22 September 2008

A lot of cheese and a rabbit too

On Saturday, when Peter and Jill arrived, Walt and I did the cooking. Walt and I have blogged about some of the food we made. So yesterday, Sunday, it was Peter's turn at the stove. In the morning, we went shopping over at the outdoor market in Noyers-sur-Cher.

Peter said his idea was to get a chicken, maybe, and do a kind of fricasee using some of the vegetables from our garden. We had gone out to check and found several nice, long purple eggplants, some big bell peppers, and a few little yellow summer squash out there that had survived the cool, damp weather we had at the beginning of the month.

The church in Saint-Aignan seen from down by the river

At the market, we first walked past a charcuterie/rôtisserie stand where a long line had formed. People were buying fresh and cured pork, sausages, and spit-roasted chickens, turkey roasts, and pork roasts. We saw some fresh free-range chickens and one enormous turkey. But Peter also spied fresh whole rabbits. His mind was made up. A rabbit fricassee would be our dinner.

We continued past a couple of produce stands, admiring the fresh fruit and vegetables. But we had vegetables from the garden and a bowl of fresh fruit at home, so we didn't need anything. With one exception: a big head of frisée or curly endive. The first seller had such salads at 2.60€ each, but the second had the same thing for 1.20€. We got one there even though it was a little greener, not quite as young and white-leaved.

Looking out from the church up the stairs
that lead to the château
in Saint-Aignan

We walked on around the market. I wanted to show Peter and Jill the cheese seller's stand, which is always varied, neatly organized, and appetizing. For once there was no line.

The fact was that we already had a selection of cheeses — Camembert, Fourme d'Ambert, Cantal, Comté, and fresh and cured goat cheese from Selles-sur-Cher — at home. So I said, well, let's just glance at the cheeses. Then I spotted the Bries, including a Brie de Melun that I'd been wanting to try for a couple of weeks after reading about it on Loulou's blog. I couldn't resist that one.

The château de Saint-Aignan

Then Peter said he had never seen the heart-shaped Neufchâtel cheeses before, and Neufchâtel (from the Pays de Bray in Normandy, north of Rouen) has been one of my favorite cheeses since I lived in Rouen more than 35 years ago. I needed to get one of those too, so that Peter could try it.

And then Jill saw a Pont-l'Evêque, another cow's milk cheese from Normandy, and said that was one of her favorites. We had to get that too. And Peter noticed the Saint-Agur, a type of Roquefort. He wanted some.

Are we going to have a cold winter?

So there we were loaded down with cheeses. That would be lunch. We continued on to a charcuterie on the street just down from the market. This particular shop sends a seller to the Saint-Aignan market on Saturdays, and sometimes I buy things from him (despite feeling disloyal to « Madame Doudouille », whose charcuterie I really like). I wanted to see the shop.

There was a long line, but the shop displays were beautiful and we needed some poitrine fumée (smoked pork belly) to make lardoons to go with the curly endive (which, for lunch today, will made into a salad and topped with one poached egg per person as well).

Another old bread bakery — the second
in three years — has shut down in Saint-Aignan.

We stood in the shop admiring and discussing the cuts of fresh pork, the salamis (saucissons secs, the chitterling sausages (andouilles and andouillettes, the black pudding (boudin noir), and the cuts of brined pork (porc demi-sel) that are so good with beans or sauerkraut or other slow-cooked vegetables. It was interesting to see what the other customers bought.

With some pork belly and a French salami in our basket, we headed back to the outdoor market to get that rabbit. We had to wait in line there too, and that gave us another opportunity to see what was on sale and what people were buying. I noticed a tray of duck sausages. I'll have to go back there next Sunday and get me some of those. There were also trays of at least three different kinds of chicken sausages, not to mention all the cuts of fresh and brined and smoked pork.

Meanwhile, this pastry shop near the château
has been taken over by an artisan bread baker.

It was time to head home for that lunch of cheese, bread, and wine. But first we needed some bread. I drove Peter and Jill up to the bakery in the vineyard about two miles south of our house, where there was also a line. The line moved quickly, but the time we got to the front the last baguette had just been sold. We had to wait a couple of minutes while the baker took a fresh batch of bread out of his big wood-fired oven.

We chatted with him (the baker), who told us he had become a baker because it was a profession in which he didn't need to be able to speak English or any other language but French. Ha ha ha. And then in walked Patricia, the woman who with her husband Bruno owns a nearby winery and most of the vineyard out behind our house. We talked with her for a minute, learning that the grape harvest is scheduled to begin today. The first grapes harvested will be the ones used to make sparkling Touraine wines.

After another minute or two, our baguette came out of the oven. It was not warm but hot to the touch. We also got a couple of croissants, a small loaf of bread with walnuts baked into it, and another that had whole hazelnuts in it. Those would be good with cheese.

Back at the house, it was warm enough (if barely) for us to sit out on the front terrace in the sun to enjoy our cheese platter. All the cheeses were excellent, especially that Brie de Melun (Melun is a town just a few miles from Fontainebleau, near Paris). And the Neufchâtel. And the Pont-l'Evêque. Not to mention the Saint-Agur. Ah là là.

After lunch, and before dinner, we drove back down into Saint-Aignan and took a walk up to the château, into the church (including the crypt with its old frescoes), and through the streets of the medieval neighborhoods down near the river. All under a bright warm sun. I'm putting some pictures from that part of the day in this post.

And still before dinner, Jill and I took a long walk with Callie down through the woods, back up through another section of woods on a tractor road, along the paved road back out to the vineyard, and then down rows of vines and the gravel road back to the house. We had to walk off that cheese and make room for the rabbit fricassee that Walt was helping Peter prepare for dinner.


  1. So what is Peter's definition of a fricasée? Does he think it just refers to a way of cutting up a chicken (or in this case, rabbit) or does he extend the definition to cover a way of cooking or a set of ingredients? And what are your thoughts?

  2. I hope we will get to see the fricassé being made. I liked hearing about your shopping. Those cheeses must have been tasty.

  3. Yes, as Susan asked, I'd love to know exactly what a fricasée entails :))

    This post was simply wonderful. It's just everything about France that I love... markets, fresh food, chateaux, walks in the countryside, good company, artisan bakery bread fresh from the oven, and great company... and, Ken's reflection in the window of one of the pictures! (Speaking of photos, the one about winter did not appear.... just one of those boxes with a ? in it.).

    This is, indeed, how it's supposed to be for you, I'm sure!

  4. (Evelyn, you and I were typing at the same moment, it seems!)

  5. It's sad to see bakeries close. I think part of it is a change in demand, but also the educational system is having a heck of a time getting young people interested in the profession -- that and butchering.

  6. The smell of hot bread on the way home must have been heavenly. If I'd been along, the loaf would have arrived home with a big hunk eaten out of it.

  7. Here's one of Peter Hertzmann's chicken fricassée recipes. A fricassée is a kind of chicken or rabbit stew made with onions and white wine. Herbs of course. And either cream or vinegar to perk it up. The rabbit fricassée we had was spiced with vinegar and hot red pepper (piment d'Espelette).

    Got to go now. This evening's apple crêpes flamed with calvados are just ready.

  8. Here's the recipe most similar to the rabbit recipe that I prepared. Just substitute rabbit for the chicken. I made a few substitutions, like I didn't finish the sauce with butter, but the essential flavors were all there.


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