Cruising through France exposes us to some of the country’s funkier, more challenging foods. Sometimes these become acquired tastes. Other times not.
I wasn’t sure about the duck gizzards confit (gésiers de canard confits) the first time I found them on my salad. For lunch I ordered a “Salade Périgourdin” not realizing exactly what it was. The salad was good, though unexpected. I wasn’t quite sure what to think about the gizzards scattered on the top of the greens. The texture was interesting and there was just a hint of organ flavor. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t usual or expected.
I made the same mistake more than once later and ordered more Salade Périgourdins. You’d think I would have learned but I find the French regional names for salads and other dishes to be confusing. The strangeness of duck gizzards passed each time I accidently ordered them. Eventually I started to order Salade Périgourdins not by accident but by intent. I now liked the duck gizzards. I had acquired a taste for gésiers de canard confits. Now I routinely buy them at the market to put on salads. They are delicious, just like pretty much anything cooked in duck fat.
Not everything funky food works like this. Take Andouillette sausage. I’ve tried Andouillette a few times. It hasn’t gotten an easier. I don’t think this is something I will ever be able to eat.
The French like some pretty funky things and Andouillette is near the top of the list. Andouillette, not to be mistaken for Andouille, is known, indeed prized for it’s distinctive lower-intestinal odor. The odor comes from its source; the sausage is made from bits of the hog’s lower intestine. Consequentially Andouillette smells strongly of hog shit.
Even at this point we contemplate asking the waiter if we can move tables if Andouillette is being served within twenty feet of our table. Eating Andouillette is more offensive to us than smoking. It’s that bad. I’m light years away from liking Andouillette. Indeed as long as I have a nose there’s very little chance that I ever will like it. The French, however, love Andouillette. They seek it out at restaurants, smell and all.
Our dislike of Andouillette is more the exception than the rule. There are many of France’s funky foods we have learned to like, particularly ripe cheese, at least to a point.
Being forced to hold in Saint Jean de Losne for an extended period gave us plenty of opportunity to appreciate one of France’s best, and sometimes funkiest, cheese: Époisses de Bourgogne. The village of Époisses is about an hour and twenty minutes by car from Wanderlust’s mooring in Saint Jean de Losne. It is easily close enough for the cheese to be readily available in the local markets.
Though it didn’t start this way, Époisses de Bourgogne now ranks as one of our favorite cheeses. It’s reach, creamy, and slightly salty with pungent complexity that varies as it ages. At its best I’m not sure that we’ve ever encountered a better soft cheese.
We are not alone in our feelings. According to Wikipedia Napoleon was a particular fan of the cheese. The famous epicure Brillat-Savarin himself classed it as the “king of all cheeses,” strong praise indeed.
The truth is we tend to eat our Époisses on the young side, perhaps out of fear. Most self-respecting French people would not dream of eating Époisses before it develops some serious funk. Some funk is good for us too but we haven’t reached the typical French level on this. Most likely we never will.
One thing that we have learned is Époisses must be treated with respect. This is not a cheese to leave unattended in the fridge for a week. Open the refrigerator after has been left unsupervised for too long and you may well be met with an acrid, bitter, and stinging cloud of ammoniated frommage. It’s an environmental nightmare that will have you considering a call out for a haz mat team to dispose of a good cheese gone bad.