13 May 2009
Why I Like France
1. It's cheaper than Switzerland.
2. The French like food.
Of course the Swiss like food, too. Very good food, in fact. It's just that the Swiss seem to think you should pay more for its nourishment and pleasures. Considerably more. Ridiculously more. For pretty much the same stuff that comes from, presumably, similar suppliers. So I drive fifteen minutes toward the Jura and do my shopping in France. Divonne-les-Bains to be exact, a popular spa town in the 19th century, though the natural springs that supply the baths were tapped by the Romans to supply water to nearby Nyon. What, the water from Lake Geneva wasn't good enough for the Romans? Snobby Romans.
These days it's a pretty if not pretty unassuming village of about 6000. There are two small grocery stores. Also unassuming. But an unassuming (and rather ugly) grocery store in France means something else entirely in most other places in the world.
The availability and abundance of regional cheeses (Tomme de Savoie, Reblochon, Comté, Raclette, Vacherin, Gruyère) and other cheeses from France (Époisses de Bourgogne, Saint-Félicien, Saint-Nectaire, Saint-Marcellin, Ossau-Iraty, Crottin de Chavignol, ad infinitum) is worth the trip alone.
And the Fun Ways to Enjoy Dairy Products sections don't end with the cheese. There is the yogurt aisle and the numerous ways to devour bacterial fermented milk including my current favorites: sheep's milk yogurt and vanilla flavored goat's milk yogurt.
Choose your own fresh eggs:
Pick your own pâté, aspic, confit, chaud-froid, and/or cured meat:
The produce section is small but very fresh. Tomatoes from France, Italy, and Spain!
Potatoes divided and bagged according to their best use: roasted, au gratin, fried, boiled, sautéed, or mashed:
Fresh fish from mostly the Mediterranean, North Atlantic, and regional lakes and rivers:
The ever-present and ever-frequented wine section, mostly French:
The nice thing about small store wine selections--besides small store prices--is the availability of wines from appellations rarely exported outside the country. Wines from places like Rully, Touraine, Rasteau, Coteaux du Tricastin, Crémant de Die, as well as regional wines from the Savoie (Apremont, Chignin, Crépy, etc) are often more traditional in character and winemaking techniques and are less affected by the current and reigning market trends for powerful, alcoholic, and over-oaked examples.
Of course you couldn't have a respectable wine selection in France, small or large, without a few of the overpriced and overrated: '99 Mouton and '87 d'Yquem at discount prices!
All this and a nice reading area for easily bored kids to take refuge from their easily obsessed parents who spend entirely too much time scouring the wine and cheese sections for hidden and unknown treasures:
Strange but true, I return to Switzerland for bread. Baguettes are great and everything but they don't last long and they're hard to fit in a bread box. A stop in Nyon--five minutes from the house--and a day's entertainment is complete.
Except for lunch: the World's Greatest Grilled Cheese Sandwich made from Comté cheese and Pain Moûtiers de Tarentaise. After that I usually have a couple hours to decide on dinner. Last night: pan-fired skate with a sauce of browned butter, shallots, capers, yellow peppers, and red wine vinegar; green salad; fresh ripened sheep's milk cheese (two kinds); and a Swiss Marsanne from the Valais. No, no dessert.