We’re lucky in our region of the Averyon to have a number of options for our food shopping. There are a huge range of supermarkets – Intermarché, E. Leclerc, HyperU – they all have loyalty cards and huge ranges of products. In town we have a fabulous baker – I visit at least daily, not just for her excellent cakes, breads, croissants but also for her patience as I try yet another little bit of French conversation. There are local dairies that sell direct, butchers, caves (selling wine not stalactites) and then there are the markets.
We love the markets, we love searching for the local stalls – the pork seller who only visits alternate weeks and sells-up within the hour, the lady with a couple of yellow chickens with long legs – heads still attached, the cheese stall with just a handful of slabs – you buy from these stalls and you know you’re getting something handmade, reared with love, food that will taste of the countryside. At Varen there is a market we try to catch every Saturday morning; there’s a huge fruit and veg stall where everyone congregates for a chat and a few smaller stalls just along the street – at the moment the local school children are selling giant squash of all varieties and homemade cakes – and there is our favourite butcher.
You have to wait ages for the butcher. You aren’t just queuing because he is popular (although he is); you’re queuing because he loves his meat and therefore you wait whilst he serves each customer, ensuring all receive his personal touch. Every piece of meat is prepared as though handling a newly hatched chicken, careful not to squeeze too hard, laid reverently upon the counter whilst trimming to perfection (no chance of a tough sinew in his steak) and then you continue to wait whilst he wraps – each parcel created as though wrapping a gift for a monarch. Paper measured with a degree of accuracy normally attributed to the finest mathematician, corners folded and tucked – he doesn’t use tape or string yet not a single item comes unwrapped in transit. Only at this point can his assistant help, arranging each portion in a bag, heaviest items first, all tucked in neatly side by side and stacked in such a way that nothing can be damaged.
Living in France means queuing to get the things you want, it means smiling whilst the wind brushes against your ankles and the sun gradually creeps over the rooftops, it means ignoring the flicker of annoyance as the elderly man from the local village joins the queue from the wrong side – you do all this because you know that piece of meat is going to taste divine and the time you spend waiting is nothing compared to the love and energy that has gone into its creation.