Good Food Blog
French food showPosted at 12:54PM, 28 February 2008 by Mary Cadogan - Food writer
Each year the country comes to the city as Paris hosts the massive Salon de L'Agriculture at Porte de Versailles. Extraordinary sights, sounds and smells assail you as you walk into the vast halls where you are met by huge cows and bulls, rows of goats idly munching hay, seemingly oblivious to the sea of people milling about taking photos. Then on to the most beautiful giant working horses with their tails and manes primped and plaited for the occasion and their coats brushed to a lustrous sheen and a family of piglets running and tumbling round the ring, showing off for all they were worth.
Astonishingly, there are over 4,000 animals to see. In the next hall, 38 regions of France show off their best food, wine and culture. Sip red wine in the elegant region of Burgundy, slip down a few Marenne oysters in a hut in the Charente maritime, lunch on the finest Limousin lamb or beef, taste some fruity first pressing olive oil from Corsica then party the afternoon away with cocktail in hand in the L'ile de Reunion.
Extraordinary sights, sounds and smells assail you as you walk into the vast halls...
And then, of course, there are the cheeses. Think of French cheeses and Camembert comes instantly to mind, perhaps followed by Roquefort and Gruyere, but there are over 1,000 different cheeses in France, many by artisan producers who rarely venture further afield than the valley where their cows, goats or sheep are pastured.
It's brilliant to be able to discover and taste some of these amazing cheeses in one day and under one roof. Highlights included a raw milk Comte, a hard cows' milk cheese made in the mountains of the Jura from summer milk, so fragrant you could taste the flowers and herbs they munch on; beautiful little goats' milk cheeses wrapped in chestnut leaves from my region of the Charente; an award-winning Brie de meaux made with raw milk, and there was even a cheese flavoured with Marijuana seeds - not sure about that one but the maker assured me it kept a smile on your face all day long. There were so many fantastic and surprising cheeses and I'm sure I only scratched the surface.
The next morning I was a judge at the prestigious and very serious Concours General cheese awards. Over 400 judges from all over the world touched, sniffed, tasted, and above all discussed, the relative merits of each cheese before deciding which, (if any) could be awarded gold, silver and bronze medals.
My group had to judge 12 different samples of Munster, a cheese with a decidedly split personality. The whiffy orange rind that could clear a room hides a surprisingly delicate creamy interior and judging took all morning and resulted in a silver and two bronze medals for the best of the bunch. A quick glass of Bordeaux and it was off to taste even more cheese, perhaps a morsel of ham or sausage, a glass of beer, a first pressing olive oil.
The salon goes on until this Sunday March 2 and is definitely worth a detour. And your favourite French cheese ? I'd love to know.