I had opted for my friend’s neat and tidy, but albeit very small Fiat over my husband’s “hard to get into”, “hard to get out of” Land Rover that has no music, no air-condition and is always filled with dogs, vegetables and numerous kids. On sunny days like this one it’s a fantasy world of dog hair and dust flying through the air, perfectly backlit and almost pretty. Almost. We were comfortably trailing the Land Rover on what promised to be a spectacularly beautiful Sunday, following a week of less spectacular, rainy days. Hudson and Mia had opted to stay at home but the rest of us were in for a long-awaited treat. We were headed for the “Château of Women” an indescribably beautiful wine-making property that has been run by women of the same family for over 500 years. This deserves and explanation.
In 1581 a man with big dreams and an even bigger appetite for gambling laid out the plans for a magnificent château in Médoc. It all started well, the outhouses and servants quarters were fit for kings, the gardens, the gate. Then the money ran out and the cherry on top, the château itself never got built. So the women in the family, like women do, found the best solution, modified the servants quarters into a most beautiful château and have been running the property ever since, one woman succeeding another. I guess they decided that after that original fiasco, no gamblers (read men) should interfere with château business.
So why where we going there in search of a feast on a beautiful Sunday morning? That also deserves an explanation. Some years ago we were invited for lunch at château Lafon-Rochet, a grand cru in the St-Estèphe appellation. It’s the “yellow château” we had been seeing for years as we drove by on our way to Pauillac and it turned out that the young manager, Basile Tesseron, whose family owns the château was married to another young estate manager, Bérangère, whose family owns château Larrivaux, the “château of women”. On that first visit the splendors of Lafon-Rochet were enough for our appetites but on a subsequent visit Basile took us to his wife’s property, only a 5 minutes drive away. Unlike Lafon-Rochet, which is proudly perched on one of the hills of St-Estèphe, plain for all who drive by to see (if only for the yellow color), château Larrivaux is a hidden gem, a bend in the road, a dreamy place hidden from plain sight, guarded by a small forest. When Basile took us there for the first time we could see the excitement in his face, it feel to him to show us the property, Bérangère was hard at work in the winery.
“I fell in love with my wife twice” he said. “First when I met her and the second time was when she took me here”. “I had spent much of my childhood only a few miles away but I never knew of this magical place until I fell in love with its owner”.
He fell in love twice and I guess I fell in love as well, once at least. It the kind of place movie producers only dream of or, more likely, have to dream up and produce for their movies so the rest of us can simply dream. We always hope that these magical places exist for real, that they’re not only in the movies – and when we find them…
Bérangère and I had talked about cooking together with our families at her château forever. But timing was never on our side. We have a big family. They have three boys, very auspicious considering they have one boy roughly the same age as each of our three youngest daughters. All very Jane Austen. And recently we’ve both been pregnant.
But we decided to give it a go, before we’d be too caught up in baby duties, to have a wonderful feast of two families coming together on a Sunday in their beloved Médoc.
And we all do love Médoc. Basile and Bérangère, me and Oddur, we all truly believe in this region, its beauty, its specialness. We all want to do something exciting here, whether it is to make fabulous wine, write cookbooks, or do just about anything to help people discover this place. But first: Lunch!
The menu was up to Bérangère and the other women of Larrivaux, her mother Sabine and her mother’s sister Armelle. I did make one request though. We needed to include Basile’s grandmother’s recipe for pancake cake. Yes you read right – gâteau de crêpes. We’d had it recently at a dinner at Lafon-Rochet in May and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. It’s the most simple, most unusual dessert you can imagine.
There were lots of tidbits, pâtés, tomato salads , more tomato salads but it all got serious when Bérangère’s mother brought out the family’s cheese beignets (fritters). They were delicious. Next was the “veal bread” in other words meatloaf, with two types of tomato sauce – very Italian, but somehow also very Médocain. We started with a lovely Champagne form a very small producer (so many good ones these days), no sugar added, no sugar needed. Then we moved on to the wine. The Larrivaux. It’s quite special and unusual for Médoc, more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon which usually only happens on the right bank (St-Emilion, Pomerol). Château Larrivaux has a unique clay soil, more suited for growing Merlot and may be the only place in Médoc where that’s the case. It’s a delicious wine and I’ll be drinking it for years to come with fond memories in my heart.
So another perfect Sunday with equally perfect mishaps, on this dry day Louise stepped into a wet hole (the only one on the estate) leaving her ballerinas fit for a pig stie. Oddur, typically, forgot to charge his battery so he sent Thorir and Allegra to get a fresh one. They, equally typically, couldn’t find their way back so we would have had to wait for them until lunch got cold if, most typically of all, lunch hadn’t been so behind schedule that they arrived right on time.
As I mentioned earlier we were both pregnant that day, Bérangère and I. Both due in June. That wonderful day at the château of women, having a lunch together we both knew what we were expecting. We were both expecting boys.
As I am writing this, they are both born, there will be no more lunches without them. I hope they will be friends, Lucian and Till. We’ll have many more feasts together and maybe even weddings. Who knows?
