An Ash Rubbed Cheese

Don’t judge a cheese by its rind. Even if it is blackened with ash and fuzzy with mold. Before the invention of plastic wraps and waxes, creating protective rinds was the best way to preserve freshly made cheese. Wood ash is just one of the countless ways to encourage mold growth on your precious cheese.

Selles-sur-Cher is a 19th century French cheese made from goat’s milk. Its name originates from the town of Selles-sur-Cher. To bear the label, this cheese must be made in the department of Cher, Indre, or Loir-et-Cher. The goats of this region graze the floral grasslands of the Cher valley which gives this cheese its unique quality.

This soft white cheese has a doughy texture that will melt in your mouth. Its odor is light for a goat cheese. The outside is rubbed with a dark wood ash. The end result is a powdery blue-grey puck with its characteristic flat sides and beveled edges.  The thin salted ash rind is trimmed off to taste the soft, slightly nutty flavor within.

 The ripening of this cheese takes a minimum of 10 days and up to 3 weeks in a cellar. The more mature the cheese, the stronger the taste. This cheese is often seen in French cheese buffets for its decorative qualities.

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Beaufort: The Best Alpine Cheese in France

Fromage Beaufort is a french cheese produced in the department of Savoie. This region includes the valley of its namesake, Beaufort. This popular cheese must meet stringent standards before it can carry its label.

A pale yellow raw milk cheese with a smooth yet firm texture, this cheese is widely recognized throughout France. It is also an important ingredient in fondue savoyarde. Only the milk of an Abondance or Tarentaise cow can be used in the production of Beaufort, and these cows must graze solely on mountain meadow grass. In winter, hay is harvested from pastures at the base of the mountains. If these standards are not met, the cheese cannot bear the label Beaufort. These special alpine cows are bred not only to be exceptional diary producers but for their ability to thrive in harsh alpine conditions and trek across steep hillsides. Cows (vaches) are rotated regularly into different pastures, and each cow will normally have her own embroidered bell.

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The “happy cows” of California have nothing on these girls.

The milk to cheese process begins in large copper vats where timing, temperature, and stirring is essential in creating a quality wheel. Curds are trapped in cheese cloth and pressed in wooden rings. After the wheel is salted in brine, it is put in a cheese cellar to be turned and salted daily until it reaches maturity. It takes, at minimum, 5 months to properly ripen a wheel of Beaufort cheese. There is a distinct difference in taste between summer (été) Beaufort and winter (hiver) Beaufort. Summer Beaufort has a smoother creamier taste. It is also more expensive and preferable for casual eating. Winter Beaufort is used more often in fondues and gratins. Beaufort that has been traditionally handmade high in the Alpes (d’alpage) will carry the highest price tag. You get what you pay for, the difference in taste between factory and traditionally made Beaufort can be recognized even by a novice cheese tester. To view a photo essay on the creation of traditional alpine Beaufort, click here.

Inside a Beaufort cheese cellar

Inside a Beaufort cheese cellar

Navigating Paris CDG Airport with a Dog

Paris CDG

Paris CDG

An entire book could be written on navigating the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. This article will map only the information I know from personal experience. The thought of finding your way with luggage, a crate, and a dog in tow can be a daunting prospect, especially if you are traveling solo, but Zala and I made it from Paris, France to Chiang Mai, Thailand and I’ll tell you how we did it.

It is best to prepare in advance and print out a map of the airport, you can find a basic layout map here. Zala and I arrived via the TGV train. In France, a dog ticket is half the price of your adult ticket, and dogs are required to be leashed and muzzled on the train. I have a 65lb Dutch Shepherd, and I have found that it is easiest to take a seat next to the luggage instead of my assigned seat if the train car (voiture) is crowded. Most trains to Paris are. My leashed dog walked alongside me from the train up until the moment I sent her away as luggage. Do not feel obliged to keep your dog in his/her crate while navigating around terminals and shuttles, you’ll only give yourself a headache and a backache.

The TGV train arrives between terminals 2D and 2F. If you feel like gambling and taking the train the morning before your flight, check online for any ongoing train strikes that may cause you unexpected delays. In my case, there were train strikes the days prior, and I chose to arrive in Paris the evening before my flight. There are numerous choices for hotels around the airport, but the cheapest option, actually within the airport, was Ibis Hotel.

