How to buy, eat and store the best French strawberries

Gariguette strawberries are by far the most popular in France, selling the most per year

As spring approaches and strawberries come into season, experts have given advice on buying the best fruit, as well as storing it and preparing it for optimum flavour.

Pascal Marionnet, a plant breeder and specialist in creating new varieties; Yann Menguy, pastry chef at the Pâtisserie La Goutte d’Or in Paris; and pastry chef Cédric Grolet - voted the Le Relais Desserts best chef pâtissier in 2016, and pastry chef at two Michelin-starred restaurant Le Meurice - offered tips on how to choose and prepare the best of the seasonal crop in an article on French news source Le Figaro.

Yann Menguy prepares strawberry pavlova (@yann_menguy / Instagram)

Around 12-15 varieties are regularly sold on the market in France, including the Gariguette, the Ciflorette, the Charlotte, and the Mara des Bois.

Depending on the variety, the strawberry season can last from early spring into late autumn, “from the month of March to the first frosts”, explains Mr Marionnet.

Prized French variety the Gariguette is usually the first to hit the shelves, and is favoured for its sweet flavour. It is by far the most-sold, most-popular strawberry in France, shifting 17.6 tonnes per year.

Varieties and cooking suggestions

Gariguette strawberries work especially well in patisserie and jam, explains Mr Menguy.

Mr Grolet added: “[They also work] when just cleaned with your fingers, when they are still warm from the sun, with a little bit of soil still on them.”

The Ciflorette is usually the second variety to come to market, around mid-March, through to mid-July. This variety is the most aromatic and “perfumed”, according to Mr Menguy.

It is often slightly longer in shape, with a red-orange colour, and “can be used however you like, including cooked or raw”, explained Mr Marionnet.

The Charlotte variety is usually the largest, and often the sweetest. Its season lasts from mid-April to November, and it is produced mainly in the South West and Loire Valley.

With a woody, sweet flavour, it is also most likely to have the deep red and “heart shape” that many see as the “typical strawberry”. It works especially well in cooked dishes, said Mr Menguy.

He said: “[Charlottes] work just as well in jam as they do in a fruit tart.”

The Mara du Bois variety is usually the latest to arrive. It is available from early June to November, and is mainly produced in Brittany and the Lot-et-Garonne. It has a strong red colour and firm flesh, making it best for use in cooked dishes.

 

Storage

According to the experts, strawberries should ideally be eaten as soon as possible after purchase.

Mr Marionnet said: “Eat them immediately after you buy them, as the fruit loses its flavour when it is in the refrigerator.”

Yet, if you have no choice but to keep them longer, Mr Menguy advised that you should keep them in a cool room, or a slightly-warm refrigerator, at about 8°C, if possible.

You should also avoid handling them as much as you can.

He said: “Strawberries should be stored, and ripen, in an environment that is not too hot, not too cold. And you must avoid touching them. Hands can be quite acidic, which damages the fruit.”

The pastry chef also advised shoppers not to freeze strawberries in general, and if necessary, only for strawberries that will be used in cooked dishes.

If you must freeze them, he said, it is best to do so with the charlotte variety, as their flesh will withstand the process better than the other kinds.

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