"Beeefchhekk," my French neighbor Isabelle was saying...yes I'm making beeffchheek". She grinned "I found a new butcher, today he had a whole half PIG in the window." A Parisienne, Isabelle, looked thrilled that she'd found a great butcher in San Francisco near the French school where she teaches. It took a few seconds for me to twig that yes, she must mean beef cheeks or maybe that was tete de veau? A brown sauce simmered on the stove. Isaballe cooks little pastry puffs with mushrooms, can whip up a gallette de roi with almond filling in a few hours. She flings these culinary delights together in her small kitchen with a sang froid, I envy. One time she admitted, yes, in the interest of time, she'd used a store bought pate brise, but of course it was imported from France, full of butter. Brittany butter. Her husband Andi, no slouch, makes foie gras at Xmas Isabelle and Andi, appreciate and savor ingredients. Cooking is part of their life. But they wouldn't call themselves 'foodies'. In America we might. But for the French, food embodies a way of life, an important thread that holds friends, families and work mates in a weave. It's a way to celebrate and enjoy, not a chore, but something they enjoy doing. Cooking and eating. And like many French friends after dinner she eats yogurt. So I asked her why? Isabelle grinned and said I will tell you about the discovery of the Yogurt.
It happened in very ancient times, she said, at the fringes of the Balkan peninsula and Turkey that one started to find the first trace of the yogurt in the local population. In France, Isabelle said, we had to wait until the reign of François 1st (1515-1547) to see yogurt for the first time. The King was suffering from chronic intestinal disorder and he found a Hebrew speaking doctor who'd settled in Constantinople and specialised in curing such problems. According to Isabelle, the doctor visited the French royal court and for several weeks gave the king daily treatments composed of fermented ewe milk dairy products. The king was cured and the doctor went back home, covered with gold, with his secrets and without anyone knowing what and how. Thereafter, Isabelle continued, the yogurt disappeared for a long time ... Until 1901, when Metchnikoff, the Russian scientist, was researching at the Paris Institute, on the aging of the European population. He discovered that the Bulgarian people lived far longer than most wealthy Europeans. He conducted research studies to find the cause and discovered that long living poor Bulgarians fed themselves almost only with fermented dairy foodstuff called 'yogurts'. Metchnikoff ordered a few liters of it to conduct chemical analysis. He isolated the first bacteria: watched the fermenting process and named it 'Bulgarius Lactobacillus'. Then Metchnikoff isolated a second bacteria responsible for the pitching of the milk - Streptococcus Thermopilus - which was a taste bringing bacteria. People in France, Isabelle related, began to culture and make yogurt but for only medicinal and digestive purposes. Moreover, when the French army came back from the Thessalonika campaign with very serious instestinal problems, the official doctors cured the sick soldiers with yogurt. With excellent results the reputation spread into the ears of a young Spanish entrepreneur who, during the Roaring Twenties, took advantage of the new interest among European women for keeping a thin profile, he decided to launch the 'yoghurt fashion'. European women, Isabelle said, grabbed those small yoghurt pots to get a thin profile. This Spanish entrepreneur, called Carasso, built a small factory unit in Barcelona and achieved a real commercial success. His son Daniel, forecasting an even greater need of the market, decided then to cross the French-Spanish border and settled a bigger factory in France. Even today, the brand name still resounds all over the world, Danone. Eh voilà, you have the discovery of the yogurt according to my French friend Isabelle. Cara - Tuesday