Fréjus, France

Fréjus, France
Aqueduc Romain

Monday, September 15, 2008

Food in France

After two months in France, I am already able to pinpoint specific differences in how we live our daily lives. Food is a biggie. At home we certainly eat in a healthy manner. A light breakfast of fruit or cereal and coffee, and dinner that is light on meats and heavy on vegetables, pasta and rice. Lunches are my weakness as my job keeps me on the move so I often grab something quick, and thus less healthy.

Here in France, we are much more focused on the 3 main food groups: bread, cheese, and wine. The bread is unbelievably delicious, and fresh, and nearby. There are boulangeries it seems on every block, definitely many in every neighborhood, and everyone has their favorite. You see people carrying their baguettes on the sidewalks, on the metro, in their bike baskets, etc. Many bakeries offer baguette sandwiches consisting usually of ham and butter (jambon et buerre), ham and cheese (jambon et fromage) or sometimes sliced salami (saucisson). Occasionally they might include lettuce and tomato but even without they are always delicious and never dry. A sandwich without mayonnaise and mustard? And it’s not dry? How can that be? Sure, the butter helps, but I’m convinced it’s all about the fresh-baked bread. It has that nice crispy crust, with a substantial but not doughy inside. Then there are the specialty breads, the loaves of yummy goodness with the perfect taste and texture. Nothing like a slice of the local bakery’s campaillou with some butter, jam, nutella, local honey or peanut butter. We have already determined that when we get home, the local bakery is going to be a regular stop, but will it measure up? I already feel wistful about getting in my car to drive to one of the two bakeries in Ashland v. walking a block or two with multiple bakeries in that range.

Of course, every bakery also has mouth-watering treats such as éclaires, tarts, etc., and our favorite called the religieuse - a cathedral of a pastry packed with a creamy center and frosting of the same flavor. All of the above come in chocolate, but also café (my favorite!), fruit flavors, and specialties like pistachio or rose. The tarts are often topped high with fresh strawberries or raspberries, and they all look as good as they taste, suckering you into buying a treat you don’t really need but never regret. Our bakery in Paris made it easy by offering a lunch “menu” which included a baguette sandwich, a drink, and a dessert. We love the breads at our local bakery here in Fréjus, but the lunch specials aren't as great. The religieuse is not quite as good but they have this almond topped chocolate croissant that is delectable, so it's also a regular stop for coffee and treats!

Then there is the cheese. With bread, you can’t really go wrong, but cheese can be more of a guessing game. We are lovers of cheese, yet here in France they make cheeses that cause serious pause. They have over 500 cheeses that come from either cows (vache), goats (chevre), or sheep (brébis). We’ve had plenty of the first two, but none of the brébis...until a couple weeks ago. Lisa decided on a round pie-shaped package that we only ate about 1/3 of - it seriously tasted like the farm, the barn, like licking the sheep’s wool and rolling around in hay at the same time. We tried, but none of us liked it. That doesn’t mean we won’t try another brébis, but we’ll ask for advice first. Irie’s favorite is the typical chevre like we can get at home. Soft and delicious spread on fresh bread. However, we have also had a goat cheese that was very farm-like, that Irie didn’t like, and my theory is to not buy any cheeses that look like a brain.

We started our France adventure in Normandy and that region is the home of Camembert cheese. It is similar to a brie in texture and shape though a bit stronger, and delicious, and like a brie you eat the outer coating. However, be prepared for the whole residence to smell of a strong cheese the minute you open the fridge. I was warned by my friend Larry that many cheeses smell stronger than they taste and that early experience proved correct. However, the brébis didn’t have such strong a smell, but certainly that strong farm taste, so sometimes it can work in the opposite way. Here in Paris, at the outdoor market, Lisa asked for a semi-mild cheese that would melt well and we have fallen in love with the tomme de Savoie cheeses. They come in a big round loaf with a crust that is not eaten. The texture is the softness of a mozzarella with smaller holes than a swiss. We took one loaded with cumin to Versailles, and have loved them all. A similar cheese, St. Albray is very similar. Lisa lists “blue cheese” as one of her 5 favorite foods, and here the Roquefort is to die for! Stronger then American blue cheeses, only a little is needed on bread or in a crêpe to create the desired taste. We also found it used as a moules (mussels) sauce and it’s our favorite by far! Even Irie loved them, and we all lapped up the leftover sauce with spoons, a cheese “soup” from the heavens. I feel like we need to get a bit more daring in our cheese selections now that we’ve become regular users of the above, but I have yet to find a fromagerie that allows tasting.

