Saturday, 19 May 2007

Salon Saveurs

When it comes to food, at least, I'm reasonably good at self-control. Long past are the days when I'd decimate what were for a small person reasonably obscene quantities of chocolate doughnuts or Breyers mint chip ice cream--just because they were there. My sweet tooth has abated, for a start. And my seeming fate of living in homes with non-working ovens ensures that I'm rarely overloaded with excess baked goods. Yet even before I moved to Paris, the smug, sensible (and typically French) suggestion to balance pleasure with moderation generally worked for me.

Last Friday night, however, was a glorious exception.

Although I had been tipped off about the Salon's scale, I was unprepared for what I found: not one--but two--enormous exposition halls filled with cheese, wine, charcuterie, chocolate and every conceivable type of condiment. The vast majority of stalls, while offering packaged food for sale, had lavish free samples as well. Tired and hungry, I gorged indiscriminately for a while, mixing sweet with savoury, taking what was offered. I tasted caviar (unexceptional, I think, but still my first), lots of porky bits, and at least half a dozen goats cheeses.

Slowing down a bit, I began to find the prizes: a salty, wild-tasting boar salami from Corsica, intensely earthy marinated, grilled morels, a piece of cannele, the pleasantly bittersweet crust contrasting perfectly with the custardy interior. My confidence buoyed--no doubt in part to the wine I had imbibed earlier in the evening--I managed 10 minutes of (basic) conversation about the merits of several roses from Tavel, a highly-regarded appellation in Provence. And then there was the armagnac, first a bright, fiery, persistent 1976 Bas Armagnac, poured with a free hand and a big smile. (If the fair was any indication, in France it does still sometimes help to be young, female and not look like a toad.) My note-taking prompted a joking question about whether I worked for the CIA or the FBI, and an equally generous measure of the precious 1966. Mellower and sweeter than its Generation X counterpart, it was certainly the oldest thing I had ever drunk, and equally unquestionably amongst the best.

The fair was notable for its oddities as well. Utterly transfixed, I went back time and time again to a table of fromage ancien, where the specimens were so gnarled and desiccated as to be almost fossilized. I'm not sure which was more fascinating--encountering what must have been four year old goats cheese or watching the people who were buying it.

I was as restrained in my buying as I was unrestrained in my eating. The final takings? A bottle of one of the Tavel roses I tasted, another of brick-red fish soup from the Norman coast, Breton salted caramels, and 2 tiny saucissons, each smaller than my finger. Not enough to last me through to the next fair in November, but sufficient for some good eating all the same.

And did I mention that--with a smile (mine) and a wink (his)--I got in for free?

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