The ancient French city of Angers spans both sides of the Maine River, just north of the Loire, just west of the famous string of chateaus – Brissac, Villandry, Vouvray, on and on, the stuff disney castles and oenophile’s dreams are made of.
According to Wikipedia, the region’s first sign of civilization is a stone tool dating to 400,000 B.C., proving that people for a very long time have considered this land a lovely place raise a family. The white limestone buildings catch the Angers sun, brightening the darkest of winter days. And the warm black slate roofs top the old city in a delicate black cover. Slate is so revered here they make a candy with blue chocolate to honor it.
I’m in Angers visiting my daughter, her hosts, Marc and Carol Buffenoir, and their international visitors – a gaggle of visiting students representing almost half of the world’s northern Hemisphere.
From Terre Haute, Indiana, Notre Dame student Mary Batistich, 20, is living with the Buffenoirs for the year, being a wise big sister to the younger girls, and fluttering through Angers with her American and French university friends.
Carlos Valenzuela Tucker, 18, is here from Baja California, Mexico, participating in the Rotary Exchange program, and has been with the Buffenoirs in Angers for a month.
Cecilia, 15, the Buffenoir’s daughter, came and stayed with my family in Rockport last year for a month, and is now acting sister to my daughter, Isabelle, 16, who will be part of this busy one-hundred-year-old home in the center of Angers for the next three months.
Absent from the international crowd is the Buffenoir’s son, Nicholas, who is doing his own Rotary exchange in Portland Oregon.
I arrived in Angers from Paris Saturday morning, and life with Mark and Carol Buffenoir has so far been full of laughter, delicious meals, and great French wine, beginning with a lunch of a classic “Anjevin” dish called Rillaud, a very meaty cut of pork with thin layers of fat – perhaps a bacon from a gorgeous pig – steamed, and circled with boiled potatoes.
For dessert Carol had made valentine-ready Cremet D’Anjou. Made with fromage blanc, this was coeur a la creme but lighter, piled high with raspberries.
Carol is beautiful, kind, teaches at the local college, and makes the most beautiful tarte tatin - an unusual recipe involving rich sable pastry laid upon apple halves. It looks like the fruit is hiding beneath a pale brown blanket. Carol’s grandfather was a well-known maker of French patisserie; the woman’s gene’s wear aprons and carry a whisk.
After a tour of Angers, that evening we had a Buffenoir style party, which meant sitting around the stuccoed living room passing platters of small dishes while Marc opened bottles of wine.
My daughter’s school in Beverly exchanges 9th grade students each year with the Lycee David D’Angers, so, as mentioned, there’s a large bouquet of children in this city who have spent time in various homes on the North Shore of Boston. Jeanne Postal, an impishly pretty young girl, and her family were with us Saturday night to complete the Angers/Boston reunion.
Carlos made his first bowl of guacamole. Jean-Michel Postal represented his native Majorca, Spain, with a beautiful vegetable tart framed with a chestnut flour crust.
“Verrines,” parties in which every course is served in small glasses, basically tapas in jars, is the current trend in France, I was told, and Cecilia prepared a carrot salad with cumin served in said little glass. In individual dishes hot coquilles St. Jaques wrapped in prosciutto arrived, so much more delicious than our own because in Europe the scallops include their sweet package of roe. Mary had written home for a Croatian family recipe, and thus prepared “Brevske,” a buttery apricot bar cookie. And everyone took a turn torching the evening’s creme brulee.
Anyone following Marc Buffenoir on facebook will know that he loves his family, wine, food, and tennis, and he takes exquisite photographs of it all. With a twinkle in his eye or a pretend pout, Marc will probably say that sometimes wine is at the top of his list of passions, and sometimes tennis. On some days, maybe rugby.
If only because my husband will want to know what he’s up against when Marc and Carol come to visit I must tell all: With the Rillaud we drank Anjou-Brissac Villages 2005.
Saturday night Marc opened a sparkling red wine – and I mean ruby red – from Saumur: Bouvet Rubis Excellence, St. Hilaire-St-Florent, vin mousseux. Our increasingly charming host followed with a magnum of Folie de la Noelle, Anjou-Villages, 2005, vieilli en fut de chene, aged in oak barrels.
For Sunday lunch, Carol created the purely local Salad Landaise, a salad composed of just about everything one would love about food in Angers: foie gras, duck magret confit, pinenuts, chevre on toast, all on a bed of greens, including my favorite, mache. The wine, of course, begged to be with the foie gras, and Marc marched us deeper into this wine country. We drank the shining, golden Coteaux du Layon, Domaine de la Bergerie, Le Clos de la Bergerie, 2000. Because I’m still not a wine writer, I’m just going to say “luscious.”
All those teens in this household? You should see them sit up straight and answer Marc when he quizzes them on the evening’s wines, and which grapes they’re made from, before he pours their glass. My daughter and all are getting an excellent French education.
Sunday afternoon Izzy and I went off with Carol to a local Cathedral to hear Cecilia play the harp with her quite famous youth orchestra, Orchestre du David D’Angers. We came home to a fire in the fireplace and “soup d’Angers:” a cocktail of champagne, Cointreau (Angers is Cointreau’s hometown) and lemon with small toasts of trout and salmon pate.
Dinner that night was veal cutlets with a gorgonzola sauce, gnocchi, and tiny fava beans. The children got it right – Cabernet Franc – as Marc poured their glasses of Chateau Lieujean, Haut-Medoc, 2005.
So, thank you, Carol, for each taste of Angers, each sable from your grandfather, for the valentines of “Mon Cheri” Chocolates, and for taking such care of my daughter. And thank you, Marc, for not just the wine, food, and laughter, but for being my personal photographer this part of the trip. Mark is so good, or else I’m so wicked, I’m beginning to snap my fingers when I need a photo, and call out, “Marc!” The photos are Marc’s.