Pouillé sur Cher, Touraine (Loire)
For us town people who come to the Loire mostly on weekends, there's a bit of jealousy when we watch fellow Parisians make the big step and leave the big city for good and settle in a peaceful village to make plenty of other things including tending a garden around the year, keeping hens and so much more.
In this story it that was even less common, Emily Dilling is a Californian native who has been living in Paris for 10 years, immersing herself in the food/organic/natural-wine culture there and enjoying it all the while writing her blog Paris Paysanne which you could translate more or less like Paris' Peasant, or maybe Paris Cowgirl, I don't know... Her blog is full of culinary experiences, recipes and the likes, and same for her book My Paris Market Cookbook, with also firsthand illustration pictures.
The story would be nice enough at that stage but the fairy tale goes on : Emily decides to live the experience of a harvest and comes to the Loire to do it at Noella Morantin's domaine, she had met her at the Dive Bouteille and was eager to see the production/picking side of her wines. While there, she met her sweetheart Ben who had been doing the picking at Noella every year and the two of them eventually decided to move to Pouilly and start a new life there.
Now that was an abstract of her French history, but more is to come as she is on her way to brew craft beer here in the Loire. She's been doing it repeatedly for a few months, buying ingredients and tools in California where she visits her family regularly, in Belgium and also in La Cave à Bulles in Paris. Even though it's only here in the Loire that she began making craft beer, back in the U.S. she was a beer lover and she has a deep culture to back her new passion, which helps her build her expertise.
Emily and Ben rent a small house in the village, there's a nice garden in the back on the slope going down to the Cher river, a couple of outbuildings, you can do lots of things here, they certainly could have a goat too.
I had a look at Emily's garden, I was especially curious after learning she was growing pumkins (pic on right) like me, but (I can brag on this one) she has a long way to go before reaching the size of mine (pictured on left !) who had already reached a very generous size at the time of this visit. I shared a few tips about my new passion, growing pumpkins is something very exciting, somehow much more than growing, say, tomatoes. It's unpredictable and if you plant it it in the right place, very resilient, doesn't need much watering. I'm also very proud of my tomato plantings, Emily says that she has very little or none (like most people around here) but my luck was that I planted mine unintentionally very late (almost in june) and thus they didn't suffer from the excessive rain and soaked soils and prospered when the sun showed up for long consecutive weeks (even when I was away in Provence). I brought back lots of great tomatoes to Paris at the end of august/early september.
We spoke about the weather conditions for the growers we all know in the area, Paul and Corinne (les Maisons Brûlées) had 30 % of the grapes dried out because of the drought, which comes in addition to the mildew, the fros and the rest. The summer has been extremely dry and what seemed a blessing after the extreme rains and flowings in june is now beginning to weigh seriously on the expected volumes. Emily says that also there were no fruits this year and the roe deers seem to compensate with the grapes, she learned that Noëlla Morantin got much more damage by hungry wild animals than the previous years.
Ben himself will not have much fruit on his own parcel, he missed a spray which he should have done and it's mostly gone, but at the time of the visit there was still hope to have enough fruit to make a small batch, especially that some bunches were hidden by the leaves and the roe deers didn't see them. But thinking again about the whole thing, Ben says that compared to his fellow growers who worked all the time on their parcels, plowing and organic spraying, he and Emily eventually may have more grapes in the end, so you're thinking again about what you're supposed to do or not...
OK, on this one I must forfeit, I never kept chicken although I loved bringing peelings and other kitchen remains to the ones B.' parents used to have. these were "real" hens who had long been used to eat real food, no industrial stuff, and when I would bring a pot load of peelings, meat remains (including of chicken), cheese rind and whatever we'd spare for them, they'd be so excited that I had to try to spread the treasure evenly so that each of them could have a chance.
Emily and Ben lost a couple of them a few days before, they were'nt sure what animal got them, they don't think it could be a fox but maybe a weasel or something like that. Their chicken and hens go around during the day, they really peck their food in the garden and the grass, and they get enough eggs for their needs.
Besides doing all these things, Emily is in the course of getting her French driving permt. She is has had her U.S. driver's license for 20 years (since the age of 16) but has to pass the French one (that's the rule when you're a resident) which is known to be difficult to get as well as expensive (routinely about 2000 € or just 1600 € if you're lucky).
Right now Emily is working on the first leg of the exam, the theorical highway code & regulation, an exam which may be tricky if you didn't study thoroughly all the details of the rules. Ben, like me never look at the road signs when he drives, we just scans both sides of the road for potential radar traps, the French highway having been transformed along the years as a way to extort money from inadvertent drivers who exceed the limit by a handful of kilometers/hour, I guess the bankrupt nanny state couldn't make it without this providential money.... Anyway, Emily is on her way for her French permit and you can expect to see her one day driving her truck delivering her beer...
Emily says that this summer she and Ben had a lot of visitors in their home, mostly Americans, family or friends, who want to get a share of their experience in this small Loire village. Her mother came in spring, but most of the crowd came in summer, the trick was to provide wine to all these thirsty wine lovers.
