Cheese on Tuesday – Camembert

I’d meant to talk about Boursin this week, but since I came across this in the sales at the weekend, I decided it had to be Camembert.

Isn’t it cool? It’s specially designed with those movable plastic bits inside to conserve your Camembert and help it ripen properly by retaining its odour.

So, onto the cheese itself. This is one of the family of fromages à pâte molle et à croûte fleurie (soft cheeses with a floury crust). It’s less fatty than its pressed cheese cousins since it contains more water. It contains around 320 calories per 100g which is pretty good for cheese.

A typical 250g Camembert is made from two litres of milk, so lots of healthy calcium in every slice, and also a good dollop of phosphorus too. There are vitamins A and B2 as well.

Generally, the longer you keep Camembert, the better it gets provided you don’t go past the eat by date on the packet and don’t leave it to shrivel up in the back of your frigo like we sometimes do, only rediscovering it the next time a full-scale fridge clean out is called for due to there being a funny smell. Which is usually the Camembert! If you eat it affiné, ie about 3 weeks after it’s been made, it’s light and delicate. When it becomes à point about a fortnight later, it’s altogether a more determined cheese. But wash it down with a swig of good strong red wine and it’s extremely palatable.

You can eat it in many different ways. Straight out of the packet on baguette is always nice. But slices rolled in breadcrumbs and then deep fried are my favourites. I once had these with a redcurrant sauce as a starter many years ago, and I can still remember how lovely it was.

I’ve never done it, but apparently it’s delicious if you cook the camembert in a moderate oven in its wooden box (assuming you buy the posher varieties) until the wood is starting to blacken. You then take the crust off with a knife and dip bits of bread into the melty cheese underneath. Something to try but keep a fire extinguisher handy.

I’ve read that Camembert chocolates and camembert sorbet are highly acclaimed gastronomic delights but I can’t say they sound very appealing.

Onto the cheese’s history. Legend has it that it all began with Marie Harel, a farmer in the village of Pays d’Auge at the end of the 18th century. She kindly sheltered a refractory priest, Abbé Charles-Jean Bonvoust, when he was on the run from the guillotine-obsessed authorities during the Revolution. He was from Brie originally, and to show his gratitude to Marie, he gave her the recipe for his native cheese. She combined this with the cheese she traditionally made and voilà, Camembert was born. Except this isn’t true. Camembert already existed. There are references to it that date back to 16th century. Nice try Marie!

The railway helped Camembert become famous since it could now be easily transported to markets in Paris. Once Napoléon said he liked it and officially called it Camembert, its success was assured. The famous round wooden boxes for Camembert were invented in 1890 by Ridel. These allowed the cheese within to breathe and thus be transported further afield to conquer foreign markets.

Until 1910 Camembert actually had a bluish mould on it. This ended with the discovery of penicillium candidum which produced a more attractive white mould. And it’s said that the cheese became the unofficial symbol of France when it was included in the daily rations of soldiers in the Great War.

So, rather an interesting cheese all round.


La Mode Pratique 11.11.1911 – Fur, Dowries, Patterns and Potions

The weather is wonderful at the moment, definitely the nicest French November that we can remember. So we took advantage of it yesterday to some sorting out in the barn. Our barn is huge and has become a bit of a dumping ground for, well, everything. It was getting out of control so well overdue for a quick tidy up.

We soon filled the trailer with old papers, two broken vacuum cleaners, empty containers, sacks, and a load more things. But then I came across some of my old magazines so work rapidly ground to a halt as I was quickly sidetracked into looking through them. I was delighted to find a copy of La Mode Pratique dated 11.11.1911, one hundred years old to the day!

La Mode Pratique took over from La Mode Illustrée, which I have previously blogged about. It took on a tabloid format and became a little more downmarket, in there are lots of classified and other ads, far more than in Illustrée. There are even, heaven forbid, boobs, although they’re only cartoon ones!

All the ads are on the four outer pages of the paper, as was common with many publications of the time. They seem to be mainly about slimming …

… whitening your teeth, and staying regular.

The paper proper opens with an editorial about ‘la pluie’, rain. It’s very flowery, describing rain as ‘les larmes du ciel’ – heaven’s tears – and talks about how it makes us ‘douloureuse’ and inclined to ‘la mélancolie’. But there’s a nice picture of an afternoon dress to cheer everyone up.

Next comes, in full colour, an embroidery template. It’s a copy of the pattern on Louis XVI’s armchair. But you only get the first half. You’ve got to buy the next issue to get the rest!

Tucked into this page of the paper was the delivery slip that had been around it. It bears a Paris postmark, and the date of 8-11-11. This copy of LMP was sent from Librairie Hachette et cie, Boulevard St Germain 79, Paris to Madame Dubois, Notaire à Lepaud. Now, this ties in with the fact that we know a Notaire lived at Les Fragnes. We thought he was a Beaufils, but I’ve come across the name Dubois in other of my researches. But the address? It looks like M Dubois had a practice at Lépaud then, about 30 kms away, as well as locally. How would he have got there, I wonder?  It’s something of a mystery having Mme Dubois mentioned here. Other adresse labels we’ve come across have been for Les Fragnes, or even neighbouring Les Combes. Some detective work to be done.

