Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
Barthélémy has long been a favourite of the beau monde of Paris. It supplies both the Elysée Palace and the Matignon, the official residence of the newly-appointed PM, Manuel Valls, and his violinist wife Anne. (According to Le Figaro, the chefs at the Matignon are tearing their hair out. Valls dislikes fish and is allergic to gluten, which means all the great pastries of France are off-limits. Whether this means more orders from Barthélémy or less, only time will tell.)
The shop has a toy sheep in the window and is roughly the size of a Knightsbridge broom cupboard. It smells clean and fresh, rather than offensively cheesy, and is piled from floor to ceiling with every sort of fromage. For such a tiny shop there are quite a lot of staff – I counted three women wearing red and yellow uniforms. Its doyenne is Nicole Barthélémy, a cheesemonger and affineuse, meaning she’s skilled in the art of coaxing each cheese to peak ripeness. She wasn’t there when I dropped in.
I have no photos of the shop’s interior because I was banned from using my camera. Staff were so intimidating that I dared not take secret snaps with my mobile, or ask them anything more risqué than how many cheeses they stocked, a question that elicited no information whatsoever, even though at 11am on a weekday morning I was the only customer there.
I left, knees trembling, clutching a goat’s cheese wrapped in waxed paper and a Boule d’Amour, a soft cheese rolled in raisins soaked in kirsch, which Marie, the French girl who tipped me off about sauce Gribiche had recommended. It was only later that I realised that I’d forgotten to ask the staff to vacuum-pack the cheese so that I could take it back to London. And that I’d also failed to buy any Maroilles, a cow’s milk cheese so pungent that even French people are frightened of it.
I didn’t like the Boule d’Amour at all but the goat’s cheese was sublime.
Brave souls who venture into Barthélémy might like to know that the crucial words are emballé sous vide (vacuum packed), that the shop is closed on Sundays and Mondays, and that according to the 24-hour news channel France Info, Mont d’Or (which we call Vacherin) is the shop’s speciality.
Nicole Barthélémy is at 51 Rue de Grenelle, 75007 Paris, tel: 1 42 22 82 24.
LA MAISON DU MIEL
I stumbled on La Maison du Miel after visiting L’Artisan Parfumeur, which I’d been told was where Julie Gayet, François Hollande’s actress mistress, buys her perfume. My source, a Frenchman in London who owns eighty Thomas Pink shirts, told me that Gayet wears the darkly named Passage d’Enfer, which roughly translates as passage into hell.
After making several phone calls the sales assistant at L’Artisan Parfumeur on Rue Vignon in the 9th told me that this was une mauvaise information. She then said that the scent cost 100 euros. Did madame want to buy it?
I sought sanctuary in a honey shop on the same street. It’s called La Maison du Miel and it’s 117-years-old with a bee motif tiled floor dating back to 1905. There is only one in Paris. The shop stocks about 45 honeys – everything from orange blossom to miel de garrigue and rhododendron. These are sold in big one-kilo pots that cost about 14 euros. All the top honey areas – Jura, Provence, Brittany and the Pyrenees – are represented.
Most of the honeys are French, though Britain gets a look-in as do unexpected countries like Guatemala. If you show interest, the friendly vendeuse, Léa, will let you taste lots of them. I discover that I prefer the lighter, floral honeys to the darker, more medicinal ones.
The shop also stocks all sorts of honey-related products, including soap, nougat, scented candles and body lotion.
La Maison du Miel is at 24 Rue Vignon, 75009 Paris, tel: 01 47 42 26 70. When I last looked the website was under construction.
MAILLE MUSTARD SHOP
Until I visited the elegant Maille shop on the Place de la Madeleine I had no idea that mustard came in so many different flavour combinations. Maille, which French people in London are rather sniffy about – ‘It’s in every French supermarket’ – has 50 varieties, as well as countless vinegars, oils and salad dressings.
Maille behaves rather like a fashion house, with an annual spring and summer ‘collection’ made up of a trio of new mustards. This season’s new arrivals – green pea and chive; basil and fennel; Morello cherry and almond – are marketed on the basis of some deliciously absurd PR nonsense involving Louis XV and his kitchen garden. The cherry one is a violent pink and only nice if you like marzipan.
Suzanna, the shop’s half Argentinian sales assistant, introduced me to fresh truffle mustard, which has a wonderful earthy aroma and taste. It’s sold in traditional earthenware pots, costs around £25 for 125g and keeps in the fridge for six months. She recommends mixing it with crème fraîche, then tossing it over piping hot tagliatelle or adding it to mash potato for a dash of luxury. I also loved the chestnut and shallot mustard, which is a great addition to quiches and roast meat.
The Paris shop has leaflets filled with recipes so elaborate you may feel like lying down, possibly forever, in a darkened room but la belle Suzanna is a mine of simple recipe ideas. Since meeting her I have been putting pea and chive mustard in ham sandwiches. ‘It’s posh mushy peas,’ she says. ‘It’s good in sandwiches, mayonnaise and oeufs mimosa.’
Back in London I discover that Maille has opened a shop in Piccadilly Arcade opposite the Royal Academy. Staff there are equally unsnooty and there’s a tasting room upstairs. All the products are available online and, true to Maille tradition, there are some fabulously OTT recipes on the website. My favourite is langoustine, orange and lemon cream bonbons. I’d love to know if anyone attempts it.
I’m going to stick to ham sandwiches.
Boutique Maille Paris, 6 Place de la Madeleine, Paris 75008, tel: 1 40 15 06 00.