“Finished already”, said my favourite cheese-monger this morning handing me a bag with a large wedge of oozing brie, for which he shook his head at any idea of payment. It was just 11, and I had already passed his market stall earlier in the morning with twenty americans in tow. He’s such a nice man that when he sees me approaching, he always lays out on the counter top the four “appelation controlé” normandy cheeses for me to talk about to whoever I may have with me. I grinned at him saying how hard it was for me to get up to meet today’s group having been enjoying myself at a dinner with friends the night before.
Even more unusually, there was no queue at the fruit and vegetable stall either, so after a shake of the hand and a cheery chat with the owners, I walked away with another bag on my arm and passed into the side road where all the real action was. Today is the annual “Celebration of the stomach”, and as always hundreds of local producers arrive in the town at the crack of dawn on saturday for the two day long festival. Not only was there every imaginable food and locally produced alcohol available, but an excellent 5 man band were wandering around filling the air with fabulous and cheerful music.
I already had a couple of spit-roasted chickens under my arm, and so what I really needed next was some freshly baked bread. There is no presarvative in french bread, and so it has to be bought fresh every day. Today there were at least three boulangers baking bread on the street in portable bread ovens and the smell was heavenly.
But you can’t buy bread without thinking of cheese, and the local normandy cheese called Neufchatel, traditionally in the form of a heart, was not far away!
The Neufchatel comes in varying degrees of ripeness, young smooth and white or older white with little slits in the surface. But then suddenly I noticed some brown hearts and couldn’t resist asking just how old these cheeses were. The stall owner declared that they were four months old and had the flavour of caramelised cheese. “Were they dry in the centre” asked another person. Not at all, rich and gooey in the centre, these are not cheeses for the faint-hearted!
Well only moments later I passed a stall where a huge pan of Tartiflette was bubbling away. Potatoes, onions and bacon cooked in white Savoy wine and fresh cream with a generous helping of Roblochon, a soft rind soft “appelation controlée” cheese also from the Savoy region. There was enough to feed an army.
Having got all that I really needed, there was time just to wander through the stalls and savour what was available.
fresh squashes and pumpkins, and fresh garden herbs.
abundent fresh fish and shellfish.
and hot, fresh crèpes with chocolate sauce.
Macaronschoux puffs of every possible flavour,and mini cup-cakes.And then, if you weren’t already overwhelmed for choice, freshly made chocolate truffles!I passed a few more stalls selling handmade cured saucisson, some flavoured with goats cheese and others with camembert,and abundent coquilles St Jaques, (scallops)and more mussels than anyone could possibly eat!And while all this was going on all around, a chocolatier was quietly carving this chocolate sculpture.
Though judging by her grimace, the poor chocolate woman is clearly agonising about her waistline in the face of all this abundence.
And i’m not suprised really – are you?