Meeting the Producers and Cooks in Paris

Paris Producers Fête - Belgian endive

An anonymous SMS (text) popped up on the screen of my phone late Saturday afternoon, letting me know that there was a journée de rencontre les producteurs on the rue du Nil in Paris, where there would be wine and food, and a chance to meet the producteurs (producers). There was no name attached to it — someday, I will figure out how to sync my iPhone with my contact list so that it doesn’t lose contacts. But I presumed it wasn’t a trap (albeit a tasty one…) or anything. And since the street is known for great food shops that carefully source their ingredients, and good places to eat, I arranged to meet some friends, including Sara, visiting from Italy, to see what was up.

Paris Producers Fête

After figuring out who had sent me the message (whew, it wasn’t some loony-toon, but the chef at Frenchie), we started off with some wine and cheese at Frenchie Wine Bar, which is normally packed solid from the moment the door swings open in the evening. But this afternoon, we just walked in and sat down at one of the many empty tables. (Which didn’t last long.) There were three kinds of cheese: Roquefort, Brie de Meaux, and Saint-Nectaire, a favorite of French people, although it’s not the one that I normally dive into first.

Paris Producers Fête

A great hostess in Paris confided in me once that the secret of a great party is to only serve three things. Basta. And it was, indeed, nice to have an edited selection of fromages to taste, rather than having to pick though dozens of varieties. Which start looking pretty funky once a bunch of people have attacked them from all angles.

Paris Producers Fête

I had a nice slab of pungently creamy Roquefort, a coarse slice of country bread, and butter. (French people often smear butter on bread before eating blue cheese or Roquefort, which sounds kind of crazy, but actually works.) It was hard to leave that table, but after we finished our wine and cheese, we headed back out to the street to see what was up. At this point, our seats had become a valuable commodity. Although unlike at other food events, people were very calm and friendly.

(I tend to avoid food events because people get carried away and it becomes a feeding frenzy. And I don’t particularly enjoying standing in a mob of jostling people, fighting for a postage stamp-size taste of something. I’m fine buying a bite, then sitting down and eating something in a civilized fashion.)

Paris Producers Fête

Over at Terroirs d’Avenir, at the butcher shop, someone outside was cutting thin slices of Pierre Matayron’s outstanding le noir de Bigorre ham. Unless you have the ability to cut ham like as whisper-thin as this, it’s best to let the expert do it. And he was cutting slices so fast, and so expertly, I could barely snap a photo of him doing it.

Paris Producers Fête

I always wish I lived closer to this shop, because everything they sell is top-notch, including smoked jambon de Paris, boudin noir, and aged beef (called maturé or rassis), which removes much of the humidity, but tenderizes the beef and adds flavor.

Paris Producers Fête

Inside the butcher shop, I asked one of the jovial butchers what people do with the ventrèche of pork (pork belly), produced in the Basque country.

Paris Producers Fête

He said that people like to fry it up in a pan. When I pointed out the obvious – that it’s 98.3% fat, and would melt into a puddle – he agreed, and said that people scrambled their eggs in it, and that it was delicious. I’m sure it is!

Paris Producers Fête

Also from the same producer of the Bigorre ham they were slicing was aged/dried pork loin, filet sechée noir, with a slightly higher meat-to-fat ratio.

Paris Producers Fête

Even higher up on the meat ratio was bœuf cuit, a compact loaf made from long-braised beef, packed into a terrine, and unmolded when cool. I love these kinds of terrines (imagine diving into a wall of solid pot roast or brisket, and you get the drift), and this looked meaty and delicious. They weren’t open for business that day, but I did make a note to go back tomorrow, when I have what I hope is the last – and final – dentist appointment of the winter. (I’m an over-active flosser. So much so that a crown went flying out of my mouth and landed in the cuvette in my bathroom, and had to be extracted with a pair of kitchen tongs. It’s like those people who drop their phones in, hold their breath, and reach in and get them out. You do it, and I did it, because that little white crown was about the price of a new iPhone. Fortunately my cuvette was très propre, or “clean was a whistle”.)

Paris Producers Fête

As much as I like my dentist, I like horseradish with boiled beef even better, which is a tough root to find in Paris. But there are plenty of other roots and “forgotten” vegetables, as they’re sometimes called in France, at the produce store of Terroirs d’Avenir, just across the street.