We are spoiled by the world-class inexpensive wines. Available in every restaurant, grocery stores, and specialty shops like Nicolas, it’s more a matter of deciding what to pick. The stores have bottles priced anywhere from 2€ on up, with the vast majority between 4€ and 8€. We’ve tried a couple of the cheap bottles and while not bad, they are clearly not as complex as the mid-range, but for $3 it was difficult to complain. We’ve had great success with mid-range wines, whether red, white, or rose, and have enjoyed trying wines from the various terroirs: alsace, bourgogne, côtes de Rhône, sud-oest, val loire, etc. We fell in love with the Alsace region and their wines and they make excellent Pinots, Reislings, Gerwurtztraminers, and their version of champagne called Cremant. The val Loire makes another one of our favorite whites, Vouvray. Here’s a map of the various regions and what they produce: Wines by region Another example: real Champagne can only come from the Champagne region in northeast France. It is not cheap. We have had two bottles and paid about 20€ each which is on the inexpensive end for champagne, but they have both been excellent and the feel is different than from wine. Yet other regions make their own version of Champagne (Brut and Cremant) that are much cheaper but taste very good as well. The other thing we’ve both noticed is that while some American wines give us headaches, here we have had no such problem yet we are not sure why. Between a happy hour glass, another with dinner, and one after dinner or with dessert, it’s easy to polish off a bottle in an evening. I am happily tasting and learning about the multitude of wine choices here. We now look forward to discovering the wines of Provence and the south! Having been more of a beer drinker at home (France is not known for it’s beer making), when I’m in the mood for beer here, its usually a Belgian ale like Leffe or Grimbergen which are easy to find in pubs and grocery stores.

Meals we are eating on a regular basis include crêpes, salad nicoise, moules frites, pork chops with sauteed veggies like eggplant and zucchini, steamed fish with rice and greens beans or another veggie, pizza, egg scrambles with cheese potatoes and veggies, typical pasta dishes, and baguette sandwiches with sauteed veggies and goat cheese, and lots of ice cream. I have even made a ratatouille and a shrimp étouffée. Of course, all the meals include lots of bread, olives (for which our region is known) and/or cheese. For breakfast: cereal, lots of fruit or bread with nutella, honey or jam, and coffee of course. Being on sabbatical, it seems that a large portion of our daily lives revolves around going to the market, planning meals, and eating! The market here on the beach boulevard is an amazing delight of local olives, sundried tomatoes, spices, fresh fruits and veggies, and the smells of the rotisserie chickens, seafood paella, etc. mean lunches-to-go on the beach every Sunday. Bon appetit!

PS. UPDATE! We now have internet at home! I have sent emails to those who were bouncing back, and they have not bounced this time, so hopefully we are all set.


Anonymous said...

I remember the numerous Brasserie in and around Nice where you could get a great meal for about 10 euro.

The baguettes were my favorite. I could one of those with every breakfast.

Thanks for sharing. Now I'm hungry.


rekrapt said...

Don't eat cheese that looks like brains. I laughed out loud.

My wife and I (and daughters) are moving to Lyon next summer permanently. I just found your blog and read this post. Can't wait to read them all!

Thanks for taking the time to do this!

Anonymous said...

Hi Irie, are you having fun in paris? I watched your hula video aboard the QM2, I was very impressed! were there lots of people watching? Does maggie like it in Paris?

Not much has changes here, the house that they are building on the corner finally sold. Maybe the family will have kids! :)

Email me and tell me about your school. My email is Maybe you will tell me your email too, or you could make and Irie blog.

Remember all the memories from your trip because when you get back people are going to want to hear your stories.

Have you made any good friends yet? Email me or post on this blog soon, i am excited to hear about you adventures!

Goodbye for now, Marie

Rick said...

Welcome rekrapt!

Hi Marie, thanks so much for the message to Irie. She will be so happy to get a message from you, and I'm sure she'll write back.

Ken, I've got a post coming up on food prices for those curious. I'll bet things have gotten a bit more expensive since you were here last.

Cathy Blais said...

It's interesting about the food...when we stay in France with my husband's family, eating really is the focus of the day - the 3 meals, the Quatre Heures. And when you are eating, they speak about different recipes and dishes they have made and eaten and how good they are, etc. I always feel like it is a cultural obsession - food. Or is it just the culture itself? They do have it to an art though. Everything seems to taste better there in France somehow.