Missing home -- When home is Paris.
Saturday, January 1, 2011 at 2:02PM
Christopher in Food, French Culture, Gourmet Paris, Shopping

I was talking on the telephone the other day to a friend from Paris who is living in NYC.  We were discussing what we both missed about “home”.  I grew up in Southern California, so I miss Mexican food.  Like an ex-smoker who is never around cigarette smoke, my cravings have diminished greatly since the early years when I smuggled tortillas and other ingredients back to Paris. However, once I’m back in California I can’t get enough.  Much to the disappointment of my friends I stay with there who would rather I cooked for them.  Instead I drag them around looking for my favorite dive Mexican restaurants.  Because, at least in Los Angeles, it seems that the best Mexican restaurants tend to be in an abandoned gas station or a similarly insalubrious location. The staff don’t speak much English and certainly don’t take credit cards.  Keep that in mind if you are looking for Mexican food in LA. 

Not surprisingly, my transplanted Parisian friend -- a young woman working in Fashion-- was missing an entirely different food experience.  She told me she missed the dairy case at her local Monoprix (An upscale chain of grocery stores found in Paris).  Huh?  I’m certainly a fan of the myriad choices of butter, cheese and yougurt one can find in Paris, but I have never really thought too much about it when I am home.  After all, I've been too busy chasing down a burrito truck.

So after we spoke, I decided to go to Monoprix and really look at the dairy case.  I stood in the front of them (there were several) looking the same way I look at a work of art.  Looking very closely at every detail, noting the colors, brands, selection and scale of the entire department.  And sure enough I noticed how really enormous the dairy cases were.  They took up more space than the produce section.  In a small (by US standards) grocery store, it was one of the biggest sections with two aisles of refrigerated cases each about 50 feet long.  There were at least 100 kinds of yogurt in all different sizes, Crème Fraiche, 30 different Butters, Milk (Cow and sheep) fromage blanc, etc.  Then there was another section of milk based desserts and fruit compotes.  Every type of creamy French dessert in the classic flavors, coffee, chocolate, caramel and vanilla.  Along with ready to eat îles Flottants, Crème Brulée, Chocolate Mousse, Pots de Crèmes and Crème aux oeufs (my current obsession.)

Of course the products were familiar.  For example, I have several favorite brands of yogurt including one brand that varies the flavors following the fruit of the season.  So it’s fun to take the peach in summer, the sour cherry in fall and lemon in the winter.  Another favorite is a yogurt made of sheeps milk along with all the varieties of Fromage Blanc.  A creamy cross between Yogurt and Sour Cream that is always sold unsweetend and is good with a bit of sugar, some fresh fruit or salt and pepper depending on your mood.  It is also sold as a Faiselle when it comes with a sort of strainer inside the container.  This allows the water to separate from the milk solids and it gets thicker over the few days it sits in the fridge.  Asumming you have the restriaint to wait.  My advice, buy the largest container possible to have any hope of seeing the result.

One of my favorite snacks is steamed new potatoes with some salty butter and a big dollop of Faiselle de Fromage Blanc du Chevre.  A goat’s milk fromage blanc that has a slighty stronger flavor.  Some sea salt and coarse ground white pepper with its warm nutty flavor make the dish perfect.

So once I had really thought about the dairy case, I realized that she was right.  It was indeed something worth missing.  And unlike Mexican food, in NYC you can’t simply whip up a goats milk Faiselle when the mood strikes you the way I prepare some makeshift enchiladas or a burrito in Paris.

My thanks to AmateurGourmet.com for the burrito pic - impossible to find in Paris.  We also seem to share the same taste in Mexican food.



Article originally appeared on Paris Wise - Everything you need to know paris-wise (http://paris-wise.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.