April 7, 2011 § Leave a comment
I’ve spend quite a long time hanging about in Zürich over the years returning home from various trips to the alps and much preferring to fly from Zürich rather than Geneva. If you find yourself in the same position and are feeling a bit hungry, then read on.
First of all, how long do you have before your flight home?
A trip to the Steiner bakery, Migros supermarket and Confiserie Sprüngli, all in the airport shopping complex will provide you with the wherewithall for a cheese fondue plus dainty dessert for your return home, or a superior snack to produce on your aircraft tray table to the envy of your fellow passengers.
And it’s your last chance to grab a Brezel, the chewy knotted bread addictively flavoured with lye (aka caustic soda – I kid you not) which was the European forerunner to the American pretzel. A far cry from the packets of dry industrial snacks we know as pretzels back home. Pick up a plain one or, if you prefer, a split and buttered one filled with cheese or ham to make a superior sandwich, at the “Brezel Koenig” (Pretzel King!) outlet at Zürich airport. Fast food with a Swiss twist…
Probably worth breaking your journey to the airport by getting off a couple of stops early at Zürich’s magnificent main station the Hauptbahnhof. Enjoy a last taste of Swiss food together with some great people-watching opportunities at the stately institution which is the Brasserie Féderal within the main station concourse. It makes me wonder why we don’t have decent restaurants in stations back home in the UK. We have to make do with a snatched stale baguette and a half gallon of overpriced milky coffee. I would love to see a proper station brasserie within Manchester’s characterful Piccadilly or Victoria station buildings but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon…
After your meal, you’ve probably still got time to wander into Zürich’s main shopping district to the Jelmoli department store, a bustling glass and steel building:
which hides its secret food hall, the Gourmet Factory, in its basement:
It’s a great place for browsing and for picking up odd delicacies like Hawaiian black salt, a handful of imported wild mushrooms, a pack of Piedmont rice to pop in your hand luggage.
Lucky you! It’s worth heading off to Zürich’s atmospheric Old Town for a light lunch or spot of afternoon tea at the glamorous Café Péclard at Schober. Café-Konditorei Schober was an old Zürich institution given a makeover in 2009 by restaurant entrepreneur Michel Péclard. Think of Péclard as a Swiss version of Oliver Peyton or Terence Conran. The building has been completely renovated but keeping the quirky charm of its various rooms – think chandeliers, exotic murals and red velvet chairs.
Péclard’s next step was to hire French master-pâtissier Patrick Mésiano, the 36 year old Niçois with a Joël Robuchon pedigree who now has outlets of his own in Antibes and Monaco as well as this new Zürich venture. Mésiano’s influence is immediately apparent in the displays of elegant macarons, pâtisserie and chocolate in the shop which fronts the café interior.
Gaze first of all at the elegant wedding cakes in the window:
Then head inside past the pâtisserie and chocolate displays and wait to be seated:
And enjoy a signature hot chocolate and a dainty morsel or two in one of the café’s elegant rooms.
A place to see and be seen, not just for entertaining your maiden aunt.
As you leave, you can’t fail to notice the inviting shopfront of Heinrich Schwarzenbach, tea and coffee supplier to Péclard at Schober plus supplier of groceries sourced from all over the world. A great place to browse by all accounts but sadly as it was a Sunday when I visited I had to content myself with window shopping:
8001 Zurich, Switzerland
+41 (0)44 217 15 15
+41 (0)44 220 44 11
Péclard at Schober
+41 (0)44 251 51 50
Schwarzenbach Kolonialwaren Kaffeerösterei
+41 (0)44 261 13 15
March 1, 2011 § Leave a comment
We’re still all going crazy for dainty pastel-coloured Parisian macarons. Meanwhile the Swiss firm of Sprüngli has quietly been making its own version going under the odd name of Luxemburgerli (little Luxemburgers) for some years now.
Above and below are displays at the very conveniently located Zürich airport branch of Sprüngli where we passed through last week en route to our half term ski holiday:
Pictured are a pyramid of vanilla Luxemburgerli plus trays of cinnamon (Zimt) and raspberry (Himbeer) flavours – I forgot to check what flavour the dramatic black ones on the left were. Dare I say it, these are daintier and more delicate even than the Parisian macaron, perfect for nibbling with coffee on the train journey to Luzern and beyond:
How do they come to be made in Zürich and how did they come by their odd name? According to the Sprüngli website www.spruengli.com the recipe originated at the Confiserie Namur in Luxembourg, a business with which the Sprüngli family had close ties. Patissiers from Zürich would go and work in the Duchy of Luxembourg and vice versa. It was in the late 1950s that one of the Luxembourg trainees started producing macarons in Zürich and they were given the nickname Luxemburgerli (the Swiss are very fond of the diminutive) in his honour.
