Au Revoir to Paris

We are all packed and apartment cleaned – leaving this afternoon to South Africa.  Seems like it went by so quickly. We are excited about the next phase, but at the same time sorry to leave the Ornano Apt and neighborhood.

Since we got back from London its been busy. We had  Melisa and Dan visit from Seattle and Christina from Rome. Plenty of food  and wine and walking around. We also went to a few Jazz and Jam sessions this month. We also started getting busy with planning the next phase of our trip.

On the Italian Front

Butter from here must be good...?

Butter from here must be good…?

The butter battles may appear to have quieted, but we do have reports.  Our friend Christina visited from Rome and stayed for the Christmas holiday.  We were lucky to have her bring a sample from Italy’s share of the Alps, the Dolomites.  Sounds promising.  (Alps butter has a strong reputation.  At least that’s what I hear from one of France’s neighbors to the east.)

But no, the Dolomite butter was no match.  It was creamy, it was 82% fat, but it didn’t taste cultured.  In fact, it tasted as though it were an upscale version of North American butter – extra creamy and smooth but no distinctive flavor.  Italy is an olive oil country, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if they don’t have the same obsession with butter that France does.

Butter Wars – Europe vs. USA

Finally, a quick look at how European butter differs from butter in the U.S.

The main differences are fat content and culture.  As mentioned earlier, American butters contain roughly 80% – 82% fat.  European butters hover around 82% – 84%, sometimes higher.  For us bakers, more fat means less water in the pastry and lighter, flakier crust.  The lower fat American butters are fine for bread, cookies and cakes, baking that doesn’t produce delicate layers.  Pie crusts and flaky pastries come out better with higher fat European butter.  Why is it so difficult to find a proper croissant in the U.S. – it’s the butter.

European butters also differ in process.  Similar to the way yogurt is made, European butter is cultured with bacteria.  The result produces a slight tang and fuller butter flavor.  For chemistry geeks, that light sour comes from the addition of Lactococcus and Leuconostoc to pasteurized cream.  American butter production skips this part, so its cream remains “sweet,” not sour.  Those rectangular sticks Americans buy are sweet cream butter, meaning the cream was not cultured.  On French packaging doux means sweet, but in this case it means the butter is unsalted.

On taste – American butter is fine.  I like it on biscuits and pancakes.  Toast.  But I prefer cultured butter and would never eat American butter in the same butter to bread ratio that I do in France (mostly butter, little bread).  American butter has too low a flavor profile, and when placed next to cultured butters, it’s bland and unremarkable.  The flavor of a good cultured butter allows the butter to stand on its own.  It needs little else, not even salt.

Next battleground – Who makes the best butter in Europe?  France vs. Not France


While Jennifer has been writing about butter, I have been eating bread and planning a blog post on the topic.

Bottom line: The bread is tasty !!

In Paris, there are bakeries all around. The french still shop daily, so while there are supermarkets and such – there is an economy for small neighborhood shops for everything: butchers, greengrocers and bakeries. I also read this in the Wikipedia article

French bread is required by law to avoid preservatives, and as a result bread goes stale in under 24 hours, thus baking baguettes is a daily occurrence, unlike sourdough bread which is baked generally once or twice a week, due to the natural preservatives in a sourdough starter.

Where we live it seems like there are even more bakeries than the average – see the map below with markers of some of the bakeries around our apartment. Click on the markers  for notes and pictures.

View Bakeries near us in a larger map

We have been eating primarily baguette, but the bakeries are full of different breads, not  all long loafs are baguette (which literally mean stick). If you go and ask at the bakery for baguette, you will get something different than if you ask for baguette tradition which is also typically 5 or 10 centimes more expensive.

Now what makes one baguette better that others? Well it’s about texture and flavor of both the crust and the sponge. In baguette the top crust should be crisp but still chewy, the bottom firm and chewy. And then the flavor of the dough.

Every year Paris runs a competition for the best baguette. The winner gets a contract for a year to deliver to the presidential palace. In 5 of the 6 past years the winner has been from the 18th arrondissement where we live. We have tasted the baguette at the winners of 2012,2011,2010 – all walking distance from our house, though two of them are on the other  side of the “hill”.

My favorite bread and the one we tend to get most often is “la Parisse” from a close-by bakery which makes a bread recipe designed by Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF), Gaëtan Paris (yes that’s his name). The bread is baked by selected bakeries. The Parisse (according to his website), get its flavor from natural fermentation. Its a very mild sourdough.  With Jennifer’s butter  its heaven.

I’ll end with a bread story. I am in my sweats walking back home from the other side of the hill back home with a baguette sticking out of a short bag which I had been eating from the end. A french tourist guide with an English speaking group roaming Monmartre stopped me to take a group picture and explained to the one of the tourist that “this is how the French eat their baguette on the way home from the bakery.”

Misc Update

We are behind on posting. I have been working on a bread post that I *will* finish today !! we were in Toulouse a couple weeks ago for 5 days, and are headed for a a long weekend to London tomorrow. I am excited about going on the EuroStar – 2 1/4 hours to London !!!

Feeling that this is the end of our Paris stay – we leave at the end of the month and I have a feeling   haven’t really done much. We have also started spending time on planning the African part of the trip which is coming up.

On the culinary front,  I have tried making Breton Galettes de Sarrasin (buckwheat pancakes) a couple of times – not quite as good as in Bretagne – but not too shabby.

We washed the Crepes down with some Gaillac wine we purchased from Christophe (pic below), a chatty wine shop owner in Albi. The wine is made of Braucol grapes an old variety that is a relative of Cabernet Sauvignon – very nice.

Speaking of wine merchants, we stopped by a local shop yesterday and spent 30-40 minutes chatting with the owner – a very colorful guy. He opened some white wine – drank with us and offered more to other folks that walked into the shop that he chatted up. Talked about wine, cigarettes and smoking, Obama and sex.  His charm does work.. we left with 4 bottles 😉

We have two sets of friends coming next week  and the end of the month – so maybe they will drive us to be a bit more touristy and see some of the sights we still would like to see.