Happily there were also fellow winemakers visiting for his own birthday and they all provided some holy booze, Pascal Potaire, Babass, Christophe Foucher, Pascal Simonutti. I guess these Americans were impressed, there were almost only vignerons that particular day, and knowing them all as well as their wines, that must have been very laid-back and festive.
Of course Emily has a good experience of drinking good beer from her California years but in Paris also there are a few place to enjoy good craft beer, like the brasserie de la Goutte d'Or, or a laid-back venue like le Super Coin where you can also listen to music, a very cool, unpretentious place indeed in Paris, and with great beers. Emily also likes the beers of the Brasserie du Mont Salève in Savoie (near the French Alps), the guy uses wine barrels he sources in nearby Switzerland, it's very interesting. There is la Loirette from the Touraine is also a nice example of a local craft beer that sells well, including in the U.S. (imported by Dressner). The Kernel Brewery (London) is also very interesting, things are moving and she learns from all this.
Here is THE beer, the one that is beginning to take shape after several tries, you know that brewing beer offers infinite choices and possibilities, the trick being to find your ideal combination or recipe for the craft beer you want to make. Emily was invited to participate to the Natural-Sparkling fair in Montrichard this summer and she brought along a few bottles because the wine-fair peop)le wanted here to share her new beer, this was kind of decided at the last minute [I wasn't around alas, would have love to go there again]. She loved the experience, people were eager to taste her beer, which was very American indeed and hoppy. The vignerons as well as visitors that were less knowledgeable on beer matters loved the experience, there was also a couple of other craft brewers including La Pigeonelle which is now well established in Touraine.
Ben says (an Emily agrees) that there's a French interest for this American craft beers, something outwardly generous and expressive, so the local brewers of this new wave of craft brewers kind of go in this direction, but they're somewhat shy and stop at mid-course, with a beer that try to accomodate a milder style of craft brewing culture. They both say their beers are very good, but stops short of the exuberance found in the American craft breweries which use lots of hops. In short there's a niche to fill here in France, with a beer that doesn't take gloves or hesitate between the new world and the old world. Emily is wanting to make a beer with a saison-yeast strain that has been invented by Daniel Thierry, a brewer in the Picardie region in the north. She uses roasted grains (barley only for this one), that's why you have this amber color in the beer. It's a single hop, her idea is make 6 different single-hop beers to kind of show how hops can express differently in the beers, discovering one at a time will help people understand how this all works, this one is made with Mosaic hops.
Emily says she buys most her ingredients (when she's not visiting California) in Belgium, in a company named Brouwland where you can find anything to make your own beer, wine, liquor and even cheese... They source their hops in America also so she finds the stuff she wants and she likes. Some things you can grow yourself but lots of American seeds are copyrighted, sort of, and you can't just sow and plant like that. Corinne and Paul Gillet, their neighbors at Les Maison Brûlées grow some hops themselves because these plants have some properties as a repellant against the roe deers (and it thus protects their grapes at harvest season), Michel Augé himself who own the domaine before had planted these hops, so there's an experience in managing hops there. Didier Barrouillet of formerly Clos Roche Blanch was also interested in the prospect of growing hops, so she says there may be something to do locally for hops. For malt that's another story, it's a huge production and there's only one malterie in France, in the Basque region (south west), they supply the local brewers but their output is not big enough to go beyond. She's doing some exploring right now, visiting other craft brewers including in Paris to see where they source their ingredients. Right now she making at here home here batches that make 33 gallon, the one we're having here is the 2nd brewing of this particular recipe and she has to test it repeatedly in order to check if she can recreate the thing properly.
The craft beer is smooth and generous, with some aromas, exotic fruits or something but it's all related to hops, no flavoring. This is a strong beer, about 7 % in alcohol, with a nice bitterness. It goes down for sure, it's onctuous and velvety. Emily says that it's good to have temperatures that are not too high for the fermentation and autumn is thus a good time to make beer.
It takes about 5 weeks to make a beer, from the day you start boiling and the day open and drink it, it's pretty fast compared to winemaking, and you don't have the weather accidents, plus you can do some repeatedly year around. Ben is also thinking about it although he keeps wanting to make wine, he says that in the area around this village nobody had this kind of beer before, they also noticed when they took part to Bulles Au Centre to show the beer that everybody would love it, she poured it at a table for people who wanted to pause with beer (natural winemakers often like to drink craft beer actually for a change) and the feedback was good. There was even a restaurant guy who wanted to order this beer to go with a tartare de poisson, he said this was the perfect fit for his dish...
You know how it happens in these wine/beer-related visits (I love this job...), you always end up opening another bottle and Ben picks a nice wine made by Anne Paillet, the colorful [she's the one you want at your table at a dîner de vignerons] companion of Gregory Leclerc (Domaine Chahut et Prodiges in Touraine), whose own domaine is Autour de l'Anne she uses grapes from the Pic Saint Loup in the Languedoc, and this is her wine, a cuvée (vin de France) named Anne, a wine again.
No additives, all natural, another wine that you'll not be asked twice if you want a refill... Beautiful juice, not very tannic with a milky feel and this nice surfacing acidity. She makes several cuvées, I need to go taste her wines. She makes only reds, like Gregory by the way (he may have made a try with a white lately).