I have been continuing my researches to bring you another in my series of recipes of Southwest France. Here’s one you’ve probably never heard of – diablotins au Roquefort. I certainly hadn’t. Easy to make, with readily-available ingredients, they are composed of products that have been made and harvested in this region for centuries.
Before I reveal what they are in culinary terms, what is a diablotin generally? It’s an imp or goblin, un petit diable. They do good or bad, depending on their personal preference, and were associated in medieval times with witches and sorcerers as familiars.
In cooking, a diablotin is a small, round slice of bread, spread with a mixture that usually includes cheese and then baked in the oven. In this form, they can be served with apéritifs or floated as croûtons on a bowl of soup. You can also use larger slices of country bread, like Italian bruschetta and spread them with the mixture as a snack or serve them with salad as a starter.
The local version I have found uses a mixture of Roquefort cheese, chopped walnuts and butter (check your cholesterol before indulging).
Roquefort cheese is one of Aveyron’s star products, manufactured in the eponymous town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon. You can find out more about how it’s made in a post I wrote a while ago. Basically, ewe’s milk is heated and then sprinkled with mould powder made by baking rye bread and allowing it to go mouldy.
The cheeses are placed in the local caves, which have the right temperature and humidity levels, to mature and for the veins of mould to spread through the cheese. You wonder how people discovered this manufacturing method in the first place.
Walnuts have a particular affinity with cheese and are especially good with Roquefort. Walnut trees have grown in this region for centuries and walnuts were a staple crop at one time. They provided not only a source of protein in various dishes, but were also used to make walnut oil. The trees are very susceptible both to harsh frost and drought. We lost one after the baking hot, dry summer of 2003.
The evidence of walnuts’ former importance is all around. In places you can see the remnants of walnut groves. Walnut oil mills have been preserved in this area, too, and are still working in one or two places.
Shelling the walnuts is quite a chore and you have to make sure you remove the hard membrane that separates the two halves of the nut. In past times, neighbours sat together on winter evenings (les veillées) and told stories and gossiped while shelling nuts.
Diablotins au Roquefort
50g Roquefort cheese
100g softened butter
1 teaspoon Cognac
1 level teaspoon Dijon mustard (and/or Cayenne pepper to taste)
2 dessertspoons chopped walnuts
- Preheat the oven to 220° C.
- Mix the Roquefort, Cognac and mustard with a fork in a bowl until well combined. Add the butter and mix in. Incorporate the chopped walnuts, reserving a few to top the diablotins at the end.
- Slice the baguette into thin disks (or use a larger pain de campagne if you want to make bruschetta-like slices). Spread each round with the cheese and walnut mixture.
- Bake the diablotins for about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining chopped walnuts.
I think this recipe would make a rather good pasta sauce, perhaps with the addition of some crème fraiche. You could also use it as a dip with crisps or raw veg – again in a slightly softer version than the recipe above.
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