The inside scoop on French dairy

Caterer Middle East travels to Paris to find out what goes into the making of this sweet ingredient
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French, Cream, Milk, Pastry, Desserts

With four years of the Cream of Europe programme taking place in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, CNIEL - the French Dairy Board, along with the European Union, celebrated French cream and its place in pastry with an immersive experience related to all things cream and pastry across five days in Paris.

France collects around 24 billion tonnes of milk each year, and produces 443,000 tonnes of cream with average consumption standing at 3.6kg per person per year. And the Middle East is a market that looks at sourcing this high quality product. The UAE’s imports of European cream increased to 8,702 tonnes in 2018 with France exporting 3,533 tonnes alone, according to the latest research from CNIEL, the French Dairy Board.

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The value of French cream exported to the UAE in 2018 was valued at over AED36 million (US$9.8m), an increase of 18% on 2017 and a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.3% since 2010.

In addition to the UAE, several other countries in the Middle East have seen the popularity of European dairy exports increase in the last decade. Saudi Arabia imported 12,921 tonnes of EU cream, totalling over AED147 million ($40m). While Kuwait and Lebanon have seen this value of EU cream imports in 2018 increase to AED28.8 million ($7.84m) and AED43.8 ($12m) respectively.
“The evolving tastes of Middle East and Levant residents and tourists has aided the growth of French dairy exports, which in turn is piquing the interest of more French exporters who are keen to grow the market by offering an even greater variety of produce,” said Marie-Laure Martin, international project manager from CNIEL.

Production point

Rambouillet, just on the outskirts of the city of Paris, is home to the Bergerie Nationale, a working farm. The buildings on the farm land were originally built in the late 1700s, and now houses a number of animals including Merino sheep, horses, cows, and much more.

Guided through the farm by Meilleurs Ouvriers de France Ludovic Bisot, who also owns cheese shop Tout Un Fromage, an insight into the production of milk and animal-rearing practices ensued. Milk is produced almost all over the country, said Bisot, noting the production is probably spread “across almost three-quarters of the country”. Differences in the end product tend to arise due to climate and grass, for example. Consequently, the quality of dairy products like cream and cheese will change based on multiple parameters.

‘Cream’ essentially refers to milk that contains at least 30% fat, and Bisot said: “There is an average quantity of fat in the milk, as you know. This quantity will differ based on the season and the breed of animal. Of course, the good dairy products are selected based on the quality of milk, proportion of fat, and taste.”

Creating cream

Once the milk is produced, cream and butter is the next to consider. Paris-based Laiterie de La Chapelle – founded by Paul Zindy – ensured a thorough education into the effort that goes into producing cream and butter. Milk is usually poured into a centrifugal cream separator, and once rotated at a high speed, the solid particles separate from the liquids. The cream will remain in a liquid state if lactic ferments are not added to obtain a thick cream.

A practical demonstration followed at Laiterie de La Chapelle: after manually separating cream from the milk, dollops were placed in jars which were then shaken vigorously. Eventually becoming whipped cream, the process continued until the mixture hardened and separated into butter floating in buttermilk.

Making desserts

A pastry workshop with chef Philippe Conticini – credited with the invention of verrines – showed the versatility of cream in practice across five signature pastries. These included his signature Paris-Brest (a French choux pastry with praline Chantilly) through to his version of the Baba au Rhum, the Baba Burger.

Respecting ingredients was the theme of the workshop, and Conticini stressed on the importance of not just flavour but so much more than that. He said: “Try to imagine not the flavour, but the structure in your mouth. Structure is 80% of the sensation.”

Pastry chefs across the world who respect their ingredients are also aided by brands like Elle & Vire, which offer a range of products for both professional chefs and home cooks. A trip to Elle & Vire La Maison de la Crème showcased the range of research and development that goes into creating products that can be used in kitchens across the world. Not only was there an engaging demonstration by chef Nicolas Boussin, who was named Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Pastry Craftsman in France) in September 2000, but also a lecture and presentation on the importance of cream in French agriculture and production.

Elle & Vire works with local farmers to assist the local economy, and takes the support of local development very seriously. Boussin stressed the importance of strict quality control in the process; if any problems are detected with the milk quality after analysis, the sample and the batch it relates to are immediately destroyed.

There are different kinds of cream that exist in France, depending on the percentage of fat. A decree in 1980 officially defined how the word ‘cream’ could be used in food products. The decree not only specified minimum rates of milk fat but also rules for pasteurisation. Any product which has 30% of fat and more is cream; Boussin said that in France the cream usually has 35% of fat. Cream that has between 21-29% of fat is not recognised in France, while light cream has between 12-20% of fat. Some creams in France are also PDO (Protected Designation of Origin)-designated, such as those from Isigny and Bresse. No wonder then, that French cream is in high demand across the world.

Martin added: “The UAE and France enjoy a strong bond thanks to business and cultural links. French food exports, particularly cream, has helped further endorse the relationship between both countries as it grows in popularity from both a commercial perspective, through the increasing number of hotels ahead of Expo 2020, and from residents who are using the finest produce when baking or cooking meals at home.”

Where to eat pastries in Paris?

Here’s a curated list of where you can try some amazing pastries in Paris:

• Coco restaurant in Opéra Garnier in Paris, with desserts created by French pastry chef Kevin Lacote. Highlights including his decadent version of a profiterole and a mango cheesecake.

• Christophe Michalak’s pastry shop at Le Printemps du Gout showcases a number of desserts, from the Mont-Blanc to an orange cheesecake through to Mon Koeur (a chocolate biscuit base filled with chocolate cream and fruits as a topping).

• Why not take in afternoon tea at Ritz Hotel in Paris, with the desserts created by Francois Perret, who was named the best Pastry Chef in the World by Grandes Tables du Monde association in 2019?

• The 7th arrondisement in Paris offers a number of venues to try delectable pastries, ranging from Pierre Hermé, Philippe Conticini, Jacques Genin, Des Gateaux et Du Pain, and Mori Yoshida, among others.

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