and it decides that discretion is the better part of valour and that it had better follow your instructions you can then start to string.
I always start in the middle and then string as near as I can to to the ends.  Then simply repeat the process equidistant between the existing strings.  As you’re doing it some of the ingredients will have the cheek to pop out from the ends.  Just cut off the escaping portions to keep your ends straight, that’ll teach ’em.  Now rub salt, (preferably sea salt) and pepper around the exterior of your rolled poitrine paying particular attention to the scoured skin which will become the crunchy “crackling”.  And now, finally my good people, you can put away your knives and that bloody string.  Clean down your chopping boards and dispose of escaping bits of ingredients because now the preparation is essentially finished and believe me, I’m as relieved as you are!

What you do now is to place the joint in the fridge preferably overnight.  Don’t cover it and find some way of supporting it so that the air can flow all around it.  A grill or something.  I’ve used half a dozen walnuts before now!  It looks like a log on legs.  Make sure you leave a container or something underneath as it can sometimes lose a fair amount of liquid.  And that is why you do it – so that it dries out a little.

Christmas day at le Clos des Guyons

Here we are on Xmas day with the stuffed pork, celeriac purée, quinelle of beetroot purée, braised endive, a cream sauce of morilles and cêpe mushrooms  and of course all the traditional xmas veg. L to R:- Sheila, me and the charming Family Hofley from New Hampshire, USA; Pamela, Catherine, (on her birthday), Marc, Maureen,Carolyn, (currently at college in France). Our friends Jim and Sue from the UK were also there but Jim was taking the picture and don’t know where Sue was – probably raiding the wine cellar!

The rest is simple: preheat the oven to at least 220°C, take the poitrine from the fridge, rub some more salt and pepper over the skin and put it in the oven in the middle and crackling side up.  After half an hour reduce the temperature to 180°C and lower the shelf.  At this stage you should be able to see the crackling crisping up.  Get rid of any melted fat from the dish and replace the meat in the oven.  You can safely leave it for a least two hours before checking it. (I heartily recommend a cheap meat thermometer for this).  You’ve now got nothing much to do for several hours so use these free hours to prepare the rest of a meal, read a few chapters of War and Peace or, if you are a masochist, a few excruciating lines of Proust or, if you don’t want to exercise your brain too much, a Tom Clancy.  I would however draw the line at Geoffrey Archer.  If, when you check it, the meat has not reached pork temperature simply stick it back in, forget about it for another hour or so and return to your previous activities.  Of course if you have misguidedly started to read Geoffrey Archer you will now have dumped it in the bin so you’ll have to find something else.

In fact the great thing about the dish is that it is almost impossible to overcook, it’s almost “the longer the better” but, when you do take it out, tap the “crackling” it should not be soggy but have a crispy, solid feel to it.  It is now imperative that you loosely wrap it in foil and leave it to rest for at least 45mins.  For meal planning purposes I’d allow around at least 3.5 hours plus the 45min. resting period.  What? Well , you’ll just have to get up earlier won’t you!  And that’s it, after resting I’d cut it into hefty portions around 10cms. thick and not as thin slices.  Arrange on the plates with your bits and pieces arranged around it and enjoy your hard work – whilst you bore your guests to death explaining how to tie a butcher’s knot.  Me, I’m going to Chez Sonia, the village bar.

Bon courage

Brian

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A 2010 Coteaux de Saumur from the Domaine de Paliene here in Le Puy Notre Dame

Coteaux de Saumur – A Mythical Sweet Wine from the Loire

I recently read a very interesting post about sweet wines from France on Jill Barth’s excellent blog. So I thought I’d do something on the superb but little known wine fom the Saumur vineyard – le Coteaux de Saumur. The reason that this superb wine is so little known is that it is incredibly rare with an appellation of only 12 hectares, (less than 30 acres). The total yield is around 40000 litres but, in reality, it never reaches this quantity and in many years none is made at all and in others just one or two winemakers may decide to do it. This is why I always refer to it as a “mythical” wine when we are tasting it on wine tours.

The cépage is 100% Chenin and the vines have to grown on “islands” within the greater Saumur appellation where the chalky limestone comes to the surface. It is no coincidence that most of the production is centred around Champigny and Le Puy Notre Dame both “lieu-dit”, (named places – sort of Grand Crus) of Saumur.