To get to the Ibis Hotel, there is the CDGVAL shuttle that stops at all three terminals. From the TGV station, you need to take the lift up to the 4th floor. From there, simply follow the signs and take yet another lift. The Ibis and Hilton are located next to terminal 3. There is plenty of grass outside of terminal 3 and the Ibis Hotel for pet bathroom breaks. The pet fee for the Ibis Hotel was 5 Euros current as of March 2014.

AirFrance was our airline of choice this trip. AirFrance departures are located in terminal 2F. Going from terminal 3 to terminal 2F with a large dog crate, two duffle bags, and an excited dog took no longer than 20 minutes. A forewarning, trolleys are blocked from going on the lifts that go up and down to the CDGVAL shuttle. This leg of the journey will require extra time and manual lifting if you do not have help. After that, there are the long stretches of walking that the Paris CDG is famous for.

Individuals checking in with a dog will receive their boarding pass after they have paid and checked-in their dog, so don’t bother with the ticketing machines. Dog check-in should be done several hours in advance. My flight was at 1:50, and I checked my dog in at 11:00. To start, check your dog and any extra baggage in at the luggage counter. The attendant will inspect the cage, give you a waiver to sign, and put your baggage sticker on the crate. To my surprise, my dog’s health certificate was never checked. Afterwards, you will need to go to the ticketing office to pay for your dog’s fee (200euros to Thailand) and get your boarding pass printed. Finally, you will need to travel further down the terminal to #5 to drop off your oversized luggage dog.  It took well over an hour before she was actually crated and we said our goodbyes.

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After you have finished with the dog, it is your turn to go through the grueling process of customs. I will mention, yet again, how important it is to give yourself plenty of extra time. My gate was changed from terminal F to hall L. An entirely different hall with a lot of extra unplanned walking to get there! But if you do have extra time, terminal 2 has enough to keep you amused during your wait; including video games, wifi (first 15 minutes are free), and massages.

Upon boarding, there is a waiver to be handed to the stewardess. My boarding pass did not scan properly until I handed this waiver to her. This paper essentially said that my dog’s crate complied with the safety standards of AirFrance. After that, it was smooth flying on a direct flight, and my dog was waiting for me in Z3 oversized luggage at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. See my post on Suvarnabhumi Airport for information on collecting your dog, getting through customs, and catching another flight on a Thai airline.

Flying to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Flying to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Génépi: The Traditional Drink of the Alps

Génépi is a high alpine plant. The silver branches of this wormwood are found at elevations above 2,000 meters and are harvested in late July and August.  These aromatic branches are then steeped in pure grain alcohol for forty days. The contents are then filtered and fit for consumption. This drink can be taken straight at room temperature or chilled. It can also be added to coffees or desserts. Génépi filled chocolates can be found throughout the region. Génépi is also a commonly used ingredient in a Grolle.

Making Genepi

Making Genepi

The taste is unmistakable and unique in itself. The closed taste comparable to génépi is perhaps chamomile paired with a freshness reminiscent of spearmint. Before it became a pick-me-up for skiiers, this drink was believed to have medicinal qualities. A deep inhale of this brew will certainly clear your sinuses.

A mature bottle of génépi varies from light gold to light green. Many commercial varieties are a bright green due to added food coloring. Génépi is available at most bars, restaurants, and markets in the French/Italian/Swiss Alps. Most local families have their own special place for collecting génépi. This plant only flowers once a year and, like most high alpine plants, it does not survive well in high traffic, overpicked locations. So do not expect any locals to give up the location of their génépi spots. And if you ask a local how to make génépi, they will simply say forty-forty-forty.

40/40/40 Savoyard

40 branches of génépi

40 grams of sugar

40 days of steeping

In a liter of pure grain alcohol

The composition of this drink is comparable to absinthe. You’ve been warned.

French Alps

French Alps

It Started with Drinking Coffee and Booze Out of a Wooden Shoe

Shepherds in the region of Savoie, France would share a mix of hot coffee and alcohol in a wooden shoe. This is where the concept of the grolle originated. A grolle is a carved bowl known as a coupe de l’amitie (cup of friendship).

This beautiful wooden bowl can have anywhere between 2 to 10 becs (spouts). Each participant drinks in turn from their own spout. Customarily, the bowl is not put down on the table until it is empty. Its cap is sometimes carved with a design that can be rotated to indicate the next spout to be used.

