Recently I attended a party in San Francisco with a lot of interesting French people. I met a troglodyte, a guy from Tours who grew up in a cave, and his parents still live in the cave. At the same party, another girl told me that during the war, Parisians took to growing mushrooms in their basements because both money and provisions were tight, which is why they are called les champignons de Paris.
Here's a funny ad I found online about these French fungi:
And here's a shot of a French cave dwelling:
This leads me to my theme of the day. Growing mold in your cellar... on purpose! I just read this engaging article in the IHT about Philippe Alléosse, a Parisian man committed to making cheese according to French artisanal tradition, taking on industrial cheese producers and fighting to preserve his country's culinary heritage. He's doing it in his own cellar, just like those Parisian pioneers and their 'shrooms.
But of course, what's at stake here is greater than one man dedicated to making cheese the old fashioned way. Like José Bové and the hunger strikers against GM crops and foods, and like Joel Salatin, the "beyond organic" grass farmer in Michael Pollan's outstanding book The Omnivore's Dilemma, Alléosse plays a crucial role in our global fight to preserve food as we know it, or I should say as our grandparents knew it. Chicken that tastes like Chicken. Cheese that tastes like Cheese. The NYT had an article yesterday about Bill Niman, the famous beef-rancher who recently turned goat rancher. Goat that tastes like Goat.
I'd also like to contribute my own story here about the way food ought to taste. The first time I went to France, I was a twelve year old zit-faced girl with braces. At that point in my life, I thought cheese was a yellow thing that came in individually wrapped slices that my mom put in our sandwiches. Nachos were another part of my regime. On this particular trip, my dad took me to the market on Rue de Seine, and showed me what I now know is a Crottin de Chevre. I had never tasted cheese like this before, especially with some slices of fruit and a fresh baguette. It became our mission from that moment on to find the moldiest cheese we could find. "The moldier the better" became our motto.
But wait, there's more! At the age of sixteen, I found myself in Belgium. One morning at breakfast, my host mother put a kilo of tiny strawberries in front of us, and we made tartines aux fraises, kind of like a strawberry sandwich. These strawberries were so sweet that no added sugar (or worse, HFCS) is needed. I had never encountered a fruit so sweet, perhaps because I had never tasted a real strawberry.
On a final note, my friend Sarah told me over lunch today that she just joined a new CSA for Marin Sun Farms because she no longer wants her boyfriend to buy Safeway beef from Cowschwitz. My point, of course, is that whether you buy from a CSA, grow your own or buy from the farmers' markets, by all means, do something to protect our food! And cheers to the NYT and IHT for publishing such important articles!