Friday, 6 March 2009

Local Produce in the Supermarket

Look at all this luscious local food that we bought from the supermarket...

There are eggs from Charnizay, boudin blanc from Tours, butter from Verneuil, guinea fowl from Loué, milk from le Grand Pressigny, wine from the Touraine and Manon potatoes from the Loire Valley. Manon potatoes apparently make particularly good chips/frites/fries. They certainly made nice fried diced potato to go with grilled meat.

We've written about most of these before on the blog, so if you want to find out a bit more, click on the links or use the search facility on the blog (top left). To learn more about the wines of the Touraine, you could go to Jim's Loire blog.

From slightly further afield, there are oysters from Arcachon on the coast to the south-west of us and prunes from Agen, about 450km directly south of us. The prunes from this area are certified as having been produced in the Agen area and considered so much better than any other prunes that it is almost impossible to sell a prune in France now unless it can be labelled as coming from Agen.

The kirsch is from Alsace, far to the north east of us on the German border. I would have liked to get a locally made kirsch, but when I went to the Maison de Pays in the Brenne I was told that their suppliers had stopped making it. There are sour cherries, of the sort one makes kirsch from, in many gardens, both private and public in the area, and a tradition of making kirsch in small scale home distilleries here, but the law has recently changed with regard to these types of operations. Up until a couple of years ago, certain families had a traditional, inherited right to make small quantities of eaux-de-vie. Now, only a few very old men continue to produce these special fruit brandies, and once they die or retire, the only eaux-de-vie available will be either illegal or industrial. It's a shame, and I am sorry to have come just too late to have tasted the local product.



Vanessa said...

What a wonderful sight! Even though I have access to an incredible amount of food (sometimes I think too much)at my grocery stores (I live in North Dakota, United States), the quality and abundance of local choices you have makes me very jealous. I will continue to live vicariously through you!

Anonymous said...

For me one of the great joys of travelling in France is the abundance and variety of local produce wherever you go. In restuarants, even the supermarkets. I suspect that local pride and the Appellacion Controlle system that covers so much more than just wine have a lot to do with it. So different to the norm in the UK where everythng seems to be fairly tasteless, mass produced and shipped half way round the globe.

Susan said...

Welcome Tellicherry. We could have bought a lot more local produce too – this is just what happened to be from one shopping trip.

Nick: I think you are being overly harsh on the UK. There is a well established network of excellent farmers' markets and farm shops which sell local produce at very competitive prices. However, this is something that British foodies have fought hard for, after having almost entirely lost. The French have not lost it yet, but there is some evidence that it is slipping a bit. Still, many French people are quite suspicious of many products that come from outside their province, let alone from outside France.

Use your local produce and support your local farmers, or lose it and them!

Ken Broadhurst said...

I really like finding local wines, cheeses, meats, and produce at Intermarché or SuperU here in Saint-Aignan. I just came back from America, and I can assure you that the supermarkets over there are very different from the ones here in France.

Anonymous said...

Re: eau de vie.
When we were looking for a house to buy, we had the most amazing time seeing first hand how the French people live by being invited into their homes to look around. We viewed a house in Abilly where the owner had eau de vie gurgling happily in a plastic drum contraption in the cellar. He also had bottles of fruit, laid out on the terrace in the sunshine, cooking in sugar and fermenting gently. There were rows and rows of these same cooked bottled fruit in his cellar. He also had cages of rabbits at the top of his garden with one labelled "dinner".

Anonymous said...

Tonight we visited a new-to-us small supermarket and I shopped with your post in mind. The only local things I could find were baked goods from a small local bakery--gobs and pecan tartlets.

Even though PA has an important apple industry, it's rare to see PA apples for sale in PA supermarkets; most places stock Washington state apples.

More wineries are starting up in this area but PA's liquor laws keep alcoholic beverages from being sold in grocery stores.

My word verification is bless.

Anonymous said...

I have been wondering why the vegetables and fruits you buy in supermarkets in the U.S are tasteless.