Paris Producers Fête

The small shop had become pretty packed but while everyone was clustered around the tables where wine tastings were offered, I was mesmerized by the fruits and vegetables. Oddities like bergamots and citrons often show up here – even Meyer lemons.

Paris Producers Fête

But I was just as interested in all the gnarly root vegetables, curvy squash, and bitter winter lettuces.

Paris Producers Fête

Since I was with a friend from Italy, who’d been in Paris for the weekend, I figured she could probably use a good cup of coffee. So we went and had a couple of cups of dark espresso at L’Arbre à Café.

Paris Producers Fête

I asked if they had an example of the way they harvest the jacu bird coffee, to show my friends. And the barista produced a dried crotte (turd) on a plate, with coffee beans embedded in it. It wasn’t as appetizing as the pulled pork sandwiches from Frenchie to Go they were passing out. I was pretty stuffed from gorging myself on cheese (and butter), and ham, so I passed on the giant sandwiches. But my friends dug in.

Paris Producers Fête

However I didn’t pass up an oyster that someone from the coffee shop handed me, a lone bivalve that was resting in a puddle of Japanese whisky. I quickly slurped it down, all to myself, because you can’t share oysters. And my friends had their hands full with sandwiches anyways, so I wasn’t being rude. The whisky/oyster combo was an interesting duo, with some merit. But it maybe need a shot of something salty to tie the two together.

Paris Producers Fête

Even though I’d only had one glass of wine, since it was Sunday afternoon, a day of rest in Paris, I was feeling a little woozy and my friend had a plane to catch home. So we both parted ways, feeling satisfied with our tastes, courtesy of some kind French producteurs, and a no-longer anonymous source.

Paris Producers Fête


For information about food and wine events in Paris, check out Paris by Mouth (in English) and Paris Salon d’Agriculture (my story/visit here) – English, and eVous, SortiraParis, Marchés des Producteurs de Pays (my story/visit here), Salon de Saveurs, Yelp Paris, Fête de la Gastronomie, and Paris Bouge – in French. To shop locally from producers in Paris, check out the list of stands at the outdoor markets Paris Paysanne and other sources at Shopping Local in Paris.


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31 comments

  • Amy -Hunting Valley, Ohio
    January 26, 2015 2:26pm

    Wow. Thanks for bringing me with you to this great event through your post. What a neat afternoon. I’d pass on the coffee-bird thing as well but I loved hearing about it and everything else.

  • January 26, 2015 2:43pm

    A great introduction to Parisian producers, for those not lucky enough to have the chef of a popular restaurant available on speed dial. Thanks!

  • Jessica
    January 26, 2015 3:23pm

    Oh those cured meats!!
    I’d be prepared to do alot to get my hands on those :)

  • January 26, 2015 4:24pm

    Whiskey and oysters!

    Who’da thunk it?

    That’s one way to keep a lid on those amorous enzymes.

  • witloof
    January 26, 2015 5:03pm

    Hi David, if Water-PIk is available in Paris, I would highly recommend switching from floss. And really, only the price of an iPhone? The last time I got a crown in NYC it cost $2100, and that was with a discount!

    Lovely post, as always.

  • January 26, 2015 5:53pm

    Hmmm I don’t know about the oysters and whiskey I could sooner see oysters and gin or tequila….with lots of lime and salt of course.

  • Aaron
    January 26, 2015 6:23pm

    The ventrèche noir makes for a rather interesting french omelet. Very fatty, though (too much for me). But rendering it down at low heat, and then scrambling eggs into it… now that sounds divine.

  • sillygirl
    January 26, 2015 6:23pm

    I was watching the Academy Awards one year (of course on a weekend) and flossed out my front tooth. Finally had to have a tooth implant so maybe that will be the only tooth left in my mouth at the end! Do all of us who enjoy food also have dental “adventures”?

  • January 26, 2015 7:09pm

    Glad we got to hang out and what a great sampling of what’s going on in that little rue! I’ll have to make some time next visit to check them out when they’re open normally. I’m especially remembering that pulled pork sandwich and wishing I had had two halves :)

  • January 26, 2015 7:42pm

    An anonymous tip turned into culinary adventure. Love it. It would have a fun and curious mystery if that source stayed anonymous and you never found out.

