Welcome to our Brittany Blog
Wednesday, 26th December 2018
Christmas in France
Christmas customs, originating in the Middle East were introduced to France by the Romans. Reims was the site of the first French Christmas celebration when, in 496, Clovis purposely chose the day of the Nativity to have his 3,000 warriors baptised.
The fir tree was first presented as the holy tree of Christmas in Strasbourg in 1605. It was decorated with artificial coloured roses and apples, and symbolised the tree in the garden of Eden.
As in England, French houses start to get decorated in early December and we have found (at our cost!) that if you don’t buy your Christmas tree by 15th December you can forget it!..
Another custom is that of the manger, ‘la crèche’, which originated in the 12th century is placed in the centre of many towns. Rochefort en Terre always has ‘la crèche’ and some fantastic lights.
At midnight there is Christmas Mass, which in Brittany is very important to most families. When the family returns home after midnight mass, there is a late supper known as ‘le reveillon’. This meal varies according to the region in France, in Alsace, a goose is eaten, in Burgundy, a turkey, in Brittany, galettes with sour cream and in Paris, oysters and foie gras. So we get galettes and the Parisians get oysters! ...
Friday, 21st December 2018
Perhaps a bottle of frozen wine with your turkey?
Harvesting grapes always conjures up warm images of farmers waiting until late summer to ensure that their carefully tended grapes have received the optimum anount of sun before they are harvested before temperatures start to fall.
However, Vineyards in Savoie (Anvergne-Rhône-Alpes) have just started to harvest their grapes, and this is intentional, they aren’t just a bit behind their Bordeaux collegues!
Late December, as winter deepens, farmers of vineyards in Savoie rise in the early hours of the morning when temperatures are barely above freezing to pick the Jacquère grape whilst it is still frozen on the vine.
The grapes remain frozen as they are pressed and will stay below 3 decgrees C for the next 24 hours.
Then the frozen grapes and their juice are suspended from a helicopter and are flown high up into the dizzy altitudes of Mount Blanc where they are frozen for a second time.
This process of double freezing results in a highly concentrated, high sugar wine which I guess (and I am guessing!..) gives a higher alcoholic content.
This wine is very expensive and is not destined for our supermarket shelves!
Monday, 17th December 2018
French supermarket bans additive linked to cancer
Until very recently I wasn't aware of the additive titanium dioxide or E171 for short.
E171 is a whitening additive often used in toothpaste and other cosmetics, food products, and medicines. The additive, which is still legal to use, has been linked to cancer.
The Supermarket group Casino has become the first supermarket to announce a zero use policy and is to remove E171, from all of its products by the end of 2018
Casino have confirmed that this move may cause a change to the look and feel of some products, and some may no longer be available.
For example, their blue and white stripped tooth paste will now just be blue and Casino currently sells a biscuit which has a soft milk filling, but the colour was not attractive [without E171]. So Casino have made the choice to simply remove the product from their shelves.
Casino is not the only brand to make the change.
Earlier this year, sweet manufacturers joined together to sign a charter that pledged to remove E171 from their products by 2021
But the confectionery brand Lutti - the second largest in France - acknowledged that this could cost companies
Lutti, has spent several hundred thousand euros in investment over two years as they try to come up with ways to replace the E171. Therecis no doubt that their sweets will be more expensive.
I can't help but wonder, what else E171 is in, am I regularly eating this additive without realising it?
Tuesday, 11th December 2018
Pastis to make a revival
Pastis is rather like marmite, you either love it or hate it. Personally I can’t stand it!..and it looks like I am not the only one. The declining popularity of the spirit,which is usually known under the Pastis 51 or Ricard brands - has prompted the family business to consider importing much more of this aniseed liquor.
Cristal Limiñana has been making 100% Marseille pastis in the centre of the Marseille, in the Blancarde district since 1962, and now employs 12 people.
Currently, the company exports just 20% of its bottles, but demand for "Un Marseillais" is growing from Germany and Belgium. Pastis has a very distinctive flavour, and the concept of adding water to alcohol is a strange idea for many people.
Aniseed drinks are not products that usually have any international reputation. It is a very local market, mainly in Spain, Greece and in French-speaking countries.
