Reasons to Love France
Posted on 17 November 2017
5 Reasons to love France
I could think of a thousand and more reasons to love France. But as a foodie, the culinary culture of France is one of the things that absolutely bowls me over. And not just me – French gastronomy has been honoured with ‘world intangible heritage’ UNESCO status in recognition of its importance as a “social custom aimed at celebrating the most important moments in the lives of individuals and groups”.
Bread in France isn’t just something you stick together with butter and pop a slice of this or that in the middle of to make a sandwich. Bread in France is a cultural experience. Queuing at a boulangerie, discussing with your neighbours which baker makes the best baguettes, buying it fresh every day (sometimes more than once) – these are daily rituals ingrained in the French way of life. “Let them eat bread” has real meaning in France and besides, it tastes better here than anywhere else!
There’s something about French cheese that seduces and entices all cheese lovers. It doesn’t matter that other countries produce delicious cheeses, more cheeses, different cheeses.
Whether its sheep, cows or goats milk, pasteurised, unpasteurised, rolled in herbs, covered in ash or small bugs, unctuous, gooey, stinky, pungent and mouldy, square, round, heart shaped, fish shaped, oblong or in bite sized pieces – French cheese has that certain je ne sais quoi.
As the French proverb goes “There is no old bread that cannot find its cheese”…
Wine is a way of life in France and just about every French person is an expert – or so it seems. Wine is discussed at every opportunity, everyone has their favourite and they like nothing better than to share it with you and discuss its merits endlessly. A really good wine may get a French person declaring in awe “C’est Le petit Jesus en culotte de velours” which translates as “it’s the baby Jesus in velvet shorts” which means they really really like that wine.
Only in France would you have one type of shop that sells bread and a separate shop that sells cakes. A visit to the patisserie to choose a cake is a treat, an occasion, an event. A good patissier trains for years and is considered an artist in France. I’ve seen cakes that wouldn’t look out of place in glass cabinets in a museum or an art gallery. I’ve eaten a lot of them too.
Some have elegant histories likes the Opera Cake whose layers are reminiscent of the rows of seats at the Opera Garnier in Paris. Others are more rustic like the Doigt de Charles Quint sold locally in my part of France, the Seven Valleys. It’s a long sponge finger, filled with oozing red jam, dipped in dark chocolate at one end. Created in honour of the Emperor Charles Quint whose gout ridden pinky was cut off to be kept as a religious relic (it was 1558, they did that in those days) – bon appétit!
Have I saved the best for last? Maybe! I have to get one thing out there before I start. Some people say that Champagne is in fact a British invention. There. I’ve said it.
It is of course, the Frenchest of French drinks. Its creation is often credited to Dom Perignon, a monk living in Champagne. Legend has it that he shouted “Come quick, I am tasting the stars” at the point of the creation of the fizzy wine.
However, it’s claimed that the British were actually responsible for the famous bubbles. Almost a decade before Dom Perignon entered the Abbey of Hautvillers in Champagne, scientist Christopher Merrett presented a paper to the Royal Society in London. In it he described how adding ‘vast quantities of sugar and molasses’ to French wine made it taste ‘brisk and sparkling’.
In the interests of entente cordiale, let’s move on. Because whatever the history, Champagne is firmly French because it can only be called Champagne if it’s made from grapes grown in Champagne – in France.
By Janine Marsh, author of My Good Life in France: in pursuit of the rural dream, editor of www.thegoodlifefrance.com