Demand grew gradually and Sprüngli today produces 650kg of Luxemburgerli every day making them the company’s best seller.
So maybe the current trend for Parisian macarons is more than a fad and is here to stay?
September 2, 2010 § 4 Comments
It was during winter holidays in Austria that I first began to gain an understanding of the German (in the widest sense) concept of gemütlichkeit (usually translated as cosiness but meaning much much more). At the Hotel Karl Schranz in the resort town of St Anton in the Tirol, this concept was embodied in the dining room with its wood panelling, flickering candlelight, pink linen napkins, and perfect attentive service. The eponymous Herr Schranz would occasionally grace us with his regal presence: the skiing wild child of the 1960s now transfigured into portly gentleman hotelier.
Herr Schranz clearly runs a tight ship as breakfast at his hotel was always an absolute delight – fruit juices decanted into glass jugs (my favourite being “Multivitamines” a bright orange concoction big on carrot and passion fruit juice); müsli and other cereals; delicious thick yoghurt; fruit salad; all kinds of jam, boiled eggs; and best of all wonderful bread – multigrain loaves thick with pumpkin and other seeds, rye bread, white bread and the distinctive and ubiquitous semmel white rolls.
Here is the Karl Schranz experience recreated at home as best I could:
A trip to Chorlton’s legendary Barbakan bakery and delicatessen provided most of what was needed in terms of wonderful fresh bread, cheese and ham. Chorlton is a suburb of South Manchester with a cluster of good food shops – the Unicorn grocery for fruit, vegetables and vegetarian items; Frosts the butchers for excellent meat (including unusual items like squirrel from time to time!) ; Out of the Blue fishmongers for properly fresh fish filleted in front of you, bags of clams and the like…is it worth moving house to have all this on my doorstep I wonder? For now, food shopping in Chorlton remains an occasional treat.
Here’s the Barbakan shop-front, a little unprepossessing from the outside but a real treasure-trove inside. My hands were too full and the shop too busy for me to take a good photo inside. On sunny Saturday mornings, the queue for fresh bread stretches out of the door so best to get there early.
I’ve just checked out the website http://www.barbakan-deli.co.uk/ and see that they have recently won, very deservedly, the 2009/10 Manchester Food and Drink Festival’s “Best Food and Drink Retail Outlet” award.
Barbakan’s 2 founders are Polish and much of their bread has a distinctly Eastern European feel – lots of rye loaves, and both caraway and poppy seeds are a preferred flavouring. Sadly on the morning I called they were fresh out of both Vienna sticks and Kaiserbrot, both of which would have been perfect for my Austrian theme. Instead, I opted for two loaves (German Altenburg rye bread “the true taste of Bavarian rye” , and a second rye loaf this one flavoured with caraway) and and some Polish poppy seed biegles, the originator of the modern US bagel. After all, poppy seeds are popular in Austria too most startlingly in the form of a main course germknödel (poppy seed dumpling) served with lashings of custard…I digress, so back to the bread, pictured below:
A true Austrian Hausfrau would have made all her own jams and preserves. Mine were all bought on this occasion, but as a nod to tradition I made a simple blackcurrant compôte to serve with yoghurt from the tempting looking punnet of blackcurrants that came from the Unicorn grocery just across the road:
Pictured with the blackcurrants are an equally tempting bag of ripe apricots and the fabulous Glebelands Road grown salad leaves – you can’t get more locally grown salad than this unless it’s in your back garden of course.
Here’s the finished compôte together with yoghurt and some pumpkin seeds to sprinkle on top. Austrians are nuts about pumpkins in any shape or form. Especially good is the deep green roast pumpkin seed oil which gives a wonderful flavour to salad dressings and, drizzled on top, to pumpkin soup.
All very pretty, but it takes a lot of effort to keep up this gemütlichkeit business – fresh flowers from the garden, best china, freshly laundered napkins and so on. The Austrian Hausfrau must be chained to the kitchen keeping up appearances. So for now it’s back to toast and cereal on the usual crockery, until our next international breakfast, this time from Azerbaijan…
Barbakan contact details
67-71 Manchester Rd
Chorlton cum Hardy,
Telephone: 0161 881 7053
August 19, 2010 § 1 Comment
Swiss cheese is much in evidence at the show dairy in the hamlet of Pringy on the outskirts of the village of Gruyères in Western Switzerland. And I don’t just mean the vast wheels of the stuff in the maturing cellars. There’s lots in evidence in the twee on-site restaurant and most of all in the knick-knack laden gift shop.
