Long-time readers of this blog (and those who sift through the archives while pretending to work) may remember me mentioning that my source of choice for vanilla was a small family-run company based in Mayotte.
Alas, when my sizeable stash dwindled and I decided to place a new order late last year, I found that the online shop had been dormant for months. My email enquiry was left unanswered and, a few weeks later, the website had evaporated. La Vanille de Mayotte had, for all intents and purposes, gone under.
I felt sorry for the owners, as I knew them to be real people (with a young child, too) and I liked their producer-to-consumer approach, but once I’d gotten past this stage, the real, angst-ridden question was: where would my next bean come from?
And then I remembered reading about Alain Abel, who runs a vanilla plantation in Tahiti and has won multiple awards for the exceptional quality of his beans, also acknowledged by the star-spangled list of his professional clients.
What’s good for Alain and Guy is good for me, I figured, so I asked two dear friends if they’d join forces with me to order online. They said they would (of course, what are friends for?) and because we’re worth it, we splurged on the Bora Bora vanilla — just like wine, Abel’s beans come in different crus depending on the piece of land where they’re grown.
Three days later, the parcel arrived, and I opened the vacuum-sealed half-pound package to reveal the most flamboyant beans of vanilla I’ve ever had the good fortune to touch and smell. Plump, waxy, and sappy-fresh, their astonishingly potent aroma lingered on my fingers long after I’d divided the bounty. And, just like yesterday, when I met and shook hands with Olivier Roellinger*, I vowed not to wash my hands ever again.
But the proof of the bean is in the baking, and more specifically in my opinion, the baking of oeufs au lait, a recipe with so few ingredients that the quality of each (farm-fresh eggs and milk, cane sugar, world-class vanilla) sings through with clarity.
And well, let’s just say that when I’m done with this inaugural order, Monsieur Abel will be hearing from me again.
* Olivier Roellinger was signing Trois Étoiles de mer (= three starfish), his gorgeous new cookbook-cum-travelogue, at La Librairie Gourmande.