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Here are the traditional ingredients for your own grolle experience.

Ingredients

For 4 people

  • 4 cups of coffee
  • 1 cup of eau-de-vie or génépi
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • orange and/or lemon zest

First add your citrus zest and sugar to your grolle. Pour in your coffee and then your alcohol. If you want to add some flare, literally, light it and then cap it.

Génépi is a local alcohol made in the alps from the high alpine plant of its namesake, génépi. Cognac and Rum are suitable substitute for this recipe.

The more you use your grolle the better it gets. Enjoy!

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Exploring the crags and crannies of Saint-Raphaël

St. Raphaël basilica

Notre Dame de la Victoire Church

Saint-Raphaël is not commonly recognized as ‘French Riviera,’  but it is indeed part of the Côte d’Azur. It is a lovely place for those seeking some room to breathe among the train loads of tourists that seek the summer beaches of France’s Mediterranean coast.

If you arrive in Cannes and discover, like many others, the inflated prices and scam artists that follow densely populated tourist destinations are not for you. St. Raphaël is a 20 minute train ride from Cannes. These train tickets can be purchased with no preset time, so you may leave town on a whim if you wish. Dog tickets are 50% of your ticket price. Train ticket machines have an English option, but those traveling with a pet must purchase their ticket from an actual ticket teller. There are designated English booths for those who don’t have a firm grip on the French language. It is about a 2 minute walk from the Gare de Saint-Raphaël-Valescure train station to the beach.

Along the

Along the Sentier du Littora footpath

Clean public beaches with showers stretch all across the city front . These beaches do not allow dogs, but this rule seems to be disregarded and poorly enforced. St. Raphaël is very well groomed and maintained. Never was there an overflowing trash can, and shady street venders seem to be ran off for the most part.

What makes St. Raphaël special is the Sentier du Littora coastal footpath; a winding trail woven among jagged red coastline rocks. It is connected with homemade bridges and in some places the steps are even cut into stone. This trail can be precarious as times, but the hidden coves and its mysterious (presumably man-made) stone port are well worth the effort. The trail starts at the edge of Port de Plaisance, and it is walled off at Plage de la Péguière although it is said this trail extends for an additional 6 km.

Plage de la Péguière is a sand beach with public showers and a small sandwich shop. It is approximately 5-6 km from the head of the Sentier du Littora trail. It is the perfect place to relax in the sand after exploring the crags and crannies of St. Raphaël’s unique coastal trail.

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Quiet cove along the

Quiet cove along the Sentir du Littora trail

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 For more information on dog travel in France click here

Orange isn’t just a color

Théâtre antique d’Orange (Ancient Theatre of Orange) is an ancient Roman theatre in Orange, France.

Théâtre antique d'Orange

Théâtre antique d’Orange

The stage for Théâtre antique d'Orange

The stage for Théâtre antique d’Orange

 

This theatre is well preserved and actively used today for musical works, operas, and symphonies! The most noteworthy is the opera festival,  Chorégies d’Orange, that has been held annually in the theatre since 1902.

Théâtre antique d'Orange

Théâtre antique d’Orange

Orange is a small commune in the department of Vaucluse in Southern France. It is close to Avignon.

Facing the entrance of Théâtre antique d'Orange

Facing the entrance of Théâtre antique d’Orange

You must purchase a ticket to see the amphitheater. The cost of the ticket includes not only the theater but the museum and ruins. The roman theatre is one of the three heritage sights where the Roman wall still remains. As of summer 2013, the price of one ticket was 9 euros.

Menton: The Middle Child of the French Riviera

Not as glamorous as Monaco nor as famous as Cannes, Menton sets comfortably in the middle with its natural pebble beaches, clean streets, and modest prices.IMG_7388

Menton is a easy walk from Monaco around Cap Martin. See my post on Monaco to find directions for the trail connecting Monaco to Menton. Unlike Monaco, Menton has two dog beaches along the long stretch of free access public beaches.

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There is nothing like a swim in the Mediterranean on a hot day along the Côte d’Azur.IMG_7356

A series of steps to the top of the city lead to a massive olive grove with a wonderfully cheap campground. Saint Michel campground has complete facilities including showers, bathrooms, laundry, and even a restaurant. They accommodate everyone from large campers to tiny tents, and of course, they are dog friendly.

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And don’t forget to see the lighthouse.

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Feel free to leave comments and questions.