Cristal Limiñana is hoping to capitalise on the current popularity for strong tastes, such as that in the very popular Aperol Spritz, and emphasise the family-made, independent, Provence-made aspect of the spirit. The ‘Made in France’ label is a strong factor in promoting Pastis which is gaining poularity in Belgium and Germany.
It also wants to increase locals’ knowledge of the spirit, which was originally inspired from an aniseed-tasting drink that was popular in Alicante, in Spain.
Other Marseille manufacturers are also aiming to improve popularity of the spirit, raise its profile, and target the high-end market.
So it looks like Pastis may make a revival!
Tuesday, 4th December 2018
Olive oil labelling questioned
If you are coming to France to buy olive oil, beware, not all are what they claim to be.
Almost half of olive oils sold in France do not conform to regulations, a new report has found, with many containing added vegetable oil, and falsely claiming to be “extra virgin” or “organic”.
The most common issue was incorrect labelling, which gave the impression that the oils were of a higher quality than they really were. Some of the labelled olive oils had rapeseed, vegetable or sunflower oil added to them.
A common problem also appears to be falsely using the “logo for Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP)”.
Tuesday, 27th November 2018
Burger v Baguette
For the first time in history, hamburger sales in France have soared higher than the classic baguette jambon-beurre sandwich as French diners surrender to the American fast food favourite.
Burgers were on the menu at 85 per cent of restaurants in France last year with a whopping 1.5 billion units sold, according to a study by Paris-based restaurant consultants Gira Conseil.
More worryingly still for the defenders of French cuisine, just 30 per cent of the burgers were sold in fast food joints, with the majority sold at restaurants with full table service.
Le burger has almost become French, often served with some of the country’s most famous cheeses like Roquefort rather than plastic cheddar.
This is big news for a country that takes great pride in its national culinary culture, and which for years resisted the global burger onslaught. But it can no longer be resisted, last year there was a nine per cent jump in burger sales.
The Golden Arches has adapted to French tastes with the McCamembert and McBaguette burgers with emmental cheese, Dijon mustard, various French salads and even macaroons for dessert. Customers can also drink beer with their meals.
I suppose the classic french dish of ‘steak and frites’ served with salad and baguette is not a million miles away from a McDonalds meal which consists of bread, chips, burger and salad. Perhaps we should not be surprised at all that France is now McDonald’s most profitable market outside the US, with more than 1,400 restaurants.
Monday, 19th November 2018
Philosophy - A capacity for personal reflection
Iona, has just started her final year at lycée (secondary school) and as part of her Science Bac, she must sit a four hour exam in Philosophy. The objective, she has been told, of these lessons is to develop a capacity for personal reflection.
A past paper asked the following questions :-
Is truth preferable to peace?
Does power exist without violence?
Can one be right in spite of the facts?
Perhaps you would prefer option B, which is to write a commentary on a text. In which case, here is a bit of Spinoza's 1670 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Or how about some Seneca on altruism?
The topics that will be covered this year are consciousness, art, existence and time, matter and spirit, society, law, duty, happiness.
And among the writers that she will need need to refer to are Plato, William of Ockham, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Sartre.
I am just so pleased that I didn’t have to tackle such personal reflection at 17!
Other countries have school-leaving exams which cover the history of ideas and religion and so on. But the French are very clear that that is not what theirs is.
The purpose of the philosophy Bac is not to understand the history of human thought but to leap into the stream that is the actuality of human thought.
So the purpose of teaching philosophy in theory, is to complete the education of young men and women and permit them to think.
To see the universal arguments about the individual and society, God and reason, good and bad and so on, and thus escape from the binding imperatives of the now - by which I mean the dictatorship of whatever ideas are most pressingly forced on us in the day-to-day by government, media, fashion, political correctness and so on.
How wonderful, you cannot help thinking. What a great idea. Now that is what I call civilisation.
Or is it? I mean, maybe this is one of those very French situations where the theory is all very well, but somehow reality does not behave as it is supposed to?
Because one of the effects of having such an ideas-based vision of society, and elevating ideas to such heights, is that people actually start believing in them, and then maybe they start thinking the ideas are worth fighting for, or perhaps dying for, or perhaps even killing for. And then what?