Cooler Temps, Beer, And the Question of Mustard
This week the heat finally broke in SW France and wow…the relief was incredible.
The dome that had been sitting and burning up all of Southern Europe for the past 10 days moved slowly, blissfully northwards. It blasted the UK and Scandinavia for several days (sorry guys), but left our corner in the path of a refreshingly cooler wave. The phycological lift was immediate, and we felt almost, dare I say it, normal again. Ahhhhh to feel cooler air in the morning, to walk in the sun without withering, to sit outside without baking like a Scandinavian rye bread.
This is a summer I can handle, although I know it likely won’t last.
In the midst of this weather renaissance other surprising events unfolded.
One Tour de France finished while another (a rather exciting one) started up. Mustard questions were on everyone’s mind. And beer and bread were being churned out in our Wheelingit kitchens. It was a week of new things, profound questions and some rather surprising answers. And I’m about to share it all with you right here, right now. Enjoy!
Cycling News Is Rocking!
The results are finally in, and a Dane has won the Tour de France. YESSSSSSSS!!!
Jonas Vingegaard is the first and only Dane since Bjarne Riis in 1996 (who unfortunately admitted to doping use, in later years) to hold this title and the homeland is going bananas. Word has it Danish fans have clamored to make it into Paris today and there will be a blanket of Danish flags flying proudly in the stands.
I can’t wait to see it!
The other exciting piece of cycling news is that the Women’s Tour (“Tour de France Femmes”) started today too, the first time the ladies have competing in an official capacity in 33 years. This is significant and frankly it’s about time.
If you don’t happen to know a hardcore group of women named “Donnons des Elles au Vélo” (Give the Girls a Bike) have actually been fighting for this for years, “shadowing” the Tour de France since 2015, doing the exact same stages as the men a day beforehand, just without the media coverage. They’ve done this to raise awareness of women’s biking with the hope that one day, there would be a Tour for them again too.
And that time is now!
The Official Tour de France Femmes starts today from Paris and will cover 1,034km over 8 stages. I’m pretty darn excited to follow it.
Where’s the Mustard??
“Où est la moutarde” (where is the mustard)?
It’s the question that’s been on the lips of everyone in France over the past three months, and it’s a mystery that appears to run many layers deep. There are the obvious culprits of course. The drought in the West of Canada in 2021 that cut production of grains by over 50% (France imports a good amount from there), the war in Ukraine (which has hit all agricultural exports), a poor winter and late frost in France (which impacted the Dordogne grain producers quite hard), and a multitude of other physical factors. Basically there is a severe grain shortage, which means the end product is getting hard to make.
But still, where is the mustard???
“J’ai un pote qui a vu des tonnes de moutarde dans un dépôt près de Toulouse (I’ve got a buddy who’s seen tons of mustard in a warehouse near Toulouse)
I was at the tire shop getting new feet for the Peugeot, and obviously the topic of mustard came up. The tire guy, like all locals I know, had thoughts on the matter and friends who had seen things.
“Ils les cachent, pour augmunter le pris” (they’re hiding them, to raise the price) he declared
The old lady in the corner mumbled and nodded vigorously. This made sense and would explain everything.
“C’est un complot du Gouvernement” (“it’s a Government conspiracy”) she added, obviously animated by the subject “ils veulent que nous nous concentrions sur la moutarde pour nous distraire des vrais problèmes” (“they want us to focus on the mustard so that we’re distracted from the real issues”)
A sea of nods all round for this one. The Government was always up to something, most especially trying to redirect the populace so that they won’t protest or go on strike. Why they would use mustard as their particular weapon of choice is beyond me, but clearly it was working.
The pulse of French political theory in the countryside had spoken….
The Supermarket Mystery
An hour later I passed by our local supermarket and browsed the mustard section, more out of curiosity than anything else.
There’s been nothing on the shelves for months, so I was rather astonished to see a no-name brand in stock. It was a meagre selection of single pots stretched to line the section creatively and make it look fuller than it really was. But it was a brand I’d never seen it before.
Naturally, no-one was buying it.
In a place where word of mouth is literally everything, an unknown mustard that no-one has ever tried is obviously suspect. Where did this mustard come from? Why is it here? Why are they trying to sell it to us? The questions around an UMO (Unidentified Mustard Object) sighting are obviously profound, and the condimental implications cannot be ignored.
“je m’en méfie” (I don’t trust it) the man next to me said, eyeing the inventory suspiciously
I waited for him to add something about the Government being involved, but he just wandered off. I stood in front of the shelf for another minute or so, the logical and emotional sides of my brain playing mental ping-pong while I pondered whether to buy. In the end I also decided to pass. Despite everything I knew the old man was right….that mustard just didn’t feel right.
I must be becoming more French than I thought….
English Mustard Humor
Meanwhile the Foreigners-in-France facebook forums have attacked the mustard situation with classic dry English humor.
“Willing to trade for ride-on lawn mower or car”
This enterprising post was made on a Friday morning, accompanied by a lip-smackingly seductive picture of Amora Fine et Forte mustard. A full-sized 915g jar by the looks of it, and the OP was willing to part with it no less.
“No silly offers” he added “I know what I have”
This launched an avalanche of ~250 comments debating the merits of said offer, discussing the profounder details of mustard-types (would Maille have warranted more?) and offering a slew of alternatives too.
A couple of fellows offered to become “Mustard mules” and smuggle the item in from outside the EU. One gal announced she was landing with a suitcase-full of mustard on Tuesday in Charles de Gaulle and was ready to “accept all offers”. Another scoffed she could buy a jar for a mere EUR 100 on the internet (I checked…she wasn’t wrong).
Despite all the jokes of course, a simmering feeling of mustard FOMO was clear and the proof in the pudding came several days later when one of the forum members shared a picture of a Mustard sale event from a warehouse in his local town of Saint-Thibault (Aube, France). Queue-times were outrageous apparently, and police were present (just in case), but everyone was there….and so was the inventory.
Hmmm. Perhaps that tire guy was onto something….
Brewing & Bread-Making
As the mustard drama plays on, we’ve been focusing on more immediate (and tastier IMO) needs in our little rural corner of the world.
After a few months of experimentation, Paul is now seriously into his brewing adventures and creating rather spectacular beers with his snazzy Brew Monk gear. He started with a cold IPA, moved onto a German-style wheat beer (a portion of which he infused with cherries from the garden!) and is now attempting a verdant-yeast, dry-hopped IPA.
Each brew is a day-long process where the steps and temps are meticulously managed, followed by another week or so in the fermenter (which he tracks on his computer) and a few days of cold-crash before the liquid gold is finally kegged. Delish!
My role in this whole process, other than to lend the occasional extra hand, is to get creative with the spent grains. There’s quite a few interesting recipes for these, but my favorite has undoubtedly become spent grain buns based on a German recipe. It’s taken me several tries to get the consistency and baking right, but I can now whip up these babies in about 3 hours once the grain is done, and they are, if I may say so myself, pretty frikkin’ tasty.
Not bad pastimes for a summer in the French sun, don’t you think?
A Renaissance Of Things
It’s a warm day today (bordering on the hot side TBH) and we’re inside watching the Tour de France highlights on TV.
I feel like I’m moving with these gals as they ride the pebbled streets of Paris, racing forward to a future as-yet exciting yet unknown. Perhaps it’s the impact of opposites with these warm and cooler days, the mystery of mustard or just the general passing time, but a renaissance of things does seem to be in the air, and that’s a vibe I’m very happy to ride.
Now, if only we could get a bit of rain (and some mustard)…..maybe next week, eh?