Pear Champagne Anyone?

This is a guest blog, written by Kathy Morton, who organizes culinary tours in France.  A heartfelt thanks to her for sharing this interesting post.

Normandy has miles and miles of apple and pear orchards. In the springtime, blossoms perfume the air and provide stunning views of the countryside. In the fall, the scent of ripe juicy fruits is undeniable.

Most apples and pears air plucked from the trees, but some bitter pears are purposely left until the drop to the ground, carpeting the area known as the Bocage Domfrontais.  Because this fallen fruit – an unusually tart and fragile pear – is quick to spoil, it is swooped up from the ground as soon as possible to be pressed into juice. The result? One of France’s most unusually distinctive drinks: Le Poiré.   A glass of Poiré, or “pear champagne,” makes a perfect aperitif before a meal.

Described in 1607 as “wine made from pears,” golden-hued Poiré is sometimes known as “perry.”  Light and fruity, this effervescent drink has low alcohol content and, like champagne, can be enjoyed before and during a meal.  In Normandy, Poiré  is made much the same way as the local apple cider, but unlike apples which are stored for a time to make the cider, the ripe pears that have fallen off the trees are pressed as soon as they are gathered.

A journey along the Route du Poiré  entices travelers to stop for visits and observe the fruit-bearing trees, most of which are over 30 years old.   A visit to one of the local producers such as the award-winning family of LeMorton – who has been producing poiré for generations, renders a first-hand look at the method of production and a unique opportunity to taste the exceptional libation.  Visits are always followed by une dégustation, a tasting of the final product. Michelin-starred restaurants and upscale markets like Fauchon carry LeMorton’s exceptional Poiré.

It’s always fun to go to the source of a product and meet the local producers. Next time you find yourself in Normandy, a tasting of this local product is a must!

Unexpected “Wow” factor!

I suppose, in competing for tourists already in Nice for the annual Carnaval, the Fête du Citron in Menton is held during the same two week period. So, this year, we had our French friends from Montpellier visiting and decided to check out the competition. I knew there would be sculptures made from zillions of lemons and oranges, from seeing publicity photos – it didn’t seem that impressive and I was thinking: OK, seen one figure – seen them all. Wow, was I ever wrong!

We attended the lighted-gardens event in the evening, as this was highly recommended to me as the best one to do, : it was a fenced off park area, so you couldn’t see inside, until you entered through a curtained doorway, after which I stood frozen in awe!

The theme for this year was “Les Regions Françaises” (the Regions of France), and so, the first fruit sculpture was a huge champagne bottle with running water into a glass, lit with a variety of colored lights – it was mesmerizing!

There were stilt walkers, bands, and costumed employees wandering among the crowd, and at a certain pre-announced time, as a bonus attraction, sparklers were set off from the Eiffel Tower sculpture. There was a large crowd strolling around, but the hardest part was getting a clear photo shot – even in looking at these photos, they don’t really convey how beautiful the displays were – but when I look at them, I still think, “Wow!”

(Photos: copyright 24/7 in France)

Sniff, sniff – “Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti/Si-Do”: A French perfume song!

One day, a friend and I went to visit a nearby parfumerie; reluctantly, on my part, since I don’t wear perfume because I suffer from allergies around strong odors – although perfume is preferable to some others!

Nice is about 27 km (17 miles)from the “perfume capital of the world”, Grasse, with its large parfumeries, “Fragonard” and “Molinard,” being major industries and tourist attractions. There are several options, though, as Nice has “Molinard,” Eze village has “Fragonard,” and Cagnes-sur-Mer has its “Atelier des Parfums,” all where you can do a guided visit and purchase products.

During the tour, I learned that in the 16th century, roses were added into the leather making process, as a way to hide the animal odor in gloves: at that time, animal fat was used to absorb the flowers’ fragrance, then washed with alcohol and filtered. Today, petals are distilled in a variety of methods, depending on the concentration of oil desired:

~ 1,000 kg of flowers distilled with water vapor = 1 kg of essential oil
~ 600 kg of flowers distilled with solvents = 1 kg of “absolu” (a higher concentrate)
~ 5 tons of flowers = 1 liter essential oil

Surprisingly, most flowers are imported; however, the three grown around Grasse are rose, jasmin, and violet. The most common regional flowers used in making perfume are mimosa, lavender, rose (petals), jasmine, orange blossom, violets, and broom. No wonder pure perfume is so expensive, as 10 ml of natural rose liquid costs 200 Euros!

