French food focus - July 2018

A focus on food in France

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Meet the producers

Le Jardin de l’Avenir, in Sainte-Gemmes-sur-Loire (Maine-et-Loire) was started in 1974 by the Petiteau family who, very unusually for the time, firmly believed in organic farming.

Eschewing modern chemicals, they built up a market garden where people could pick their own fruit and vegetables all year round. The farm is still family-sized and family-orientated although since Jérôme Petiteau retired in 2006 it has been run by associate managers Loïc de Barmon, who deals with the farm, and Julien Tardy who manages the shop.

“In 1974, when the Petiteau family started, only those considered nutters farmed organically,” says Loïc de Barmon. “But now, it’s a growing market. Every year, more and more people want organic produce, and people love the pick-your-own experience because it’s a more personal way of consuming.

“It’s a rare experience these days, to go into a field, choose a marrow, pick it, take it home, cook it and eat it. But it’s wonderful because when you pick it yourself, you know it’s fresh, it’s was picked ripe. People like to know where their food comes from and who grew it.”

He says that around 30% of their customers are families who want to show their children how fruit and vegetables are grown. It is not only educational but it encourages children to eat fruit and vegetables.

“It’s so much better than trying to make kids eat frozen spinach!” he says. Most of their other customers are young retired people with the time and money to cook properly, who remember the taste of fresh produce from the past, and want this quality again.

People don’t damage the crops, he says. “They are very respectful, perhaps because it’s an organic farm. Of course they eat a bit, that’s part of the pleasure and part of the experience, but sometimes children can’t resist gobbling strawberries, so we do a little bit of policing!”

For customers without the time or energy to pick their own, all the produce is also available in the farm shop, along with a wide selection of other organic groceries. “You could do your entire week’s shop in there!” The shop and the pick-your-own garden are open all year round.

To find a pick-your-own near you, try searching online for “ferme cueillette” plus the number of your département.

Artisan cheese of the month: Rocamadour

A small goat’s cheese with an average weight of 35grams, Rocamadour was formerly called Cabécou de Rocamadour, and has had an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée since 1996.

Today, it is produced in the Causses du Quercy from unpasteurised whole goat’s milk, and can either be enjoyed while it is young – just 12-15 days sometimes, and eaten on hot toast with a drizzle of honey or saffron syrup – or left to mature and firm up. In which case, it is best eaten during the cheese course with red wine.

There are about 30 producers in the Lot region around the village of Rocamadour where you can buy ‘at the gate’. Among the subtle flavours to look out for when tasting: juniper and hawthorn that local goats munch on.

Local speciality: Bêtise de Cambrai

A bêtise is a silly mistake, and accidentally is exactly how this boiled sweet from Nord town of Cambrai was supposedly created by the son of a confectioner. Originally just made with a mint flavour, the range has expanded to include caramel and fruit flavours.