August 16, 2014

Quelle andouille

Our friend the Internet says “Andouille is an insult in French, designating an imbecile.” But it is also a food. The 42nd version of the Andouille et Cornichons festival took place in Bèze on August 15, 2014. Part of the joy of traveling or living in France is to expand your gastronomic horizons, so culinary curiosity demanded a visit. And, after all, half of the festival was dedicated to little pickles…how dangerous could the andouille part of it be?

Festival goers dig in
Bèze, a town of a few hundred people, holds the distinction of being one of the most beautiful 700 villages of France. The flowers were stunning as was the center of the village, where cafés spilled out in front of the town hall and stone bridges crossed clear, crisp water flowing in the river below. The festival was at the Parc de la Source, where the river Bèze finds its source. After paying the 2 euro entry fee, we were greeted by carnival rides, food stands, and a bunch of Middle Ages tents, where people in period costume were playing instruments, pouring undefined liquids into earthenware cups, and offering games for kids and adults, including crossbow shooting ranges and rope tosses.

Old school
The juxtaposition of old and new seemed especially appropriate given that the gastronomic items featured were certainly inventions that came from necessity. Let’s imagine a world without pigs but everything else is the same. Think about it: supermarkets bulging with beef steaks, lamb chops, chicken breasts, quail, duck, and many other beasts; fresh kiwis, mangoes, raspberries, broccoli, lettuces, bean sprouts; dried and fresh pastas; yogurt, cheese, milk, ice cream; salmon, swordfish, cod, oysters, skate, scallops, and shrimp; olives, salad bars, lentils; jellied cranberry sauce, Pringles, matzo ball mix, walnut oil…Would you, today, if you discovered pig for the first time, make it a priority to focus your efforts on the stomach and intestines, cleaning and rinsing them forever, before stuffing the large intestine with the cut up remaining bits, then cook the resulting white, gelatinous tube, tied at both ends with red string, in a flavorful court bouillon broth, and serve it with white beans?

No. You. Would. Not.

Loser eats andouille
But, back in the day, food was a treasure, and you ate the whole animal. The result, in this case, is a sausage that, when cooking, makes the countryside stink.

As I waited in line to get my meal, I thought that the Frenchman in front of me was emanating a particularly strong odor, a not unusual occurrence. (Personally, I am down to about 2 showers a week from my daily American washing). But he drifted away to buy some tickets for wine, and the wind was up a bit…this was clearly andouille smell.

Underneath, there was unquestionably some herbs, some wine, and some seasonings that make most meals pleasurable. But make no mistake: the smell invaded and enveloped the scene, an olfactory cloud of guts.

I got my tray, which included some pâté de campagne, carrots, couscous, cheese, and dessert. But the main plate contained a bunch of white beans and an ominous and large pork intestine stuffed with pork intestines, pig stomach, and other such delights.

My wife couldn’t even look at it. I cut a bite, said, “Here goes,” and popped it into my mouth. In simplest terms, it tasted like it smelled. Chewing was an effort, swallowing a scary thought. For the next bite, I bathed it in mustard and speared a cornichon. No luck making this delicious. It was funky, it had chewy bits, it had an incredibly animalistic character to it.

The main attractions
My oldest pointed at my plate, said, “Ça, c’est l’andouille,” and asked for a bite. Boom. Down the hatch, no questions asked, “c’est bon.” Kids are amazing creatures.

He had one more bite and I had about four. Over half the sausage was gone, and I considered it a success. At the next table over, a woman was saying, “Oh, it’s very good, isn’t it?” to her neighbor. Her face fell a fraction as she contemplated her neighbor’s plate, and she said, “Oh. You got the chicken. Well, l’andouille, c’est spéciale.” It is special, just not special like diamonds or birthdays.

Later, the man serving the meat used the same word to describe it, and added that now the challenge was “keeping it in the stomach.” When a Frenchman says that eating something -- anything -- is a challenge, you are in rarified air.

Off with his head!
Over the next couple of hours, there were medieval shows for the public, including startlingly real combats inside a rope circle, a mock trial including an almost-beheading, and a fire breather, whose explosive efforts were not dissimilar from the chaos in the belly of the assembled public.

He may have just "enjoyed" a bite of andouille
As we were traveling with our two children under four, we left after 4 hours, before we could see the crowning of Mister Cornichon (who had to spear and eat as many cornichons as possible in an allotted time), and Madame Andouille, who had to eat a portion of the sausage with her hands behind her back. Not surprisingly, when we left, the emcee was still imploring the audience for females to sign up to compete in the latter competition. Two hours after sign ups had opened, there were still no takers. I don't know if French women get fat, but I do know they're not stupid.

"A what and cornichons festival?"
What: Fête de l’andouille et cornichons
Where: Bèze, Côte d’Or, Burgundy
When: August 15

How Much: 2 euro entry; lunch was 13 euros for chicken or andouille, (normal) sausages were 2 euro each

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