Tales from

the Loir

A Weekly Column

March 13, 2002 - Tête de Veau

Here are the directions for preparing tete de veau: Rip the face off of a baby cow. Remove the meat from the jaw and roll it up in the face. Tie it all up with string and place it is a large pot with water, a carrot, an onion, chopped garlic, bouquet garni, salt, pepper and a little vinegar. Simmer for two hours, then remove, drain and cut in slices. Place slices on warm plates then lightly moisten each spongy, tasteless mass with a special vinaigrette sauce.

I am in inveterate Francophile, at least as far as food and wine are concerned. I eat snails, frog legs, duck liver, blood sausage, small birds, bunny rabbits and Mr. Ed au poivre, but I have a problem with tete de veau. Ever since the movie Silence of the Lambs, the idea of eating tete de veau has not appealed to me. In addition to the psychological problem, there is the real threat of vache folle (mad cow) disease. Mad cow has not been a big problem in the States but in Europe and Great Britain it has been devastating. Last year people in France stopped eating beef for fear of contacting the disease. I was so concerned about the problem that I saved the following newspaper article and pasted it over my desk for future reference:

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is believed to be caused by a mutated protein that is transmitted through eating pieces of the brain or nervous system of an infected animal. It is linked to a human brain- wasting disease, variant Creutzfeld Jakob Disease, that has so far killed 102 people in Britain since 1995, three in France, one in Ireland and one in Hong Kong.

When my friend Maurice Cheron called last year to invite us to have tete de veau at a dinner party in his cave, I had no idea what it was. To my way of thinking the head of a baby cow would have to be brains and eyeballs. Maurice had been bragging about how good his tete de veau was for over a year so there was no way to refuse. When I was served a plate, I was genuinely surprised. It was a white spongy substance that had very little taste except for the special vinaigrette sauce that is put on top.

I later asked a friend about the wisdom of eating tete de veau in light of the problem with mad cow disease. He told me that it was not a problem because tete de veau is just the face and jaw of the cow and does not include the brains or nervous system.

With that concern past me, I am ready to try it again without the prejudice of death hanging over my head. After all, it is the favorite dish of Jacques Chirac, the President of the Republic, and everyone tells me it is a special delicacy. I am in luck because our friends Zoulaka and Emmanuel have decided to hire Maurice to do his tete de veau at their dinner party. Maurice’s dinners are the classic French eat ‘til it hurts marathons. They start at noon and usually finish around midnight. There is a short break around six o’clock but I suspect the break is just to wash the dishes for the final leg of the event.

We are fourteen at the party and everyone is oohing and aahing about the tete de veau. Maurice is grinning from ear to ear because he is rightly proud of his cuisine. I learn from the other dinner guests that tete de veau is a special treat for the French that everyone seems to love. I find that I am somewhat of a follower. If everyone says it is good and a rare treat to be enjoyed at every opportunity, I am beginning to think that it is my favorite dish too. I even ask for a second helping.

I compliment Maurice profusely and to show him how well read I am, I inform him that tete de veau is the favorite dish of Jacques Chirac but that the President prefers to eat it with the brains, the tongue and the glands that are attached to the tongue. Maurice curves his finger in a sign to follow him over to the pot. He opens the cover and pulls the contents out of the pot with a large ladle. It is the whole head of a cow with brains, tongue and gangling things that must be the dreaded nervous system. Bon appetit.

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March 6, 2002 - Table Etiquette
February 27, 2002 - A Country Boy Can Survive
February 20, 2002 - Driving in France
February 13, 2002 - The Circus
February 6, 2002 - History of France
January 30, 2002 - THE BEST I EVER HAD
January 23, 2002 - Miranda This
January 16, 2002 - Charlotte Observer Interview
January 9, 2002 - Walnut Wine
January 2, 2002 - Sloe Gin
December 26, 2001 - Winter Solstice
December 19, 2001 - Relais d’Antan
December 12, 2001 - Winter Foods
 December 5, 2001 - Steak and Kidney Pudding
 November 28, 2001 - Pigs III
 November 21, 2001 - Pigs II
 November 14, 2001 - Pigs
 October 31, 2001 - The Ghost of Chateau Chevre
 October 25, 2001 - Battle of Poitiers
 August 22, 2001 - Confrerie
 August 15, 2001 - Liberation
 August 8, 2001 - Le Cyclop
 August 1, 2001 - The Finger
July 25, 2001 - La Resistance
July 18, 2001 - System D
July 11, 2001 - The Accident
July 4, 2001 - Ange Pitou
June 27, 2001 - Feu de Saint Jean
June 20, 2001 - Geoffroy Martel
June 13, 2001 - Saint of the Day
June 6, 2001 - Escapade dans le Berry
May 30, 2001 - Learning French
May 23, 2001 - Pete and Manny
May 16, 2001 - Les Journees des Aubepines
May 8, 2001 - Armistice Day
May 2, 2001 - May Day
April 25, 2001 - Les Manouches
April 18, 2001 - Trôo
April 11, 2001 - Le P'tit Jules
April 4, 2001 - Men and Their Caves 
Archive of Weekly Columns Jan-Apr 2001
Archive of Weekly Columns from 2000


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