The Beast of Gevaudan
by Mark R. Vogel

On June 30th 1764, in the village of Les Hubacs, in the former province of Gévaudan in south-central France, Jeanne Boulet, aged fourteen, was attacked and killed by a wild beast.  Boulet’s death was just the beginning of a grisly nightmare.  Over the next three years the Gévaudan region would be terrorized by what came to be known as “The Beast of Gévaudan.”  Numbers vary with the source but one estimate proclaims that over two hundred people were attacked and over one hundred killed.  Original reports note that many of the victims had their throats ripped open, were decapitated, or dismembered.  And if that’s not ghastly enough, most of the dead had been partially eaten. 

            The carnage came to the attention of King Louis XV who dispatched a specially trained band of wolf hunters to the area.  Over a number of months the predator became the prey culminating in the slaying of an unusually large wolf in September 1765.  However, the horror resumed in December of that year and continued unabated.  Finally in June of 1767, a local hunter killed a wolf which hallmarked the end of the ordeal.  The wolf’s stomach contained human remains.  Even more interestingly, the hunter is rumored to have used a silver bullet. 

Some modern researchers doubt whether wolves were the actual culprit.  They allege that an average wolf does not have the bite strength to sever heads and limbs.  Moreover, there is some evidence that an Asian hyena (which has significant more bite strength), may have been released in the area accidentally. 

            However, the Gévaudan attacks were not an isolated incident.  A century earlier in Benais, France, over one hundred people fell victim to a similar beast.  Other sporadic attacks occurred in France over the years as recently as the twentieth century.  Not surprisingly, local folklore attributed the savageries to a werewolf.

            Lycanthropy, the ability to transform oneself into a wolf, or the belief that one can, has its underpinnings in Greek mythology.  According to one account, King Lycaon of Arcadia, surreptitiously served human flesh at a banquet attended by Zeus and other Gods.  When Zeus discovered the gruesome perfidy, he became enraged and turned Lycaon into a wolf.  Since Lycaon apparently had a taste for raw meat, he felt the punishment should fit the crime.

            It was during the Dark Ages of Europe however that modern legends of werewolves arose and flourished.  Centuries of werewolf lore from numerous European cultures synthesized into the iconography we know today:  full moons, silver bullets, wolfsbane, etc.  Romania, already famous for its vampire folklore, also contributed to the werewolf legacy.  It is quite fitting then that Transylvanian vineyards are the source of a delicious wine aptly labeled “Werewolf.”

            Werewolf is a brand name for a line of varietal wines.  Werewolf pinot noir hails from the Viile Timisului region of Transylvania and is produced by the Cramele Recas winery.  Until recently, Romanian wines were not commonplace in the western world.  However, with the deposition of the communist regime, this is slowly changing.  Romania has been making wine for at least four thousand years.  It currently grows a wide variety of international and local grapes that produce and equally diverse portfolio of white, red and dessert wines. 

            Pinot Noir is the classic and finicky grape that renders traditional French Burgundy.  It is difficult to grow and picky about where it will thrive.  I must admit, when I first encountered a bottle of Werewolf wine and saw its provenance, I had a snobbish hesitancy.  I love my French Burgundy and find American pinot noirs to be dismally disappointing; not even a shadow of the real thing.  So now I’m going to drink one from Romania?  Ha!  Moreover, at ten dollars a bottle, how good could it be?   I think I succumbed to the mystique of the label: an eerily depicted full moon and red claw-like slashes.  I have a thing for Halloween and I feared I was being duped into just another gimmick.

            Well consider me put in my place.  Werewolf wine was delightful.  I found it to be exactly as its importer, Tri-Vin Imports of Mt. Vernon, NY described on their website:  “Werewolf Pinot Noir is scented with a distinctive, fruity aroma. Notes of strawberries and raspberries top off a medium and light bodied wine. The finish is delicate,”  http://www.tri-vin.com/.  For only ten dollars a bottle, you absolutely can’t go wrong.          

We now need a recipe that not only appeals to our inner werewolf, but will resonate with the Werewolf pinot noir.  The inescapable choice is beef tartare, a dish of seasoned, raw meat, served with a raw egg.  King Lycaon would be pleased.  I’m not even going to get into how yes—there’s a slight risk with raw meat and eggs—not as much as you’d think—America is a germaphobic culture—beef tartare is eaten the world over without people dropping dead—yadda, yadda, yadda.  You either howl for it or you don’t.  If not, you can at least enjoy the wine.  And you don’t even have to wait for the next full moon.

BEEF TARTARE

1 lb. very fresh beef tenderloin

¼ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

4 shallots, minced

Chopped parsley, to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

4 eggs

Garnish with anchovies, capers, toast points, additional parsley or sliced onion*

                 Finely mince the beef tenderloin or put it through a meat grinder.  You can also use a food processor but be very careful not to over process or it will be mushy.  Mix the remaining ingredients except the eggs and garnishes into the meat.  Form the meat into four patties and place on four plates.  Create a well in the center of each patty and break one egg into it.  Serve with the desired garnishes.

* Some chefs chop the anchovies and capers and mix them in with the meat.


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