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A Year in Provence: A short expose on the allure of French Cuisine

I just finished reading ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle, and it had me salivating from cover to cover.

In the chilly winter nights this February, it made me connect with the bitter Mistral winds, and its relentless wrath against the low valleys of Provence.  No, it’s not all lavender fields and hot days.  The winters are cold, but the wine is dark and full-bodied, and there are satisfying meaty dishes and mountains of fresh breads dipped in single pressed olive oils.  Breads chosen for every occasion. Breads that match each meal perfectly, like a good wine will complement a dish.  And then, there was the cheeses.  Oh the cheeses, just hearing their names, I could taste them, smell them, long for them.  It brought me back to my time spent in France, the frommaggerie’s of Paris, thick with the scent of all manor of cheese related delicacies.

Twice Peter and his wife dine at establishments that serve a ‘one meal only’ set menu for its clients, removing the burden of ordering.  “We had a crisp, oily salad and slices of pink country sausages, an aioli of snails and cod and hard-boiled eggs with garlic mayonnaise, creamy cheese from Fontvielle, and a homemade tart. It was the kind of meal that the French take for granted and the tourists remember for years”.  My husband and I fantasize of owning a farm-to-table restaurant like this, here in Niagara.  I would like to add a donkey, herd of goats, and homemade butter to that fantasy.  We shall see what the future holds.

When I was in Dijon, where I spent time at Taize, Monastery, I ate simple, good French meals – so inexplicably good, that when you describe the ingredients it just doesn’t seem to add up.  It’s like some kind of French food mystery.  For breakfast, a section of white baguette with chocolate and butter and a large cup of hot chocolate.  Lunch or supper, beans, or legumes, cooked in a tomato sauce, bread and a soft cheese, like Camembert, made locally.  So, simple, so, unassuming, but I do remember those meals well.

What makes the food so outstanding? Perhaps it’s the ceremony of the meal; the courses, the regimen.  Perhaps, it is the cheese and bread. Maybe it is the locality, the freshness of ingredients, or …the butter?  After reading this book, I’ve come to understand that for the French, food is an extension of the soul and heart of the people, and therefore, the soul and heart of the place.  It is of crucial importance and the subsequent necessity for quality permeates all decisions relating to its invention and purpose.  Price is no object; one merely has to look at the value of truffles to see that.

And that is what the rest of us onlookers find so alluring about the French – having the courage to demand pleasure, as a well deserved reward for the fruits of one’s labour.

Niagara, we are so close, I can smell and taste the Comfort Cream.

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