I went to the Salon d’Agriculture in Paris last week, what I think may be the world’s largest “state fair”. Thousands of farmers, sausage makers, ham-curers, honey collectors, bread bakers and more assemble at the Porte de Versailles to vaunt their wares and their regional pride to more than 700,000 people. Perfect specimens of cattle, sheep, goats and more vie for ribbons; government officials walk the aisles as they campaign for office, and government workers hand out leaflets encouraging young people to consider agricultural trades. It’s a spectacle that is as heart-warming as it is jam-packed.
I go whenever I can because the Salon d’Agriculture is the pride of France under one roof (well, several roofs). It puts me back in touch with the pulse of France, a country where half the land is devoted to agriculture. That is why the food here tastes so good!
So last week I was in Paris experiencing rural France, and this week I’m sitting in rural France, in the Lot et Garonne, experiencing the Salon d’Agriculture in real life.
Within fifteen minutes of stepping out of the train station at Agen I was in Kate Hill’s homey kitchen at Camont, sampling air-cured ham which she started making a year ago – it takes that long to get a perfect product which, when sliced paper thin, tastes like a little bit of heaven.
Three hours later I was at the evening market in the gorgeous little village of Puymirol, a walled bit of French perfection on a hill where the cheese monger cut samples large enough for supper. A local farmer sold her vegetables, a bee keeper offered honeys in various shades of amber, and the butcher truck featured meat from local farms. As exciting, this was all happening in a village of less than 1,000 people. It’s a lively, living spot that is home to Aubergade, a three-star restaurant, a bistro, a small café and grocery store, several doctors, and a primary school, which makes it more than worthwhile for the market vendors and producers to drive up the hill once a week.
From the Salon d’Agriculture where France wears its agricultural heart on its sleeve, to the tiny market at Puymirol with its handful of proud producers and eager villagers willing to stand in line, this country never ceases to surprise, to tug at the heart strings. Life in France – real life, connected to the land – is boiling up all over the place.
Vive la France, and excuse me while I go sample some local cheeses and air-cured ham.