What Is Cervelle De Canut?

Sonal Panse

Cervelle de canut is a very popular cheese spread or cheese dip that is used to make different kinds of cheese dishes in French cuisine. It is a specialty of the Lyons region in France, and means "a silk worker's brain"; cervelle is French for brain and canut means silk worker. According to one theory, the term was coined as an insulting reference to the silk workers that worked in the Lyonnaise silk factories prior to the Second World War. The local population of Lyons apparently didn't consider the silk workers to be too bright, hence the comparison of their brains with the semi-liquid consistency of the cervelle de canut. The term may also have developed from comparison with animal brains, particularly those of calves, that were cooked and eaten.

Marjoram, which is often included in cervelle de canut.
Marjoram, which is often included in cervelle de canut.

White cheese, known in the French language as fromage blanc or fromage frais, is used to make cervelle de canut. The soft, fresh cheese is mixed with an assortment of fresh, chopped herbs like chives, parsley, shallots, tarragon or marjoram, and then flavored with garlic, pepper, salt, olive oil and vinegar. The mixture is processed through a blender to get a smooth, yogurt like consistency. If the consistency of the cervelle de canut is found to be too thick, it can be thinned by the addition of a little milk.

Cervelle de canut pairs well with a robust French red wine.
Cervelle de canut pairs well with a robust French red wine.

If a cheese dip of thicker consistency is desired, the cheese should be processed in a blender and then squeezed in a cheesecloth to drain away all moisture from it. For best results, the cheese should be squeezed in the cheesecloth and then kept to drain overnight in the refrigerator. The drained cheese can then be mixed with the fresh herbs and condiments and processed in a blender to get a smooth paste.

The cervelle de canut can be stored in the refrigerator until it is required. In France, it is often eaten as a first course or hors d'oeuvre, as they call it in French. The cheese spread with the thick consistency is usually served with toasted French bread, with salted biscuits, and with mashed potatoes. The cheese dip with the thin consistency may be poured as a dressing over vegetable and fruit salads, or it may be eaten directly as a cheese dish. Often, the cervelle de canut may be paired with a French red wine.

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