Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lait Larde - Part 1

I will start with a warning to readers - this is a long post!

Because I have done a rather hefty bit of documentation for this recipe, I will start by giving you the final product, and then go on to the background. That way if you just want to try making it, you can do so. If you want to know where the recipe came from, read on, and if you want to know more about the history of the ingredients etc. read on further.

What can you do to cheese to make it even better? Add bacon, and fry it!

On the stove, curds separating from the whey
  • 24 threads of saffron
  • 250g smoked speck pieces
  • 2 litres of whole (NOT lowfat) milk
  • 1 cup of verjuice
  • cloves
  • pine nuts

Take milk, and put it in a pot, and put it on the fire to heat up. Add the lardons, and ground saffron and gradually raise to boiling temperature. Take off the heat and add the verjuice to curdle the milk.

Allow to cool in the whey. Once cooled, pour it into a piece of straining cloth and form it into a long flat shape. Place a heavy weight on top (I used nested containers and piled up weights on the container on top) and keep in the fridge overnight. The next day, slice into pieces and fry in a pan with a bit of bacon grease. Serve on plates and sprinkle with ground clove and pine nuts.
Serving suggestion: if you strain out the bacon bits after cooking, you will get a more solid cheese, but still with the lovely flavour.
The cheese curds ready to be pressed

The fully monty: Lait Lardé (Larded Milk)

A 14th century French cheese

Recipe source (or... who came up with this idea anyway?)
Le Viandier de Taillevent is a cookbook attributed to Guillaume Tirel (1310 – 1395), who was the cook of Charles V and master of the kitchen stores of Charles VI.
14the and 15th century manuscripts of this cookbook are in existence: in the Biblioteque Nationale (France), the cantonal library of Sion (Switzerland), the Biblioteque Mazarine (France), and the Vatican Library (Italy).
Originally I found a recipe in the book “Le Viandier de Taillevent” by James Prescott. This claims to be a translation of a transcription of the Vatican Library manuscript.

Larded Milk

Take some [cow's], boil it on the fire, lift it down from the fire, put it on a few coals, and thread in beaten egg yolks. If you wish it for a meat day, take lardons, cut them into two or three bits, and throw them into the milk to boil. If you wish it for a fish day, do not add lardons, but throw in some wine and verjuice to curdle it before you lift it down. Remove it from the fire, put it in a white cloth, let it drain, wrap it in 2 or 3 layers of the cloth, and press it until it is as firm as beef liver. Put it on a table, slice it into strips the size of a full palm or three fingers, button them with whole cloves, fry them till they are browned, set them out and throw some sugar on top.

However as the word “Lardé” is fundamental I wished to satisfy myself that this was a correct translation of the original French.

I obtained transcriptions (in French) of the Sion, Mazarine and Biblioteque Nationale manuscripts, and was disconcerted to find that none of them contained the recipe at all. I obtained a transcription of the Vatican manuscript but unfortunately it also did not contain the recipe.

After further research I discovered that in 1893 they discovered a second part to the Vatican Library manuscript which contains 23 additional recipes, including that for Lait Lardé.

Scully's “Early French Cookery” provides the recipe in French:

Lait Lardé

Prenez le lait de vasche ou de brebis, et mectez fremier sur le feu. Et gectez des lardons et du saffran et ayez oeufs (scilicet blanc et moyeaux) bien batuz, et gectez a ung coup sans mouvoir, et faictes boulir tout ensemble. Et apres hostez hors du feu et laissiez tourner; ou sans ouefz les fait l'en tourner de vertjus. Et quant il est reffroidié l'en le lye bien fort en une piece de toille ou estamine, et luy donne l'en quelque fourme que l'en veult, ou plate ou longue, et chargié d'une grosse pierre laissiez reffroidier sur ung drecourer toute nuyt. Et l'endemain laiché, et frit au fer de paelle (et se frit de luy mesmes sans autre gresse, ou a gresse qui veult) et est mis en platz ou escuelles comme lesche de lart, et lardé de giroffle et de pignolet; et qui le veult faire vert, si prengne du tournesot.
And  “Menagier de Paris”, contains an English translation:

Larded Milk

Simmer cow's or sheep's milk and add bits of diced bacon and saffron. Take whole eggs, scilicet the white and yolks, beat well and pour in all at once, without stirring, boiling all together. Remove from the fire and let it curdle; or without eggs, use verjuice to make it curdle. When it is cool, fasten it tightly in a piece of linen or cheesecloth and give it whatever shape you wish, either flat or long, and weight it with a large rock, leaving it to cool overnight on a sideboard. The next day, open it up and fry in an iron skillet – it needs no added grease, but you can add some if you wish – and place it on plates or in bowls like slices of bacon, and stick it with cloves and pine nuts. Should you want a green colour, use tournsoc.

This is clearly a very different recipe from the one written by James Prescott, which contains no references to sheeps milk, saffron, uses just egg yolks not whole eggs, uses wine and verjuice to curdle, and sprinkles the final dish with sugar (omitting the pine nuts). I was glad I spent the time to research and find a more accurate description!

However, I decided that I should, in fact, attempt to translate the original French myself. I speak some French so a fair amount of the recipe was understandable to me, however to deal with unfamiliar words and to try to ensure that I was making the minimum of linguistic assumptions, I obtained a facsimile of a 1611 French/English dictionary, which I used to translate. While this dictionary is much later than the Taillevent manuscript it seemed to me a closer bet than a modern dictionary.
Here follows my translation:

Larded Milk (translation by Kiriel)

Take the milk of a cow or sheep, and put in a tub [Mect is translated as a tub or trough] and put on the fire to simmer. Cast lardons [this term is also used in modern French, in which it refers to matchsticks of thick bacon – in 1611 it is read as “the little slice or piece of lard wherewith meat is stucke”] and saffron and whole eggs (Indeed [Yay! The hivemind that is my friends have given me the translation of scilicet, confirming to me that I really need that out-of-print latin-french dictionary!] white and middle), well beaten, and cast this in one blow, without stirring, boiling all together. And after lift off the fire and leave to turn, or if you have not added eggs, use verjuice to turn [curdle] the milk.

And when it is cooled, pour it into a piece of toille [voile – translation is actually tuille] or seiving cloth and give it what form you wish, flat or long, and press with a large rock, leaving to cool under a cover overnight. The next day, open and fry on the fire in a pan (and you can fry it without other grease, or with grease if you want), and place on plates or in a porringer like leaves of bacon, and top with clove and pine nuts; and if you would make it green, then use tournsot [I believe this might be tournesoc, a plant commonly used in period for colouring].

There are not many real differences between my version and the previous translation, however at least one of these is significant – the first sticks cloves into the pieces, whereas my translation says to top with cloves, which could be ground instead. I believe this is a much more likely scenario – why waste entire cloves when you are just after the flavour?

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