French food focus - March 2019
A focus on food in France
Meet the producers
Berlingots are traditional sweets made of boiled sugar, which vary slightly in shape and flavour from region to region across the country.
The Berlingots de Pézenas are elongated tablet shapes and come in a massive variety of flavours. The company is family owned, Jean-Marie Boudet being in charge of production. “My brother has developed 34 new flavours, the same number as our département,” says Myriam, who also works at the company along with their two sisters Marie and Agnès. (Pézenas is in Hérault which is département number 34.)
The recipe, she says, goes back at least to the 17th century, involving boiling sugar in a vat and adding flavours and colourings. “The story goes that back in the 17th or 18th century there was a man from Africa who used to walk around the markets, selling flavoured sugar from an enormous cake of it which he carried on his shoulder. It was flavoured with either lemon, aniseed, coffee, or mint, and as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for the hospitality, he apparently passed the recipe on to his landlord before he went back to Africa.”
Belingots de Pézenas were originally cut by hand into short sticks rather than lozenge shapes, and now the sticks have shrunk into the current tablet shape. Jean-Marie Boudet’s flavours include bergamot, verbena, melon, fig, kiwi, and red poppies. “The flavours are very strong as we use distilled essences,” says Myriam.
The parents of the current foursome took over the business from their parents in April 1968. “It was just a month before the demonstrations of May 1968, so not a great time to start a business,” she jokes. “But they made a go of it anyway.” Jean-Marie took over in 1993, and gradually the three sisters have joined the company. “It’s good working together, but who knows if any of our children will want to take it on? We shall see!”
Although they are stocked by Printemps department store in Paris, Berlingots de Pézenas are really only sold locally, although it is possible to buy them online. “We also run free tours on weekday mornings until 11.30am (from mid-April to September 30) so people can see the sweets being made and we have a shop which is open from March to September.”
Artisan cheese of the month: Coulommiers
Nicknamed “Brie de petit moule” (Brie from a small mould) because it is bigger than a Camembert and smaller than a standard Brie, Coulommiers is a soft-ripened cheese produced in Seine-et-Marne. Despite not having a prestigious label such as AOP, it enjoys a reputation as one of the grand French fromages.
Made from raw cow’s milk, it has a very creamy taste with a delicately spiced ‘bloomy’ rind and tinges of red or blue.
When left out at room temperature it becomes a gooey delight – perfect for smearing onto crusty baguette.
Buy in situ at the family-run cheese producer La Ferme des 30 Arpents: www.edrh-ferme.com
Local speciality: Gâteau aux Noix
A dessert menu staple in France’s major walnut-producing regions such as Périgord and Grenoble (AOC since 1938) this handmade walnut cake melts in the mouth and is full of flavour thanks to a touch of honey. Perfect when warmed through and accompanied by a scoop of ice cream or some crème anglaise – ideal for the last chilly evenings of spring.
€7.55 for 220g from www.bienmanger.com