Picture-perfect Gruyères with its castle, quaint winding streets and Maison de Gruyère show-dairy is definitely a tourist magnet. On the day of our visit it was overrun with visitors of all nationalities including two improbably grown-up and portly troupes of boy scouts. We duly joined the queue for tour and museum tickets and after a short wait we were taken step by step through the story of the cheese. It all starts here with the alpine pasture:
Well it does and it doesn’t as only the specially designated Gruyère d’Alpage is made in the summer from the milk of cows grazing the high mountain pastures. Just 56 dairies produce 400 tonnes per annum of this rare commodity whereas a total of 200 dairies produce 27,500 tonnes per annum of Swiss AOC (Appellation d’Origine) gruyère. Talking of AOC gruyère, the museum maintains a dignified silence on the subject of so-called French gruyère. The French cheekily awarded their own product national AOC status back in 2001 and subsequently went a step too far going for Europe wide PDO (protected designation of origin) status. Earlier this month the European authorities, quite correctly in my view, threw out the French claim. It’s a bit rich the French trying to protect their own so called gruyère cheese when they come down like a ton of bricks on smalltime producers of elderflower champagne…
Back to the genuine article. Swiss AOC gruyère can only be produced in a relatively small area centred around Gruyères itself within the cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel and Bern. The milk comes not from what I think of as a traditional Swiss light brown cow but from the black and white or reddish-brown and white Fribourg breed. Each cow eats an astonishing 100kg of grass per day and produces as a result just 25 litres of milk. The traditional 35kg round of cheese is made from a generous 400 litres of milk. At the show dairy, they work with vats holding 4,800 litres of milk to produce 12 cheeses at a time. The morning milk is added to the previous evening’s milk (which has been stored overnight at a temperature of between 15 and 18 degrees C) before the cheesemaking process begins.
Gruyère cheese is often described as unpasteurised, but as the museum visit makes clear, the milk is gently heat-treated (to 57 degrees C compared to the 71 degrees C of the pasteurisation process) during the production of the cheese. The milk (presumably skimmed to remove the luscious Gruyère crème double much fêted in this part of Switzerland) is first heated to 32 degrees C before adding a natural starter culture (lactic acid fermentation agent in whey) and subsequently animal rennet. The starter culture matures the milk and the rennet causes it to coagulate into a mass. The coagulated milk or curd is then cut using large blades into small pieces. Judging the exact moment to begin the cutting is reckoned to be the trickiest part of the whole process.
The cut curds are then heated to 57 degrees C until the mixture becomes elastic and firm to the touch and the cut curds shrink to the size of small peas. At this point the whey is drained off and the curds ladled into moulds and pressed to form the virgin gruyère cheeses.
The fresh cheeses, vulnerably pliable at this stage, are soaked in a 20% brine solution which gives the cheese half of its ultimate salt content. Finally, the cheeses are placed on shelves of untreated pine (picea abies, the Norway spruce aka the Christmas tree) and left for a lengthy maturation process at a constant temperature of 13 to 14 degrees C. The cheeses are turned daily and brushed with salt solution as they mature. This no doubt used to be carried out by hand but the ever-ingenious Swiss have devised a robot to carry out this repetitive task. There is a certain fascination to be had watching the robot progress up and down the aisles of cheese.
5 to 6 months’ maturation produces a doux (mild) cheese; 7 to 8 months’ a mi-salé; 9 to 10 months’ a salé; +10 months’ a réserve; and finally 15 months’ a vieux. Older is not necessarily better in my book and I rather enjoyed the mild flavour of the youngest gruyère. Visiting the show dairy is a multi-sensory experience and helpfully you are given samples of 3 different ages of cheese to taste the difference. They become progressively more intense and savoury as they age.
You’re not normal if at this stage you haven’t developed an intense salivating urge to buy more cheese to take home. Might I suggest that you restrain yourself from joining the horrendous crush in the end-of-tour store and take a stroll up a grassy hill in the direction of the town of Gruyères itself. On the way, you will pass this traditional farmhouse:
Ring the bell and the farmer’s wife will cut for you a wedge of authentic Gruyère d’Alpage. She also sells the fresh whey cheese known as sérac, a by-product of the gruyère cheese making process. This is what the local farmers used to eat themselves as the gruyère itself was far too lucrative a commodity for home consumption.
