This morning I took a quick tour through the scribbled notebooks of my recent trip to Paris. By the time I had finished, I not only felt incredibly hungry but I also realised just how many wonderful tastes and pleasures I have yet to bring you.
For those of you who are reading Delicious Days, you may have already discovered my day dipped in chocolate, featuring a Chocolate Walk with Context Travel. The acclaimed tour company has revolutionised day tours in cities across the world with their small group ‘walking seminars’ aimed at the intellectually curious traveller. Tours are led by a network of English-speaking specialists in their fields (called docents) who connect guests to their city as a local friend would.
With delicious memories, I decided to take a second stroll with Context last month and booked ahead for their Baguette to Bistro tour, which examines the culinary traditions and philosophies of French food. The walk is led by various food docents who choose some of their favourite addresses – meaning participants get to visit the city’s top food shops, connect with passionate store owners and taste artisan produce.
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I meet our docent Preston Mohr and the rest of the group in the upscale neighbourhood of St Germain des Prés, an area chock-full of art and antique shops as well as fine gourmet stores. Preston has lived in Paris for several years, has a great love and knowledge of French gastronomy and art de vivre, and is also a sommelier and local wine expert. He explains that the addresses we will visit today have been chosen because of the quality of their products. ‘Today’s walk is a snapshot of places still producing traditional, authentic goods. These places use only real ingredients cooked with love; there’s no preservatives or anything artificial,’ he says.
We walk past art galleries and Sciences Po, considered one of the world’s most respectable and prestigious universities of social and political science, to arrive at our first stop, Maison Guyard (42, rue de Verneuil).
Our small group is greeted by the friendly Colette who welcomes us into this wonderful little charcuterie & traiteur owned by brother and sister Stéphane & Valérie for 35 years. The appealing store is crammed floor to ceiling with mouth-watering treats and I don’t know where to look first. ‘The chef has been working here for 22 years and goes to the sprawling Rungis market twice a week to buy fresh food in season. We like to think of ourselves as ambassadors of French cuisine,’ says Colette.
We talk about the growing trend for frozen and industrially made food in France, and how it is rare now to find real, house-made terrines and pâté maison fabricated on site. Colette runs us through the large array of rustic delicacies and I taste some chunky grandmère terrine with peppercorns.
There are also pâtés en croute – pâtés encased in a layer of beautiful shiny pastry. Colette explains that nowadays we eat the pastry but originally it served as nothing more than a method of preserving, to keep the pâté fresh and airtight. ‘An ancient form of Tupperware,’ she laughs. She cuts a large slice of lobster terrine covered with wobbly jelly, and wraps it up for us to try later in the morning.
‘In this upscale neighbourhood, many couples are both working full time and these days it’s perfectly acceptable to buy dishes from traiteurs like Maison Guyard to serve to guests,’ says Colette. ‘We also cater for meetings, and locals drop in to buy lunch.’ As we taste a spoonful of the beautiful sauce that’s sold with the lightly-cooked spears of fat, white asparagus from Bordeaux, a giant, toppling tray of freshly made sandwiches is carried out and placed in the window to tempt passers-by.
There’s free-range foie gras, fish, a selection of hot and cold entrées (artichokes with smoked salmon, seafood vol au vents) and rotating classic meat dishes such as coq au vin, pot au feu, duck à l’orange and cassoulet. Colourful salads beckon along with side serves of vegetables including gratin dauphinois and braised endives. If you’re dreaming of booking an apartment in Paris for Christmas, there are suggestions for special menus with dishes like truffle ravioli, lobster, and turkey with chestnuts…and then of course are the crème brûleés and tarte Tatins.
From here, our next stop is an artisan bakery followed by my favourite address on the walk, Androuet (37, rue de Verneuil), an historic cheese shop with friendly staff. The store exchanges with Britain’s leading cheese maker, Paxton & Whitfield, so that customers can also choose from the best cheeses in Great Britain.
Outside there is a display of spring grasses and daffodils, and inside, the goat’s cheese season has just begun. Preston talks about ageing cheese, affineurs, shapes, and shows us a few varieties including Saint Nicolas de la Dalmerie, a remarkable goat’s cheese made at a monastery. The goats dine on wild thyme, resulting in a chèvre with a naturally-infused thyme flavour.
We choose some cheeses to sample with the bread Preston bought at the bakery and set up a little table of the footpath. I am totally besotted with the ever-so-creamy Brillat-Savarin cow’s milk cheese laced with truffles. The Ossau-Iraty-brebis (a sheep’s milk cheese from the Basque country) goes so well with the dark cherry paste, and then there’s a delicious Sainte-Maure chèvre made with a straw through its centre to hold the log together in production.
Tastings on this tour are fairly generous, and by time we finish the bread and cheese along with the lobster terrine, I wonder how I can fit any more in. However, there are still more addresses to go and we wend our way through the streets sampling sweet delights, including unctuous macarons and a selection of inventive, mini pastries.
But I can’t give all the secrets away. You will just have to book a Baguette to Bistro tour and finish the walk yourself – next time you are in Paris.
Tour courtesy of Context Travel