Because Bérangère and Basile only have sons it seems that the line of women is destined to be broken one day. Larrivaux will be run by a man. In a way it seems oddly modern, breaking traditions by finally giving a man a chance. Bérangère told me she hopes that her sons will have the good fortune when they take over the château to at least have strong wifes to guide them. I suppose some things are just too important to be left entirely to men. Maybe one of them will even be my daughter.
Time will tell.
A few days later, Lucian, I was bumping about in your father’s Land Rover on my way to the clinic. Hair and dust orbiting around me, every whack feeling strong enough to push you out. And then you came.
Lucian, this is where your story begins…
Cheese fritters/ Beignets from my grandmother
1/4 liter/ 1 cup of water
40 g/ 3 tablespoons butter
1 pinch of salt
150 g/ 1 & ¼ cup flour
100 g/ 1 cup grated cheese (Emmental county or type)
4 eggs, separated
Vegetable oil, for frying
Separate the eggs. Whisk the egg whites till stiff peaks and set aside.
Bring the water to a boil, add the butter and salt and stir until melted.
Add the flour in one go and stir.
Add the egg yolks one by one, stirring continuously, then fold in the egg whites, followed by the grated cheese.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer to 170°C/ 330°F.
Using 2 teaspoons, shape little balls (about the size of a walnut) and fry them until golden brown. Season with salt and pepper and serve immediately.
Beignets au fromage de ma grand-mère
1/4 de litre d’eau
40 gr de beurre
1 pincée de sel
150 gr de farine
100 gr de fromage rapé ( type comté ou emmental )
Fair bouillir l’eau avec le beurre et le sel
Ajouter la farine.
Ajouter un à un les jaunes d’oeufs puis les blancs battus en neige, puis le fromage râpé.
Chauffer l’huile d’une friteuse à 170°C
Faire à l’aide de 2 petites cuillères des tas de pâte à beignet et les plonger dans la friteuse jusqu’à l’obtention d’une belle coloration dorée.
Ces beignets au fromage ont vraiment bercé mon enfance à LARRIVAUX, nous en avions tous les week ends!!!
Veal and basil meatloaf
1.2 kg/ 2 & ¾ pound of minced veal
3 slices of stale bread
1 small can of tomato paste (concentrate)/ 140 g/ 5 ounces
1 bunch of fresh basil
60 ml/¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fleur de sel and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 210°C/ 410°F.
In a food processor, combine the minced veal, tomato paste, bread, salt, pepper and olive oil and mix everything together.
Add the basil and the egg, pulse a few more times.
Spoon the mixture into a rectangular cake pan and transfer to the preheated oven. Cook for about 40 minutes. Set aside to cool and unmold into a serving plate.
Tip: You can serve this veal meatloaf with a tomato sauce or freshly diced tomatoes and olive oil. It’s a family favourite for picnics.
Pain de veau au basilic
1,2 kg de veau haché
3 tranches de pain de mie
1 boite de concentré de tomate de taille moyenne/ 140 g
1 oeuf entier
1 bouquet de basilic
Mélanger et mixer le veau haché, le concentré de tomate, le pain de mie, sel poivre et huile d’olive.
Ajouter le bouquet de basilic et l’oeuf entier.
Mixer à nouveau.
Dans un plat à cake mettre la préparation, puis faire cuire environ 40 minutes à 210°C.
On peut le servir avec un coulis de tomates ou un concassé de tomates fraiches et huile d’olive.
Quel bonheur de partager ce pain de veau au basilic lors de nos pique-niques!
1/2 liter/ 2 cups milk
125 g/ 2/3 cup sugar
6 eggs, separated
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons of plain flour
1 sachet (7 g/ approx 1 teaspoon) of vanilla sugar
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and the egg yolks until you get smooth paste.
Heat the milk in a saucepan and add the butter. Stir until melted. Set aside and leave to cool.
Pour the milk mixture into the egg and flour paste. Whisk until smooth.
In another bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff. Fold in to the batter – make sure to leave the egg white ‘lumps’ in the batter (they will make the pancakes extra fluffy).
Heat the frying pan (non-stick pancake pan) and melt ½ teaspoon butter. Pour enough batter to cover the pan and cook on a medium heat on one side only. Transfer to a serving plate. Sprinkle each pancake with a dash of vanilla sugar and a dash of confectionner’s sugar. Repeat this step and continue to stack them one on top of each other. For the last pancake, place it brown side on top.
Gâteau de crêpes
1/2 litre de lait
125 gr de sucre
125 g beurre doux
4 cuillère à soupe de farine
1 sachet de sucre vanillé
Du sucre en poudre
Mélanger la farine et les jaunes d’oeuf
Faire fondre le beurre dans le lait.
Laisser tiédir le lait et l’incorporer au mélange farine oeuf.
Battre les blancs en neige et les incorporer grossièrement à la pâte.
Il doit rester des grumeaux de blancs en neige dans la pâte.
Enduire la poêle à crêpe d’un mélange beurre/huile et commencer à faire les crêpes en les faisant cuire que d’un seul coté.
Superposer chaque crêpes les unes sur les autres en les saupoudrant entre chacune de mélange sucre vanillé/sucre en poudre.
Retourner la dernière crêpe coté cuit vers le gâteau.