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Monday, December 10, 2012

Rodez, France (6th in a series)


Rodez, France

Viaduct (Pont de Millau) over the Tarn valley
I’m only writing about this to convey both good and bad thoughts.  All of our tours have been experiences of a lifetime allowing us to get up close and feel, touch, smell, taste and hear what we are learning about.  Unfortunately for the viaduct we only were able to take pictures from a location directly under it and then visit a tourist trap filled with viaduct trinkets that were overpriced.

The Viaduct PONT de MILLAU
 On the other hand, I was able to see a program featuring the viaduct back in the states a few years ago chronicling its assembly and design.  It was a fascinating program on one of the more intelligent cable channels like Discovery®, History® or NatGeo®.  The building of this modern marvel was a real feat of engineering prowess and human fortitude.  I enjoyed watching this special on American TV not knowing that someday I would be under it taking pictures just a few short years thereafter.

(May 21st)
Rodez (even more cheese)
 The Village of Laguiole was home to our visit to the Fromagerie Jeune Montagne (producers of the famous Fromage de laguiloe AOC and l’Aligot del’Aubrac).  Okay all this AOC fromage stuff is a bit overwhelming to me but the French take it VERY seriously and I can see why as this cheese had the most refined and smooth flavor accompanied with a very pungent overtone.  I was taken aback by the surprise nature of the ying and yang (smooth/tart) all in one package.  We also were treated to a taste test of various types by method as well as length of aging.  This product is quite nice.  The French know a thing or two about this food business don’t you thnk?

Rodez, France reminds me of the hilly streets of San Francisco
 Of course we had to have more wine with this cheese tasting and I’m starting to get the fascination the French have with this wildly popular grape product.  It seems that wine is the basis for all things here in France as the roadsides are densely populated with vineyards just like we see corn fields in America.  It’s crazy how the wine industry is so expertly woven into the fabric of society and industry.  The whole culture is awash in wine and I wouldn't even think about abstaining from this “nectar of the gods” while in the company of the French.  I love these people!

Charcuterie on top of vino?  It worked and I loved it!

The beginnings of .....

..... a great lunch!

The Laguiloe knife factory and showroom
After our cheesy experience we next visit the Laguiloe knife factory and showroom.  I don’t know why but maybe it’s the testosterone in me that has such a gripping allure to sharp shiny things.  I love knives and we were able to see production of this particular type of cutlery and have the opportunity to purchase if we so choose.  Oh, I chose alright…I bought two for me and one for my brother-in-law and was tempted to buy more for friends and cousins but, alas, they are a bit pricey.

Costs a few thousand Euros if you can afford it!
The blades are legendary as they are tempered and processed by hand and last a lifetime with an edge enduring weeks or months between sharpening.  The handles are all works of art being made out of anything from artisan woods to bull horns and deer antlers.  The process is painstaking but precise resulting is one of the world’s finest blades attached to a handle that is crafted by a skilled journeyman.  They are magnificent to look at and even more awesome to own.  My brother-in-law will do a back flip when he gets his.

A group history lesson on the legendary knives
 These knives are so legendary that there is a black market for them with knock-offs coming out of China and Afghanistan.  The Laguiloe Company has tried to come up with ways to combat this namesake piracy but they failed to trademark their name.  They instead came up with a logo and registered it to ensure their treasured product would be recognizable at an instant to the knowledgeable eye. 

If it hadn't been for this bit of knowledge we were given at the Laguiloe factory we would have been duped at one particular hunting store we entered in Lyon a few days later on our trip.  One of the group members had entered this shop and found the Laguiloe name on numerous knives hoping to get at least one more but remembered the lecture centering on the logo.  He immediately told the shopkeeper about this bit of information and the shopkeeper was horrified that he was embarrassed by mendacious black-market shenanigans.

l’Aligot del’Aubrac cheese
By now it’s lunch time and we were told at the Fromagerie that there is a traditional dish that revolves around the l’Aligot del’Aubrac cheese - so off to the Bar Hotel restaurant l’Aubrac for the regional potato and cheese dish w/ MIXING.  It’s very important to mention the mixing as we would be entertained once again during this very special lunch.  Turns out the cheese is mixed with crème fraîche and mashed potatoes but it’s the ratio that makes this dish interesting because it’s about 50/50 cheese/potatoes. 

Cheese is a close second to wine in culinary importance for the French

Meticulous care is taken in the production of France's cheese

The mixing process is steeped in pomp-and-circumstance as a costumed character comes out with a wooden tub filled with this potato and cheese concoction and also has a large wooden paddle.  This paddle is used to stir and mix and then stir some more with additional mixing….after all that they stir and mix some more.  You get the idea?  So, since there is so much labor involved; the costumed gentleman enlists the help of our group which goes over very well.  He immediately gets all the help he needs and then some.  He don’s the head of each volunteer with his traditional cap and we all then circle the process taking pictures much to the delight of the crowd of onlookers.

A demonstration of mixing the cheese and potatoes

Lisa gets in on the action with her sister Liat looking on ...
 I’m thinking to myself….I hope all this pageantry isn't just a ruse to make us forget about the actual taste of this “traditional dish” of Aubrac.  My fears were laid to rest with the first bite as my whole mouth was immediately filled with flavor.  My test to good food is if you can immediately taste it and you then love it.  Most times food enters the mouth only to gradually build flavor on your tongue with a few seconds elapsing before you realize what it is.  This is poorly flavored food and I have no use for it.  didn't encounter "elapsing seconds of flavor" much while in France.

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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