Le “nez” (nose) is, logically, the title given to the creator of original perfume scents, and who, to begin with, must be able to recognize the smell of 400 primary scents, with an increase in repertoire possible to around 1,500-2,000 different odors. Reportedly, about 50% of “les nez” are women, with the main training center being situated in the town of Versailles.

What I found fascinating was the laboratory (more like an office library), where there were rows and rows of shelves (called an “organ”), full of bottles of scents (each one called a “note”); the combination of scents is called a “chord”, with many chords being a “composition.”
So, the “Nez” is, in fact, a ‘musical’ composer with around 80-150 different scents in one perfume!

To create your own personal composition, you may want to try to make your own perfume! (If you try this recipe, I would love to hear how it turns out.)

I learned that perfume fragrance changes with time: the first impression – that first burst of smell – of a perfume is called, “la note de tete”; after a couple of hours, you smell “la note de coeur”; and the final phase, or lingering scent, is called “la note de fond.” (although I’ve been around ladies who put on too much perfume that lingered much too long with a very strong “note de fond”!)

Following are the concentrations of the various grades of perfume, so the next time you are shopping, you’ll know the differences:

Perfume = > 20%
Eaux de parfum = 12-15%
Eaux de toilette = 8-12%
Eaux de cologne = 7%

According to an English physician of the 19th century, “a perfume should correspond to the personality, physical, emotional, and mental characteristics of its wearer, and should be as specific to each woman as the sound of her voice.” (Source: Complete Illustrated Guide to Aromatherapy).

Hmmm, I wonder what this means for me!

Some tidbits of trivia

Having been in Nice for five years now, I have done a few walking tours, along with some additional research. I would like to share with you some well-known, and some not so well-known, factoids and trivia – Enjoy!

Do you know?
Provence area:
~ the first area to be planted with grapes by the Greeks in 600BC; Rose makes up about 60% of wine production
~ total sunshine averages around 300 days per year, with hot/dry summers and mild winters
~ the violent wind that originates from North Africa is called the “mistral” which comes from the word “mistrau” meaning master; these winds can be around 200 km/hr. (124 mph) and last 3-10 days; the saying goes, it can “blow the ears off a donkey”
~ the provencal language differs from French in openness of vowel pronounciation
~ provencal food features garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, and olives
~ Nicois specialties include Pissaladiere (onion pie), Tourte de blettes (swiss chard pie), Farcis Nicois (stuffed vegetables), Beignets de fleurs de courgettes (deep fried flowering squash), Socca (chickpea-flour crepe), Pan-bagnat (sandwich)
~lavender originated from the Canary Islands and was brought in by the Romans
~ symbols include: sunflowers, herbes de Provence (thyme, basil, rosemary), fabrics called “Indiennes” with the most well-known brand being “Souleiado”; kir – white wine with creme de cassis; pastis – licorice flavored alcohol mixed with water; Petangue/Boules – also known as Bocce
~ Monet lived in Antibes; Renoir in Cagnes-sur-Mer; Picasso in Juan-les-Pins; Chagall in St. Jean Cap-Ferrat
~ Mediterranean France is like a tapestry with threads of history woven into it with a mix of architecture – Roman, Medieval, Baroque, Modern
~ Monaco is the world’s most populated country, second smallest independent nation, and the smallest French-speaking country

~ the meaning of Nice (Nikaia in Greek) is the Goddess of victory; it became part of France in 1860
~ the Opera burned down in 1881 and was re-built in 1882; the 4 rooftop statues represent theater/dance/music/song
~ original name of the Promenade des Anglais was “La Strada del Littorale” and it was originally made of marble
~ Albert 1st park is named after a Belgian king and is the oldest garden in Nice
~ the Carnaval has been a tradition for 700 years
~ the name “Cote d’Azur” was coined by the writer and poet, Stephen Liegeard, in 1888
~ the destruction of the castle on Castle Hill was destroyed in 1706 by Louis XIV, but this resulted in the city’s growth
~ Nice’s traditional flower is the carnation; Nice’s specialty olive is the “caillette”, and tapenade is called the “caviar of Nice”
~ candied fruit was a favorite delicacy of Queen Victoria
~ Cours Saleya market was named after the sun “soleil” and has been Nice’s main market since the Middle Ages
~ Architecturally: Italian colors are ochre and yellow; French colors are beige and white – as seen in Place Massena

Hope you get to visit this area and enjoy in person all that it has to offer!