French food notes - September 2019

In our series providing a sideways look at French food, we examine the weird and wonderful world of confrèries

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In praise of robe-wearing superheroes of terroir

You could be anywhere in France, at anytime, and suddenly come face to face with a bunch of people dressed somewhat eccentrically in floppy hats and capes, often in colours that reflect anything from honey to walnuts, cassoulet to strawberries, nougat to Puy lentils, saucisses to escargots.

They will likely be carrying placards bearing insignia or declaring love for their chosen produce, and may be accompanied by a group of musicians or singing songs in praise of their beloved foodstuff or drink.

Have no fear, though, these people mean well and are not mad!

Welcome to the visually startling and good-natured world of confrèries (brotherhoods), associations that gather like-minded bon viveurs who volunteer their time to promote a certain food, drink, or ingredient.

Some of their work is done behind closed doors and involves ceremonies, initiations, recipe competitions and more, but when they take their promotional show to the streets, you know about it.

The concept of brotherhoods is thought to date back to the Middle Ages when winemakers were given special royal licenses to ensure that certain standards were upheld in the growing of grapes, the making of wine and, crucially, the serving of it at the royal table.

Back then, the threat of someone being poisoned à table was real, so by controlling the provenance of the drink, the threat was limited.

From here, food matching with specific wines developed and subsequently the source of all kinds of ingredients became similarly closely managed.

Today (most modern ones were created in the last 60 or 70 years) confrèries usually work in tandem with (or are themselves) local producers, and are always terroir-specific and open to all.

Look up the ones in your area to get involved:

Gadget inspector

Normandy firm shows its metal with new collection

Guy Degrenne, whose father ran a Normandy steel factory, had the bright idea of transforming bits of metal left over from the Second World War into stainless steel dishes by using techniques from top goldsmiths.

Today the family name is synonymous with high-end ‘art de la table’ items and produces everything from fine china plates and bowls to cutlery and ovenware.

Among the latest range is this tray (32.5x22.5cm) with ‘Les Amis de la jungle’ motif, €12.50.

Now available

Tickle your taste buds with slow-cooked spicy ribs

While mainstream French tastes could be broadly deemed reluctant to embrace spicy foods or exotic flavourings, one area where France seems to be following trends from the UK and USA is in barbecuing, specifically meats slow-cooked in spice rubs.

Brittany-based Clermont group is set to add a Curry Mangue (curry and mango) rack of ribs to its ready-cooked range that includes Mexican and Barbecue flavours.

Just pop in the oven or onto the barbecue. 600g, to serve 3-4, price to be confirmed.