I initially thought that sérac must be a marketing man’s invention to make a plain cheese more enticing with a mountain-themed brand identity. A sérac is, as any mountaineer will tell you, the name of the rough ice lumps that form when a glacier undulates. It transpires that it’s the other way round. The cheese was named sérac first, with a possible derivation from the Latin word for whey, serum, and the glacial formation was named after the cheese in a fit of whimsy.
The farmer’s wife suggested eating the sérac as it came with salt, pepper and fresh herbs or using it as a cooking ingredient. I found a handy recipe for cooked sérac posted on the www.genevalunch.com website on 15 March 2010 by Jonell Galloway.
Finally, if all this sounds too touristy for you, how about a day’s foraging for wild plants in the lush Fribourg countryside? I saw an enticing little flyer for just such an adventure pinned up on the Maison de Gruyère noticeboard but didn’t have the time to take up the opportunity. The lady leading the foraging walks is Christine Brinkerhoff-Meier tel 00 41 (0)26 928 1429 email@example.com. The tours run from 9.00 till 16.00 on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays during the summer months.
April 25, 2010 § Leave a comment
Just as the chocolate fest which Easter has become is finally over, L’Artisan du Chocolat go and open a concession in Selfridges Manchester store!
Despite the name, L’Artisan du Chocolate is a British company founded by Gerard Coleman and make chocolates to die for. Like most people, I enjoy chocolate but wouldn’t call myself a chocoholic. These chocolates though are something else. I was first introduced to them by my friend Shelley who gave me a box as a new year gift two years ago. Now I make a bee-line for their Sloane Street store when I visit London. The good and bad news is that 1) I don’t have to any more as theyr’e much closer to home 2) they are both incredibly moreish and on the pricey side – but those two factors do cancel each other out.
On display when I visited was this rather magnificent chocolate elephant. He’s not solid chocolate but apparently has a polystyrene core and is spray painted with real chocolate using car production line technology. Fancy that.
I was immediately drawn to L’Artisan’s gleaming chocolate pearls – pearlised shells in white or dark chocolate with a soft ganache filling. If you buy a sufficient quantity, they package them in gorgeous little jewelry-type coffrets. I was only the market for a small quantity so had to content myself with a cellophane bag.
Here are my precious purchases – the aforementioned pearls, a couple of bars in unusual flavours (white chocolate with saffron; dark chocolate with Darjeeling tea) plus a tasting box which I’ve been working my way through, one divine chocolate per night after dinner with a cup of espresso. Quality not quantity.
Sof far, my favourites are the signature liquid salted caramel balls also the wondrous thin discs filled with either passionfruit coulis or apricot and tonka bean coulis.
Selfridges food customers are rather fickle – the fresh fish and meat counters soon disappeared as did the cheese counter. Let’s hope Artisan du Chocolat can stay the course.
And they’ve brought out a range of election chocolate buttons too bearing tongue-in-cheek slogans so you can stay topical and enjoy your chocolate at the same time.
L’Artisan du Chocolat – flagship London store
89 Lower Sloane Street
London SW1 8DA
0845 270 6996
Manchester – Selfridges concession store
1 Exchange Square
April 23, 2010 § Leave a comment
We’ve been coming to this area of France for the past 15 years now and I’ve managed to build up quite a little black book of food addresses. It’s time to write them down and share them which will be quite a magnum opus. If you happen to be staying in a gîte nearby, please don’t just rely on the supermarket but give these places a try.
I’m going to start not with Fontainebleau itself but with Nemours and its nearby villages of Larchant and La Chapelle. After all Larchant is the village we’ve been based in for the last few years thanks to our friends Alex and Elin who’ve bought a house in the village.
Nemours is a substantial market town on the Loing, a tributary of the Seine. Despite its castle and imposing church it’s a straightforward workaday sort of place not on the tourist trail and none the worse for that. The heart of the town is its marketplace. Perversely the twice-weekly market (Wednesdays and Saturday mornings – a good range of fresh food stalls) is no longer held here but in the Champ de Mars, an open area by the riverside.
The market may have moved on but the old marketplace is home to some great food shops. Let’s start with Chaffraix, the cheese and poultry shop:
This is the place to come if you want to try Brie which is the local cheese in this reqion. You will be spoilt for choice:
Next stop is Aujard Aufradet’s butcher’s shop also in the marketplace where you can have your meat prepared by a real craftsman. The guy is an absolute whizz with his boning knife and that fine string that French butchers like to use.
