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FOOD & DRINK

Daily dilemmas: Is it a savory galette or a sweet crêpe?

It was a sweet v savory face off in the battle of the French pancakes, with readers narrowly plumping for the savory galette.

Daily dilemmas:  Is it a savory galette or a sweet crêpe?
How do you like your pancakes? Photo: AFP

We asked The Local's readers whether they prefer a galette – a pancake made with wholewheat or buckwheat flour and generally served with a savory filling – or a crêpe, which is made with plain flour and usually served as a desert with a sweet filling like jam, lemon and sugar or Nutella.

Of course many people went for the best option – both – but when forced to choose it was a very narrow victory for galette with 51 percent of the vote.

 

Megan Briana said simply: “Galette for savory and crepe for sweet.”

Of those who did pick one, many shared their favourite serving suggestions, like Elizabeth Winckell who enjoys her galette with tomatoes and mushrooms, while others plumped for the classic ham and cheese.

Of the readers with a sweet tooth, Li Ly likes her crêpe with banana and chocolate syrup while Rudy Wolff said: “A crêpe with sugary lemon butter enjoyed at Madame de Pompadour's château Champs sur Marne is still not forgotten.”

Both types of pancake are knows as Breton specialties, but within Brittany itself there is some debate over that they are called.

The departments of Côtes-d'Armor and Ille-et-Villaine, in northern and east Brittany, generally differentiate between a crêpe (a thin, sugared wheat flour pancake) and a galette, or galette sarrasin (a thicker savoury pancake made with buckwheat, water and salt).

Whereas in the departments Morbihan and Finistère, in south and west Brittany, all types are called crêpes.

The thin, sweet, wheat flour version is called a crêpe froment, bretonne or sucré (wheat, Breton or sugary) and the savoury buckwheat kind is called a crêpe blé noir or sarrasin (buckwheat or sarrasin, a similar type of flour).

In southern Brittany, asking for a galette may leave you disappointed as the word is used for thicker, blini type pancakes.

But there's only one of them that has it's own special day – February 2, known as La Chandeleur in France, is a religious holiday that now largely revolves around crêpe eating.

The day marks the date Jesus was presented at the temple in Jerusalem.

Not an obvious link with crêpe you might think, but before it became part of the Christian calendar it was a pagan festival that celebrated the return of the sun by cooking a round (sun-shaped) crêpe.

These days most French people don't really pay much attention to the religious holiday, by having pancakes for dinner is a big part of the day.

La Chandaleur also comes with an impressive list of superstitions that include putting a crêpe in a wardrobe and foretelling death through the weather. 

It seems they're all pancaked out after that though, as crêpe don't really feature in Shrove Tuesday in France, as they do in many places around the world.

 

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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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