Word of the day: Formaggio (Fromage)

Formaggio (For-MAH-joh): Cheese

Today we visited the Montmartre area of Paris, including the gorgeous Sacre Couer basilica. Since it was Palm Sunday, there was a mass going on, but tourists could still walk around the outside. It was kind of weird and kind of cool to participate in a mass from the fringes. The last time I visited Sacre Couer (23 years ago), it was October and it was almost completely empty and dark. It felt like a wonderful sacred space. Today it was filled with light and worshippers and it still felt like a wonderful sacred space. The church is huge and it was completely packed with worshippers. It was wonderful to hear the mass and the singing in French.

We walked the streets that were once the haunts of the bohemian set, visited the Moulin Rouge (well, just the outside), and had lunch in a little cafe. Lunch was the highlight of the day for me. I decided that while I was in France I wanted to have something really French, so I ordered the camembert and a bottle of Languedoc Merlot-Cabernet blend. The cheese came on a bed of lettuce with raisins and walnuts sprinkled around. It was beyond delicious – firm and compact in the middle, almost crumbly, surrounded by smooth creaminess, wrapped in that beautiful white rind. I’ve had camembert before, but not like this. The wine was a perfect compliment to the cheese. The day was cold and bright, and the sunshine added the perfect amount of warmth to make the whole affair just heavenly.

I thought I should say a little more about our food experience in France. It wasn’t too easy for vegetarians, but what we did find was fantastic. The bread was enough to keep a smile on my face for the whole weekend. The croissants were unbelievably tender and flaky. I don’t think I’ve ever had their equal. My favorite new discovery was a dish called “raclette”. I don’t know the exact recipe, but here is my guess:

  • Find the 3 most delicious yellow-fleshed potatoes in the world. Boil them with the skins on, until tender. ¬†Coat them in butter and a little salt. Put them in a bowl.
  • Put several slices of raclette cheese (I don’t know exactly what that is, but that’s what kind of cheese they said this was) on a plate, including the rinds. Put a couple pats of butter on top of that. Put the plate in the oven until the cheese melts.
  • Serve the cheese and potatoes separately and tell the guests to eat them together in whatever way makes them happy.

That’s it! Mind-blowingly delicious. How can you go wrong with cheese, butter, salt, and potatoes?

We were also finally back in the world of big salads and vinaigrette! We had a fantastic salad with warm goat cheese, wrapped in a very, very thin crepe served on top. It also had cous cous, hericots verts (skinny green beans), cauliflower, tomatoes, carrots, and some kind of marinated cabbage, almost like a fresh sauerkraut. It was divine.

The next time I go to Paris, I am definitely going to have a picnic from the fresh fruit, cheese, bread, wine, and chocolate sold in the street markets. It looked so fantastic. The weather conspired against a picnic this time around, but that is one of the many things I will look forward to on my next trip to Paris.

Now we are back home in Florence, and we discovered that while we were gone, a gelato shop opened on our street! Gelato is the one thing our neighborhood was missing, until now… So tonight I am very grateful to all the cows out there who provide the raw materials, and all the artisans who produce the formaggio and gelato that keeps me in tasty delights.