On with the paper. There are several pages about fur coats …

… followed by an article about children’s hats …

… and then some lacemaking patterns.

There’s advice on how to make your table look attractive …

… and then a discussion of what we should be decorating our hats with. Chunks of dead bird seems to be the answer!

More dresses are pictured, this time for visiting in, and there’s more about embroidery and lacemaking.

Now comes something really interesting. ‘A propos des dots Mode Pratique’ is the title. A ‘dot’ is a dowry, and it transpires that LMP has been collecting donations from readers in order to be able to give small dowries to  three ‘travailleuses’, working class girls one assumes. Lucky J-G will be getting 2 457,50 francs. (A franc in 1910 was worth €2.69 in 2006 which is good enough for our purposes, so this comes to €6610 in current terms. Pas mal!) This would presumably have made a huge difference to someone’s life.

Below this is a long discussion of how to treat ‘engelures’, chilblains. Rubbing with camphor mixed with ‘essence de térébethine’, a type of resin, was the best treatment. I’ll bear that in mind as I’m prone to these horrid red lumps every winter.

The last page of the main paper has a selection of short articles about current products – a corset, knitting yarn, furs, anaemia treatment, and then there’s the Agony Aunt bit. Frou-Frou answers questions that have been sent in by readers. ‘BDG’ is told that her unsightly problems can be cured by Dr Galud’s special course of treatment. He has an ‘appareil électrique’ which will kill off unwanted hairs (early electrolysis) and his injections of sterilised wax will eliminate wrinkles and facial deformities. Altogether now – eeuuw. ‘Lectrice-assidue’ is told that she will learn everything she needs to know about feminine health if she gets Dr Séréno’s masterpiece ‘Ce qu’une femme doit savoir’ by writing to him at 14 rue Thérese in Paris for a copy.

Two more pages of ads to wade through. The last of these is a full page spread entitled:

It’s all about keeping your kidneys healthy. What you needed, depending on your exact symptoms, was a bottle of either Jubol for 5 francs, Urodonal for 6,50, Globéol also 6,50 and Filudine for 1o francs. (Euro equivalents 13, 17.50 and 27.)

So they you are, a look at a popular women’s newspaper from exactly 100 years ago.


Beautiful bonnets – but what to do with them?

Amongst the many things we found in the attic here at Les Fragnes when we moved in were lots of baby clothes. In particular there were dozens of baby bonnets. I washed them all but for five years they’ve been languishing in a sack in the barn. They’re too lovely to leave hidden away for ever, but I’m not sure what to do with them. Here are a few being modelled by Ruadhri’s toys.

They are all hand sewn and exquisite. Most of them have little ties to pull to make sure the bonnet is a snug fit on baby’s head.

See the little adjustable ties at the back?
This one has three rows of adjustable ties at the top to keep baby's head extra cosy

There are some cosy winter ones, and thin linen ones, I imagine for summer.

Bonnests for all seasons

My idea is to use them to scent drawers and wardrobes by sewing them up (carefully through the holes in the lace so I won’t damage the material) with a bar of soap inside. Chris thinks it’s a shame, but I’d rather so something with them then let them lie around for another five years, forgotten about.

Any ideas?



Fête de la St Valentin

St Valentine’s Day has lots of associations with France. It’s thought that the idea of sending Valentine’s cards started with the Duke of Orleans in the fifteenth century. He was captured during the Battle of Agincourt and taken to the Tour of London. He sent love letters and poems to his young wife. But even before him, French lovers had started celebrating around the middle of February, the time when birds began to pair off and build their nests.

But didn’t the whole thing start off with St Valentine? Actually, there are at least three St Valentines. Pope Gelasius 1 made the day official in AD 496 to honour Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni. They were both martyred horribly but not much more is known about them. A third Valentine crops up too, Valentine of Africa, referred to in various martyrologies (boy, those must be depressing to read). So there’s a lot of confusion as to who we should be commemorating on that day and what for. And an ancient Roman fertility ritual may have a bearing too. That happened on 15th February. It sounds rather fun. Priests sacrificed a goat (OK, it wasn’t fun for the goat), drank a lot of wine and removed at least half of their clothing and then ran though the streets holding bits of the poor goat’s skin. Young women were keen to be touched by this skin as it meant they’d be fertile and have easy labours. In a time before maternity hospitals, painkillers and antibiotics, you can see why they’d be prepared to be smacked with a bit of dead goat if that was the benefit.

However, we forget the martyrdoms and sacrifices and dwell on the fun stuff these days – the giving of flowers, presents and cards to our special someones. Valentines cards are called cartes d’amitiés here. The usual gifts to give on Valentine’s Day are flowers and chocolates, as in many other countries. Cadeaux personalisés ordered over the internet are becoming popular too. So although the whole thing began with a French connection, it isn’t anything particularly French about it any more. But that doesn’t make it any the less enjoyable. Happy St Valentine’s Day – Joyeuse Fête de la St Valentin.