14 March, 2011

Finding your way home.

Sometimes four chickens, a rabbit, two goldfish and a Weimaraner named Dakar aren't enough.
Years ago, I made a decision to pack up and move far away from pretty much everyone I knew.  It wasn't that astonishing, in some ways I was just following in the footsteps of my wandering parents.  As a child, I spent a good deal of time moving, back before fax machines--let alone the Internet--even existed, when mobile phones were closer to science fiction than reality.  Seems Neolithic now: I remember letters tooks weeks to reach their destinations, and phone calls (at least from where we were in Africa) were ridiculously expensive.  I think somebody in the family had to die, or a gasoline explosion had to happen--in our own back yard--for us to use the telephone to call back to the US.  So my parents were by necessity (and eventually habit) less connected to family than I can be today.
Mistletoe, found in Burgundy and further north, taking over a tree. 
Bless whoever came up with Skype; what a windfall for us nomadic types! I’m especially glad for my kids, who would otherwise see their American grandparents far too rarely. And while technology goes a long way, it doesn't go quite the distance for young'uns. Luckily, they are able to see their Dutch grandmother more often, usually every couple of months, but still. I can't get enough of that interaction between the old and the young.

It helps so much to have a few good friends, both for me and the kids; here in France, two people have really made a particular difference. Older friends, they have taken on the role of Mamie and Papie to the kids.  They lavish them with attention, and have really become the French grandparents my two didn’t realize they had.  They live in Bourgogne, and treat any time we come to visit as a virtually uninterrupted feast from our arrival to the last frantic waves goodbye.  Mamie’s food is always unpretentious, flavorful and filling.
One of the dishes we adore (especially with a cracking fresh green salad) is this thin version of a Franche-Comté classic, the tarte au Comté.  The tart is made with what is one of the most popular cheeses in France.  As Papie grew up in a cheese shop, he could describe to the kids in great detail the arduously physical process of making Comté.  A wheel of Comté tips the scales at about 40 kilos and is about 50 cm in diameter, and 5 cm high.  It takes about 500 liters of raw milk to make one single wheel of Comté.  The milk can only come from montbéliarde or simmental française cows who have one hectare of fresh mountain pasture per animal.   

Despite all the work involved (or maybe because of), this is a cheese often enjoyed prepared in dishes well beyond the cheese platter.  One of these days, for example, I will definitely get around to making a certain Soufflé au Comté I've bookmarked.  Until then, it's Mamie's tart for us all, big and small. 
Tarte au Comté (Savory Comté Cheese Tart)

Serves 8 as a starter.

pâte brisée crust, rolled out and refrigerated*
3 eggs
2 cups (250 g) Comté cheese, grated
1 cup (25 cl) thick crème fraîche**
1/3 cup (10 cl) milk
freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400F/200C.

Fit the crust into a pizza pan: as the filling is on the thin side, you don't need much height on the sides.  Refrigerate until ready for use.

Beat the eggs in a bowl, and add the grated Comté, and crème fraîche. Season with salt and a generous pinch or so of fresh-ground pepper and nutmeg.  Pour the topping onto the crust and bake until lightly browned, about 45 minutes.

* There are a lot of versions of pâte brisée out there, but here's a good  tutorial, and here's another recipe I also like, for a very manageable crust.
** I know, I know, this isn't diet food.  Moderation in everything, people, including portion sizes! If you can't easily find crème fraîche where you live, you can easily make your own.


  1. Droooool.

    Love how you always have a little story to go with your recipes.

  2. Ditto re Skype. We have purchased an Australian number, which means that even people not on Skype at the other end can phone us in France for a dollar. That and email makes a huge difference. We also think that it is not so surprising that we've ended up where we have, given that we emigrated at much the same age as our parents (or in my parents case, moved a couple of states away, which in those days was nearly like emigrating).

  3. Hi Rose,
    Thanks for the compliment. I hesitated to put this recipe up it's so flippin' basic. But sometimes basic is exactly what the belly calls for...

    Hello Susan,
    Skype's great for the kids especially (I haven't yet gotten any bells &whistles), but I can't imagine daily life without email. It's my connection to the people who know me best.

  4. Lovely post yet again. Having lived in rural France I know how the non-Parisian French can be: so warm, accepting and thoroughly embracing. I loved reading about Papie and Mamie, how they spoil your children, and her cheese tart sounds wonderful. Ah, la cuisine francaise! Nothing else like it anywhere.

  5. Thanks Charles! Yes, country life here--and elsewhere--is definitely different from big city life...though I do still enjoy getting my fix of city life and cuisine every so often!

  6. Looks so mouth-watering! Did Papie use an old comte or a younger one? Merci.

  7. Hello Anonymous,
    Thanks for dropping by! A young or old cheese will do, it's probably better going with a younger one costwise, but "middle aged" ones does offer perhaps a bit more flavor...Save the older, high quality ones for eating with a walnut and a glass of Savagnin or vin jaune...


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