, we are having our picnic now,” announced Denise.
She unfurled a tablecloth over some wet logs in the middle of a meadow in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. Jean-Pierre pulled bread, charcuterie, cheese and fruit from a wicker basket. The Americans, kids and adults in sweatshirts and jackets, actually thought it was raining. The French, in shirt sleeves and shorts, sipped wine from tumblers and admired the scenery. We picque-niqued for exactly forty-five minutes and damply piled back on the tour van, which headed straight up the mountain to an encampment of Basque shepherds in their late spring stage of transhumance, the annual migration of pastoral animals with their human and canine caretakers.
The mountain pastures dotted with tiny yellow wild flowers looked like psychedelic green velvet. Misty bare peaks and forested slopes enveloped us. Our French-American contingent set up tents amidst outcrops of rock. We shared the meadow with woolly white sheep on impossibly skinny legs and monolithic reclining dun cows in leather necklaces strung with tin bells. The ruddy shepherds in serge jackets and black berets lived in a crumbling stone building with a tiny stove. There Jean-Pierre heated up his garbure
—a thick soup of ham, cabbage and vegetables enriched with stale bread and mountain cheese—our dinner.
I had never been anyplace as profoundly beautiful as this, and I have never spent a more miserable night. At dawn we watched the sheepdogs corral ewes for milking, guiding them one by one into the hull of a gutted car, its open doors creating a stall. The cheesemaker, in white coat and hat, heated an aluminum pot of sheep’s milk over a burner on the stone floor of the house, added a few drops of rennet, and gently stirred it with his hands until he was able pull out a soft, poofy basketball of curd—the birth of a wheel of tome de pyrenees.
Draining the whey, he gave us the warm solids, sheep’s milk fromage frais, to eat with wild berry preserves, and cooled the rest in a pail anchored in the icy stream that meandered through the pasture. I have never tasted anything more delicious, or more intimate with nature. Jean-Pierre and Denise had taken us Americans by the hand and dragged us to experience the wonder of the traditional food they grew up eating. We would never be the same.
This happened twenty years ago. As I read French Roots
, more memories flooded back—being with Jean-Pierre and Denise in Peyraud and Arcachon, and in Berkeley and Healdsburg. The two of them taught me, and a whole generation of northern Californians, how to eat and drink and cook and live.
Now, reading this evocative joint autobiography, I discover what great storytellers they are. They describe the evolution of their unique, multi-cultural sensibility in a moving coming-of-age story with benefits: it includes an inside look at the Chez Panisse kitchen, a wonderfully personal collection of recipes (some so simple and homey I started cooking them for dinner; others I’m aspiring to take on) and a lifestyle primer. Most of all, they’ve written a love story—their own—rooted in provincial France and nurtured by the social freedom of America.
I didn’t want this book to end.
comté cheese soufflé
Soufflé au Comté
We lived in Franche-Comté for ten years when I was a child, years that have been extremely valuable to me as a chef. The quality of the ingredients there at the time was unreal—surpassed perhaps only by their diversity. Jura, in the south of the region, is the epicenter of the world for Comté cheese. We ate a great deal of cheese—on bread, in gratins and quiches, and, of course, in soufflés. My mother’s soufflé mixed three different types of Comté that had been affiné
, or aged and tended, for various lengths of time: soft and creamy Comté, aged less than six months; a young, one-year-old cheese that was firmer with a stronger flavor; and finally a fairly dry, older Comté, or comté fort
, aged to sharp maturity for more than two-and-a-half years. If my mother had a signature dish, this cheese soufflé might just have been it. —jean-pierre Serves 4
1-1/4 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
Salt and black pepper
3 eggs, separated
6 ounces Comté cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Scald the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat and set it aside.
In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. When it’s hot, whisk in the flour and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently with a rubber spatula. Add the warm milk to the flour mixture slowly, whisking steadily as you pour. Season the batter with a pinch of salt, black pepper, and a few shreds of grated nutmeg. Cook over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a mixing bowl and let the batter cool for 10 to 15 minutes before whisking in the egg yolks and cheese.
Use the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to coat the insides of 4 individual (6 ounce) ramekins and then dust them with flour.
Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold them gently into the mixture. Fill the ramekins about two-thirds full with the soufflé mixture. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the soufflés are well browned on top. You may also bake the soufflé in one large, 5-cup soufflé dish. Cook the soufflé longer, 18 to 20 minutes, until it rises measurably above the rim of the baking dish and is nicely browned on top. Serve immediately.
Excerpted from French Roots by Jean-Pierre and Denise Lurton Moullé, foreword by Patricia Unterman. Copyright © 2014 by Jean-Pierre and Denise Lurton MoullÃ©, foreword by Patricia Unterman. Excerpted by permission of Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.