Eggs, Cheese and Butter
Who invented Easter eggs?
Well, if you believe this French author... the French.
What was the only good thing that came from Brie?
According to one poet, the cheese.
What cheese did Charles VIII introduce to France?
What was good grilled, with cinnamon and sugar?
Cheese, especially that of Auvergne.
“Le Grand titled this chapter in his larger work “Milk, Butter, Eggs and Cheese”. This is already a curious title, since he never addresses milk per se in his work and the other. subjects appear in a different order in the text. But it also omits the main subject of the first section, which is that of fasting in Old Regime France. The distinction between meat (gras, or “fat”) and meager or meatless (maigre, or “lean”) foods was central under the French monarchy; it is referenced all through period recipe books and was enforced by law. But, as Le Grand shows, it also varied enormously over the centuries. Though, in discussing fasting and abstinence, he does indeed focus on the products listed, he also reviews the complex history of these Catholic obligations in general....
Having provided this brief overview of fasting, Le Grand turns to eggs, beginning with one of what seem to be several stories about how Easter eggs came about....
In a later section of his work, he also resumes some of the ways eggs were prepared; that section has been inserted here as well. One popular method literally resulted in... green eggs.... Le Grand begins his section on cheese with a brief look at how some special cheeses are made. (No doubt he found it unnecessary to describe basic cheese-making, since a number of works had addressed that before his own.)”
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“A long time before, the Greeks had bit by bit formed, regarding the Lenten fast, a more severe moral than ours. They came to even criticize our conduct on this point. The first to adopt a rigorous stance was Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople. He offered us, on this subject, reproaches to which Ratram, Monk of Corbie, Hincmar, Archbishop of Rheims, Eudes, Bishop of Paris, and several other famous figures of the time responded. Reprehendere moliuntur, says Hincmar in his 867 letter, quod oĉto hebdomadibus ante pascha a carnium, et septem hebdomdibus à casei (a) et ovarum esu, more suo, non cessamus. [“They try to fault us because we do not abstain from eating meat eight weeks before Easter or cheese and eggs seven weeks before, as they do.”]”
“Among the provisions of food with which Sailors loaded their vessels for long trips, or for expeditions, were normally egg yolks (hard boiled eggs, no doubt). Beaten and put in barrels. Froissart [c. 1337 – c. 1405] counts these among those which Charles VI had embarked on his fleet, when he was contemplating an attack on England. The vessels were filled, he says, with salted meats and fish, wine, cervoise [beer], barley, oats, rye, garlic, onion, broad beans, hay in barrels, wax candles, bottles of verjuice, bottles of vinegar, pots, mugs, wooden and tin spoons, candle holders, basins, fattened pigs, skewers, kitchen equipment, bottling equipment, salt, biscuits, flour, fat and BEATEN EGG YOLKS IN BARRELS.”
“It is likely that the general procedures for making cheese have always been the same; but the respective situations of each of the different regions of France must nonetheless have introduced local differences in the process. “In Auvergne,” says Champier , “Cheese was highly salted; elsewhere it was salted little; in the Autunais, it was not salted at all, because salt was too expensive there.”
According to de Serres [1539 – 1619], to form an excellent cheese, it had to be made with cow's milk, goat's milk and sheep's milk, mixed together. “Each of these different milks,” he says, “will give it good qualities; as the old proverb has it, cow's butter, sheep's cheese, goat's curds.”
This author also wanted that one practice in France the procedure used at Lodi and at Parma to make these cheese known to everybody for their goodness. “One sees,” he says, “that in some parts of Switzerland, people try to imitate Parmesan”; but, he complains that the French neglect it, except in certain regions.”
Table of Contents
Some samples of (once) famous French cheeses
"Under the Kings of the third race [that is, the Capetians], Chaillot, a village near Paris, made some that were sought in the Capital. The inhabitants even had the right to send their cows to graze on that island in the Seine which used to be called Mackerel and which now is called the Isle des Cygnes [the Island of Swans]; but in return, they were obliged to present, every year, to the St. Germain Abbey, on the day of the Ascension, two large bouquets, six small, a parisis denier for each cow, and a fat cheese.
In the XIIth and XIIIth centuries, those of Champagne, and above all of Brie, were prized.
This last, which is still singularly prized today, is named several times with praise by our Fabulists and our old Poets. It was cried in the streets; but Eustache Deschamps [1346-1406], a Poet who wrote under Charles VI, says archly that it was the only good thing which came to us from Brie. Today we have two sorts of these: table cheeses and those which, being liquid, arrive in pots. These last are known as Meaux cheeses. In the class of the first the best are those of Nangis.
By the statues given to the Pastry-makers in 1522, the King allowed these artisans the right to inspect the Brie cheese sold in Paris and its suburbs; given that these Pastry-makers have an interest in this, since they daily use the said merchandise.
Platina (1509) cites among the good cheeses those of Chaunay in Picardy, of Bréhémont in Touraine, of the grande Chartreuse in the Dauphiné, of the Epine and of Rosanais in Burgundy.
Charles Etienne praises those of Craponne in Auvergne, those of Béthune in Flanders, the Angelots of Normandy, and the fresh cream cheese which Montreuil and Vincennes supplied to Paris.
Champier, who speaks with praise of these last, says that the peasant women brought them to town in little rush baskets, and that they were eaten sprinkled with sugar. Today, not only Vincennes and Montreuil but almost all the villages near the Capital daily send some like them. The most esteemed are those of Viri. The Abbé of Marolles, in the last century, said that Parisians sought out also those of Vannes, Clamart, Montreuil and Grobois (a).....”
All text and translations
copyright 2013 Jim Chevallier.
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UPDATED: July 2, 2014