Keep walking just a little longer to complete your meal with a fruit tart from the best bakery in Nemours, La Fontaine Gourmande:
They have a handy little café at the back where, after your morning shopping, you can enjoy a cup of coffee and one of their incredible Bostock pastries. I haven’t found the intriguingly named Bostock anywhere else – I’m sure there’s a story behind this somewhere that I will have to look into sometime. It’s an absolutely deliciously buttery almondy affair:
And if you really do need a supermarket, your best bet is Carrefour Marché on the west side of town in the suburb of Nemours St Pierre.
Next stop is the picturesque village of Larchant a few miles outside Nemours. There’s a great local bakery here:
I like their brown Campagrain bread once I’ve had my fill of baguette à l’ancienne. The almond croissants they do are a breakfast treat but you need to get there early as they sell out fast.
And if you are into foraging for wild food the nearby forest is awash with wild violets at this time of year. They have a shy but distinct taste and make a pretty addition to a salad – just be sure to leave out garlic in your salad dressing which will otherwise overpower their delicate flavour. One year I will definitely try my hand at crystallising some for cakes and chocolate puddings.
Last port of call is the village of La Chapelle la Reine, a village in the midst of prairie-like fields on the plateau beyond Larchant. It’s home to an Atac supermarket, a convenience store and a couple of OK bakeries – useful when the Larchant bakery takes its weekly day off. There is a weekly market too but it’s sadly nothing to write home about.
Clearly signposted from the main road on a handwritten chalk board is a farm shop selling potatoes and all your onion family requirements (onions, shallots and garlic).
That’s it from the Forest of Fontainebleau for this year – I’ll continue with my shopping round-up after our next visit, Easter 2011.
If you know anything more about the mysterious Bostock pastry or if you have tips on crystallising your own violets I’d love to hear from you…
April 22, 2010 § 2 Comments
We took a day out from our usual walking and climbing routine in the Forest of Fontainebleau to make the one hour drive west to Chartres. Chartres is dominated by its glorious gothic cathedral which soars out of the plains and can be seen from miles away. Here it is on a beautiful spring morning:
The grandeur of the building, the intricate carving throughout, the stained glass and the view from the belltower were all uplifting. Only the noise (I can’t bring myself to call it music) in the nave as we entered the cathedral marred our visit: a church service was in progress conducted by a guitar playing and singing group, loudly amplified and execrable. There was no-one attending the service but the performers themselves. More than a little self-indulgent.
After a visit to the cathedral, the modern-day pilgrim can take refreshment at the Bistrot de la Cathédrale. Despite its proximity to the cathedral (No 1, Cloisters Tel 00 33 (0)2 37 36 59 60) this is no mere tourist trap but an outpost of Chartres highly regarded “Le Georges” restaurant within the Grand Monarque hotel (22 Place des Epars Tel 00 33 (0)2 37 18 15 15).
Our visit was on Easter Monday so most shops were closed but we still had chance to wander through the streets. Chartres has a beautiful market hall:
And I spotted this wonderful old-fashioned butcher’s in the old town:
In terms of regional specialites, local pâtisseries sell sweets called Mentchikoffs. These are praline in a crispy meringue coating and were invented in 1893 to celebrate the Franco-Russian pact of that year. The white meringue poetically represents Russian snow. There’s also Pâté de Chartres made from mixed game birds served either en croûte or from a terrine. Another speciality as is the French classic Poule au Pot (pot roast chicken). King Henri IV who famously wanted to put a Poule au Pot on every table in France was the only king to be crowned at Chartres hence the connection.
I was mistaken in thinking that the green and yellow Chartreuse liqueurs are from Chartres – the liqueur is made by Carthusian monks in Voiron near Grenoble. The drink local to Chartres is the beer “L’Eurélienne”. Sadly there was no opportunity to drink some that day.
So that’s almost it for my quick gastro-tour of Chartres. I think it would be a fantastic place to be whisked away for a weekend – wonderful architecture, places to eat and drink and not overrun with tourists.
But before I finish I have to mention these macaroons spotted in the window of a pâtisserie:
Your eyes are not deceiving you. These are sweet/savoury macaroons and the flavours on offer really are salmon, foie gras, blue roquefort cheese, and, to cap it all, tomato ketchup! This isn’t witty, it isn’t clever, it’s just yucky.