One of the many food perks of living in Paris is the number of "salons" or trade fairs that take place here. There was the Salon de Saveurs, there is the Salon du Chocolate, which begins the 22nd, even the Foire de Paris has a great food and wine section.
And then there is the Salon du Fermier. Never heard of it? Neither had I until recently. It sounds like a mysnomer, doesn't it? Elegance and mud-splattered working boots in one handy image. David wrote to ask if I was interested in attending it and once I saw that the theme this year was to be cheese I wrote him to ask if he wanted to go. But I already asked YOU if you want to go, he wrote back. Oops. Well, yes. So last Friday I took a half day off work and met David for a well-deserved lunch and stroll through the Salon des Fermiers.
One thing I have noticed at the smaller fairs - and this one was no exception - is that you are very likely to be given a free pass by someone loitering near the entrance as you arrive. At the Salon des Saveurs, it was a lady who was promoting her table inside. This time it wasn't clear why this woman was giving us free passes but we didn't bother to ask.
Here you can see David carefully examining the dried cheeses in the photo at the start of this post. I don't think I've ever come across cheeses that were quite that dry. Though very pretty when arranged together in a box, they didn't actually look all that appetizing. We declined to taste them.
These cheeses were much more appetizing looking: creamy and soft with pretty little green leaves to hold them together.
And these stayed true to their farming origins, with straw below and above them to keep them fresh and allow them to ripen naturally.
Are you starting to think we did nothing but take photos of cheeses? Well it was the theme of the day.
But I also took a photos of other things. For example, would you like a nice pot of stag? Or a lovely one kilo bunch of braided pink garlic from Lautrec in the south of France? (Oh yeah, I bought one of those babies. Now I need to get to BHV for a hook to screw into my wall or cabinets so I can hang it up. Yes, it's worth it for one bunch of garlic.) And there was also a corner devoted to Tomorrow's Consumers, with a lesson on "What is cheese and where does it come from?"
What I found most charming in this trade fair as compared to the others I've seen was its lack of sophistication. On the surface it looked like any other, but if you started questioning the stall holders you quickly realized they really were farmers. At the stall where David and I bought prunes, there was a sign saying they were mi-cuit (literally half-cooked). As I had only ever seen this used to describe the things like foie gras, I was interested what it meant and asked. Well. He was so glad I asked. He got out his little handwritten chart (in a plastic sleeve no less!) and started to explain. He went back to the post WWII days, when good French housewives would buy their prunes completely dried and then, when they wanted to use them, leave them to soak overnight. He told me (slowly, forgot to mention he also spoke v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y) that in the 1960s some clever prune marketer discovered that they could use high heat and water to get the prunes back to a soft state and then sell them in vacuum packed bags to time-strapped housewives. And finally, he explained that his farm produced organic prunes which were gently reconstituted with a low heat (mi-cuit) and pure spring water. By now I figured I had to buy some prunes. Good thing they were good.
I think we lost David somewhere around the proud housewives of the 1950s...