We are not going to deny it. Four months in France, and yes it’s been all about the food.
This has been our first extended stay in France, the first time that we had access to a kitchen to make good use of all the outstanding ingredients we gathered from markets and the supermarket. Oh my goodness, we have enjoyed it! The French have a reputation for producing some of the best culinary delights in the world, (deservedly so!). So, what have we been eating in France?
Fromage, fromage and more fromage. Cheese features heavily in almost every French meal, (so far though we have refrained from a cheesy breakfast) and every region has it’s own specialty to boast about. Where we are in Poitou-Charente, it’s all about goat’s cheese, so we have really enjoyed these, but to be honest every time we enter a supermarket we exit with a new variety of cheese to try. The supermarkets here have a minimum 2-3 isles of cheese to choose from, including the very special unpasteurised cheeses. Soft, hard, smelly, mouldy, gooey, blue, crumbly, smooth, and they are all so affordable. I don’t think it’s been good for the waistline, but hey when in France right?
What else would pair so beautifully with outstanding French cheese, but incredible French wine? We haven’t had a wine that we didn’t enjoy drinking here, and mostly we have been buying the cheap stuff! Honestly, most of the bottles of red that we have bought have been under €3! The majority of the supermarket range is €2-€6 and a couple of times we have splurged on an €8 bottle, but since the experience was no more enjoyable than the €3 bottles of Bordeaux or Cote de Rhone reds, why spend more? Our home in Australia was on the edge of the Barossa Valley, and we love our local reds, but by comparison we have found French wine to be lighter and fruitier, which I guess is what makes it a great companion to many of the rich French dishes.
The three non-vegetarians of Our Global Adventure will tell you that the French cured sausages, or saucisson, have been soooooo good. Our home town of Adelaide in Australia has a strong Italian and German influence, so salami and mettwurts are common fare, but never before have we tried the French saucisson. It comes in a myriad of varieties, the most common being pork, but it is also easy to find venison, bull and wild boar. Our favourite saucisson was purchased at a nearby Lencloître monthly market from a vender with a big personality and a great deal, 14 saucisson for €20.
Breads and Pastries
A wrap up of the best food in France would not be complete without mentioning the breads and pastries. Boulangerie and Pâtisserie were probably the first French words that we learnt, when we see those words on a sign over a shop, the promise of delicious French baguettes and flaky sweet pastries are not far away. The cliché of a Frenchman/woman with a baguette under their arm in the street is ABSOLUTELY true. Any time, any day of the week you will see the French out buying their daily fresh bread because it doesn’t keep long and after 24 hours soft fluffy bread turns to hard baton. Our favourite pastries are the apple filled Pomme Chausson, Chocolate Eclairs, Macaroons and Lemon Tarts. They not only taste amazing, but a trip to the Pâtisserie is a treat for the eyes. Everything is so beautifully presented it is almost a shame to bite into them!
In every region of France there are still lots and lots of local produce markets operating either daily, weekly or monthly, so it’s easy to buy straight from the grower or producer. This is very important to French people who like to know where their food is coming from and support their local food artisans. Our favourite market has been the monthly one at Lencloître where locals can buy everything from barbequed eels to cheese, pastries and fruit and vegetables. Each month we have come home laden with saucisson, veges, giant meringues for the kids, and a local cheese cake called a Tourteau fromager du Poitou which is a local specialty, it looks like burnt toast, but tastes like heaven!
Testing out some French Recipes
Whilst in France we were determined to learn a few new recipes to add to our repertoire. Our French host Marie-Laure taught me a recipe that has become a regular favourite in our household. It is a gratin made by layering sliced courgette, tomato and goat’s cheese, a drizzle of olive oil and some fresh thyme over the top then pop it in a moderate oven until it bubbles and browns. The gratin is delicious!
Before coming to France, one of our son’s favourite Disney films was Ratatouille about a French rat who dreams of cooking like his idol in a Parisienne restaurant. At the end of the film the rat makes a dish that wows the food critic – a Ratatouille. But it isn’t a regular ratatouille, which is a vegetable casserole, it is a layered ratatouille that looks beautiful in the roasting dish. I was determined to make one just like the Disney version for Oscar in France. I found a great recipe here, and the result was wonderful! Our non-authentic version was even a hit with our French hosts.
Recently we purchased a soft cheese at the supermarket that said on the packaging it was used to make Tarteflette. Intrigued, we looked for a recipe and learnt that a Tarteflette is a French potato bake made with caramelised onion, pork lardons and the cheese placed on top to melt and ooze through the layers of potato. We made two, a vegetarian version without the lardons and the regular one. It was one of the most delicious potato bakes that we have ever had!
Our French host Marie-Laure makes delicious duck confit with vegetables quite often as a go to dinner that impresses. She has taught us that the best way to cook the tinned confit duck is to scrape off the excess duck fat, and roast it in a low oven with whole garlic cloves and thyme. Vegetables such as carrots and green beans are also added to the pan to cook in the juices. This French dinner has also become a favourite with the non-vegetarians in our family.
Being Vegetarian in France
I have to admit that it has not been as easy to be vegetarian in France as it is in other countries, meat features heavily in most dishes here. Often the best deals for eating out in France are found on the boards outside bistros. Set menus of 3 courses with wine for €15-€20. Unfortunately these never include a vegetarian option and to eat off the regular menu, vegetarian options are few, with one main priced at the same as the entire set menu! As a result we tend to picnic more when out sightseeing rather than having a sit-down meal. Before we came to France my diet was almost dairy free and I was considering dropping dairy all together. Knowing what a big deal cheese was in France I decided to put off that decision for a few months, and I’m glad I did. If it’s hard finding meat free options, cheese free is practically non-existent! Every dinner has a cheese course and many dishes include cheese, butter or cream – I have no idea how vegans get on! I suspect that I will have no difficulty dropping cheese again when we leave France and good cheese is both expensive and hard to find, and I’m sure that my waistline with thank me!
Eating in France has been an absolute delight, and every day has proffered a new food experience. Each time we discover something great, we wonder if will be ‘the best’ and then something else comes along to top it. Four months in France, and we have only sampled a tiny portion of the hundreds, if not thousands, of French regional foods and dishes on offer. Believe the hype and the clichés, eating in France is AMAZING!