I would describe the wine as aristocratic, with the limestone giving it an elegance which is sometimes missing in the more alcoholic stickies of the Coteaux du Layon. In the glass you will find a rich golden colour, fine fruit with hints of waxy honey and a cornucopia of exotic fruit flavours particularly lychées. The one I know best and a serial award winner is from just round the corner here in Le Puy Notre Dame from the renowned Domaine de la Paleine. The 2006 developed a distinct nose of mandarins whilst the 2010 had it from the start. There is always a vibrant acidity which balances the luscious sweetness. Made by a selective “tri” with anything between three and five passes through the vineyard it is then normally put in oak barrels for at least a year. The intense sweetness and acidy mean that the wine is almost eternal, (I have actually drunk a wine from 1856 which was still perfect although of course the actual appellation name didn’t exist at that time, it wasn’t granted until 1966).
Here in the Loire, it has several uses; as an aperitif, as the classic accompaniment to foie-gras and, my particular favourite, alongside the soft, salty French blue cheeses like Roquefort and St. Agur etc, a taste made in heaven. Of course it is also used as a dessert wine but perhaps not as often as you would think.
Price wise it is very competitive when compared to a similar quality Sauternes primarily because our region still makes wine to drink and, as yet, wine isn’t really bought for the prestige of its label although I have detected a slow but pronounced upward movement as the quality of the wine attracts more and more aficionados. A half bottle would cost around €17 whilst a comparable Sauternes would cost immensely more.

So, if you can find a bottle grab it with both hands. If you can’t you’ll just have to visit the Royal Valley of France, le Val de Loire

Brian

http://www.closdesguyons.com

Le Puy Notre Dame, France.

How much does a French Vineyard Cost?

vineyard-Montoreau

A vineyard in the Loire side village of Montsoreau. How would you like to own something like this?

Imagine a beautiful warm evening, you are sitting on your terrace, sipping a glass of your own luscious wine as the sun sets behind your rolling vineyards.  This scenario has long been a dream for many lovers of French wine and culture but how much will it cost?  Let’s have a look.

We’ll leave aside the cost of tools and equipment which can vary enormously depending on a number of factors but is always a huge expenditure but we’ll concentrate here on what is clearly the biggest expense of all which is of course, the vineyard itself and the valuation of that depends on a multitude of factors including the appellation, the region and the position and orientation of the vineyards.

So, to give you an idea, here are the current average prices throughout France.  Cheapest appellation vineyards are probably priced at around €10 000 per hectare, (an hectare is 2.47 acres), in regions like Gaillac in the south west or Valençay in the Loire, whilst a hectare of vineyard in the Nantais, (Muscadet) would come even cheaper at €8 000.  At the other end of the scale are vineyards in Margaux which would come in at €1m per hectare and just next door in Paulliac you could expect to pay up to double that for the privilege of owning an hectare of vines, but then again the appellation is the home of three of the most expensive wines in the world:- the Chateaux Latour; Mouton Rothschild and Lafite Rothschild.

If you’re into Champagne be prepared to fork out €1m.  In the middle range are Châteauneuf de Pape at €350 000 with €140 000 required to make a glass of grassy, fruity Sancerre and €95 000 for a sturdy Crozes-Hermitage from the Northern Rhone.

Here in the Western Loire it’s quite complicated not least because of the multitude and complexity of appellations.  A hectare of Anjou or Anjou Village would probably set you back some €13 000 with another €3 000 required for vines in the Coteaux du Layon.  The “lieu-dit” of Quarts du Chaume would cost €18 000 as would Savenierre near Angers.  A Saumur hectare would be around €17 000 and here in the new appellation of Saumur Puy Notre Dame you would have to pay up to €36 000.  In the better known and longer established appellation of Saumur-Champigny you would be looking at €56 000 on average.

So there you go, have a look down the back of the sofa and see what you can afford!

à bientôt
Brian

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Cremant de Loire


Must apologise for the shake on the video. I couldn’t get rid of it no matter what software I used!

Crémant de Loire is a sparkling wine from the Loire as the names suggests.  Normally appellations this size can produce wine of some questionable quality but what makes Crémant so special is the individual rules within the appellation.  For example everything has to be cut by hand and then put in the containers which you can see on the video.  Because it is a Loire appellation it allows grapes which are grown throughout the Saumurois, Anjou and the Touraine including Burgundy like cépages of the Eastern Loire, (Pinot Noir and Chardonnay over to the melon of the Nantais (Muscadet). Here, on the limestone soils of Saumur the pre-dominant white grape is Chenin (Blanc) although most Crémants are a blend.  This particular one from La Domaine de la Paleine is normally 80% Chenin and 20% Charrdonnay.  The Saumurois is France’s second largest producer of sparkling wine after Champagne and a combination of soil types, know-how, (or savoir faire, I suppose I should say) plus the severity of the appellation rules can make a wine full of flavour with fine, elegant bubbles and up there with the best.  There is also a Rosé version normally made with Cabernet Franc or Pineau d’Aunis but La Paleine does a very interesting one using Pinot Noir with a distinct taste of the fruit and “compost” that we traditionally associate with Pinot.  

Bon dégustation

Brian

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