A case in point, I recently bought a celery root to prepare "céleri rémoulade" which is one of my favorite hors d'oeuvre in France. The final product was a disappointment. It was almost tasteless. I say almost because the home made mayonnaise was delicious, but the celery was definitively very bland even though I added a few celery seeds in the mayonnaise.

So far, in France, vegetables and fruits do still taste as they should, but for how long?

Susan said...

Ken: Until very recently (the last 12 months), the supermarkets in the UK were the same. The only local food I could buy was Maldon sea salt, and that was just because of the coincidence of living near Maldon, and the salt being a nationally stocked brand. Now the biggest supermarket proudly displays local produce and has local buyers because it has realised that there is a market for these products. It's hard not to be cynical about them though, as when a new green grocers opened in the village, suddenly all the supermarket customers were getting vouchers for fruit and veg via their loyalty card.

Jean: ooooh, I am so envious. I've not met anyone who actually makes the eau-de-vie.

Carolyn: Same for us until recently. The county just across the river from us is famous for its fruit, especially apples, but until last year we hardly ever saw them in the supermarkets this side. The apples were generally French, New Zealand and American.

CHM: Fruit and veg are not done any favours in the supermarket. They are stored for too long, and it is reflected in the loss of flavour. It's why buying at a proper farmers market is always good value, because you can ask when the product was harvested. The vendor will understand why you are asking and know the answer.

Ken Broadhurst said...

In France, even supermarket produce has good flavor. I wonder whether comparisons based on the reality in the U.K. or even Australia are valid when we are talking about the U.S. — le pays le plus riche, le plus grand, le plus beau — oh well. When you come right down to it, most of the products you buy in France are local compared to what you get in the U.S. (or maybe Australia), given the size of the countries in question.

Ken Broadhurst said...

In other words, I don't think it is supermarket time that degrades the products, but travel time.

Susan said...

Ken: my memory of Australian produce is that it is very good. It does tend to travel a long way, but it is generally Australian. I suspect that there is no real concept of local food in Australia, as it is seen as completely impractical.

I would count the travel time as supermarket time because for most of the travel the products are under the control of the supermarket. By supermarket time I was meaning in particular the centralised controlled storage systems that they employ, and where fruit and veg can be stored for remarkably lengthy periods, almost always to the detriment of flavour and nutrient value. By the time you see it on the supermarket shelf, a lot of fruit and veg is not 'fresh'. The other two factors that affect the flavour of supermarket fruit in particular is that it is picked too early so it survives the travel and handling, and refrigerated storage. Fruit like peaches never recover their flavour once they've been refrigerated.

I find the quality of fruit and veg in French supermarkets fairly mixed. Some is really excellent eg locally grown carrots. Other fresh products can be really uninspiring. I buy as much as I can of my fruit and veg from the market. Some of this is local, direct from the growers and sometimes looks secondrate, but rarely disappoints. We also have a large general greengrocer stall, who sources his produce at a big wholesale market. He also has local produce, but from slightly further away (remember that superb la Belle Indienne melon we brought over for lunch last year?) and he stocks produce sourced outside France. He and his staff only have to concentrate on fruit and veg, and he knows his stuff and is training an 'apprentice' too.

Anonymous said...

When I was recently recovering from foot surgery and therefore obliged to trust not only the cooking (as is usual) but also the shopping (as is not usual) to my other half, he came back from Tesco's with a pack of microwaveable mini sponge puddings. This was forgiveable as my father comes to dinner once a week and is fond of his puddings and I was not up to it. Guess where they were made..........about as far away from here as is possible..........New Zealand. Unbelievable.

Ken Broadhurst said...

The thing is to buy fruit and veg in season. Peaches will not be good out of season, and neither will tomatoes or other fruits. In America, most of our produce comes from California, and that is 3,000 miles away from the big population centers on the East Coast. Fruit and veg are not only picked too young, but the varieties grown are ones that can stand up the long shipping times and extended "shelf life." In France, a much smaller country, the situation is not the same. And that's nice. But I still avoid supermarket tomatoes.

Susan said...

Ken: you are quite right of course. That's a major reason why the market fruit and veg is so much better. Even the big stalls who buy from the wholesalers only buy produce in season, because it's what is good value.

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