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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mushrooms Galore

A 15 minute walk from our cottage brought us to a huge gaping hole in the limestone hillside. We had made an appointment to tour the Mushroom Caves of Les Roches (Les Caves Champignonnières des Roches). A certain Mme (short for Madame) Doriane Tardif was our guide. Mme Doriane is married to a British and she speaks English very fluently with a charming accent and very enchanting body language. She speaks the way an orchestra conductor conducts.... and when she says the word "Gastronomie!" you see hints of the grand Michelin star chefs.

Les Caves Champignonnières des Roches supplies to Michelin star restaurants all over France. Their mushrooms are well-known in the region to be tasty and fragrant. We were invited to pick and eat their Button Mushrooms. At first bite there is a blandness that later explodes into a symphony of autumn smells. Smells of fallen leaves trodden underfoot and of wet autumn rains in the forest. I bought 500g and chopped them raw into my salad for lunch, pairing the autumn smells with the salty tang of "magret de canard" (cured duck breast) and a good vinaigrette made with strong and spicy French mustard.

French mustards taste nothing like their cousins in Singapore. Even the brand Maille has a watered down Singaporean version that completely lacks character. I bought 4 big bottles of French mustard to bring home. A vinaigrette has so much more flavour when it is made with good French mustard. The Husband was rapturous... and that says something because he is a man who is stingy with praise.

I also bought 500g of Pieds Bleus (or Blue Feet). This was retailing at SGD30 per kilo at the Caves Champignonnières. At gourmet groceries, they retail at SGD100 per kilo. This particular farm's Pied Bleu mushrooms bypass the supermarkets completely and are delivered directly to restaurants. I made a mushroom cheese omelette with Emmental cheese, 250g of Pieds Bleus and 6 eggs. The children ate up everything and then asked for more.

The remaining 250g of Pieds Bleus went into a mushroom sauce poured over our filets of "fletan" fish at dinner time. The children didn't quite like that. I am so going back to buy more Pieds Bleus to stuff myself before I leave to go home. This time, I think I will pair it with venison. Wild game and mushrooms go better together I think.

The French have a tradition of eating wild game. For poor villagers, hunting was sometimes the only way to get meat on the table, especially when the French king was too busy building castles, maintaining mistresses and making war to care about the common people. In Sunday markets, there is usually a stall that sells wild game - hare, wild boar, deer, pheasant and something called "perdreaux" which I have eaten but cannot translate.

My foster parents would serve up wild game on Monday nights because my foster father went hunting on Sundays. The retired gentleman who tends the garden told us that he rounds up a posse of hunters when he feels like eating wild boar. Here's a wild boar roast I made for the kids to try.

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