July 18, Colombo: The French Spring Festival is an occasion for people in France to celebrate art and culture, and the Alliance Francaise of Kotte, which the recognized and accredited branch of the Alliance Francaise in Paris, gave prominence to one important aspect of French culture which is gastronomy.
The event was well attended and many of the participants were from all professions and many nationalities including Sri Lanka, France, several European Union Countries, and Japan to name just a few.
In France gastronomy or cuisine is considered more than just a necessity and to many French people, it is very much a living art, with a long tradition. However as in the case of any other form of art, it is also continually innovated by chefs who enjoy celebrity status in the country.
Due to the complexity and richness of the tradition of French cuisine, the Alliance Francaise focused only on two much loved elements of French cuisine which are cheese and wine. The guests who participated at the cheese and wine tasting had the opportunity to try out three popular and well known cheeses which were accompanied by three classical wines.
It is important to note that the cheeses presented were a mere sample of France's enormously rich selection which differs according to the region. General Charles de Gaulle, France's wartime national hero and founder of the country's Fifth Republic once complained about the difficulty of governing a country which has as many as 246 cheeses. In fact the General was wrong, there are over 300 types of camembert alone!
The first cheese which was introduced was Brie which is among the best known of French cheeses and is nicknamed "the Queen of Cheeses". As its name indicates it originates in the Brie region, in the province of Seine et Marne of France and, several centuries ago, because of its refined taste, was presented as a tribute to the French kings.
Brie is distinguished by its light grayish colour and white mould. The Brie was matched with a wine named Jean Pierre Moueix, which is a Saint Emilion from the Bordeaux region of France. Bordeaux wines are usually red and dry and highly appreciated, and this particular wine was aged in the Quai de Priorat cellars in Libourne. Wine experts say that its aroma tastes somewhat like blackberries or dark cherries.
The second cheese tasted by the participants was camembert, which is possibly the best known French cheese, which originates from the region of Normandy in North Western France in 1791. The cheese is made using raw milk. The taste of camembert varies according to the type and age, from creamy to strong. Camembert's flavour is generally buttery and rich and it has a white rind developed by fungus.
The camembert was served with Chartron et Trebuchet Bourgogne Pinot Noir, which is a red wine from the region of Burgundy. This particular wine is called Corton Charlemagne and is in fact said to have its origins in that early period of French history. It is in fact named after the great emperor Charlemagne whose empire covered territories including France, Germany and much of Western and Central Europe. The grapes are picked by hand and matured for 12-18 months.
The final cheese was the Bleu, a blue cheese which is ripened by the mould penicilium. It is characterized by blue streaks and spots and has a distinctive taste and smell. The cheese was matched with a Chartron and trebuchet Chardonnay wine, which is white wine also from the region of Burgundy. This wine which is aged for 8 months in oak barrels has a rich aroma which experts say reminds them of dried fruit and wild flowers. The wine is served chilled.
An event such as the tasting of wine and cheese organized by the Alliance Francaise de Kotte provides an insight in French culture and cuisine though it is a mere glimpse into the richness of French cuisine and gastronomy.
Most provinces in France produce very distinctive wines and cheeses which are regional specialties and are usually named after the region from which they originate. France also maintains the highest standards of quality of production and rigorously controls the use of names of wines produced in a specific region. Hence a Bordeaux wine will always be produced in the Bordeaux region and meet the highest standards of quality and taste.