  • Evvie
    January 26, 2015 8:18pm

    Oh my goodness, the photos, the accompanying descriptions – I’m fighting to resist the urge to lick my iPad screen!! As always, thanks for an entertaining post.

  • Mary F
    January 26, 2015 8:21pm

    Another delightful jaunt through the delicacies of France, all on a Sunday afternoon….wish I could enjoy it with you instead of waiting for an east coast blizzard to pummel us.

  • Monica
    January 26, 2015 10:27pm

    Fantastic event… I wish I could be there now. Have never visited Europe, but if I do, it’ll be the time you host a meet and greet :) It has been my dream to meet you for some time now. Someday!

  • Kathryn
    January 27, 2015 3:17am

    Wonderful! Thank you for taking us through your words and pictures.

  • Sandra Alexander
    January 27, 2015 7:06am

    Sadly reassuring to hear all those lost-crown stories. I lost one over the weekend – BBQ steak. Thought it must have been divine punishment for gluttony…. maybe not! In any case, it will be the price of a holiday in Bali, even after a substantial contribution from my health fund.

    Indonesia also has a coffee with, umm, interesting origins. Kopi Luwak, via a palm civet with the fabulous botanical name of “paradoxurus hermaphroditus”.

    Great post, great pictures, thank you David!

  • Christine
    January 27, 2015 8:00am

    David, mercy bien for your informative post and for allowing us to share vicariously in your Sunday adventure on la rue du Nil. Question 1: I thought that coffee beans grow on trees or bushes. How do the beans get into les crottes?! And is this the preferred way of harvesting them?? Question 2: Who are the parisiens who can afford such fancy prices?

  • January 27, 2015 9:53am

    When I first moved to England I was surprised, like you, when people buttered their bread or crackers and then put cheese on top. Now I’ve gotten to the point where I butter the CHEESE and eat it on its own. I tell myself I’m having a triple creme.

  • January 27, 2015 11:00am

    I had to get up and snack on some Coulommiers in the fridge after reading this…
    And it was 3 AM!

  • January 27, 2015 11:43am

    Love the butter beneath the cheese combo. My first Parisian host also enjoyed buttering an omelet or a steak. Looks like a great “ya can’t plan it” day in the capital. Never seen seen the boeuf cuit terrine or a filet of Noir de Bigorre; holy hell they look tasty. Thanks for posting.

  • January 27, 2015 4:08pm

    Sounds like a delicious day!!! We do miss these kinds of happenings in Paris although now that we are living full time in the Loire Valley we have no shortage of local products! ;-)

  • January 27, 2015 5:34pm

    Wish there were events like this near where I live!

  • January 27, 2015 5:52pm

    Ahhhh I envy your lifestyle!!! What a fabulous sounding event!!

  • Kit
    January 27, 2015 6:50pm

    I was about to ask what on earth was odd about buttering the bread, but earlier comments have made sense of it! I take it in the states it’s normal to eat cheese on dry bread? Have to admit that doesn’t sound too appetising…

  • ron shapley(NYC)
    January 28, 2015 5:08am

    Dave…………As for the bread; butter, Roquefort combo… I didn’t have any good bread so I tried it on a Ritz cracker……………Wow………..fabulous !!!

  • January 28, 2015 9:50pm

    A beautiful and delicious tour. Thank you.

  • Pam
    January 28, 2015 10:04pm

    Tequila and oysters are lovely together, especially with a little lime squeeze. The brine from the oyster completes it.

  • Sue Watson
    January 29, 2015 4:09am

    Just finished “The Sweet Life in Paris” and really enjoyed it. I hope to get to Paris one day. You are an inspiration for other dreamers. Best wishes
    Sue from Texas

  • Rachel Lavine
    February 2, 2015 4:37am

    David,

    I am responding to your recent newsletter via the blog because there is no comment function elsewhere. I am a longtime fan and like you I am a gay – or in my case lesbian – American Jew who likes to cook and bake, though we are worlds apart in terms of expertise!
    You wrote that you had decided not to address the basis of the recent massacres in Paris directly, but instead you did so obliquely: “Last month we saw several acts of terrorism in Paris. A lot of issues came up, revolving around free speech and how people of different races and religions feel marginalized in France.” At least one of those massacres was motivated by brutal anti-semitism; the Jews in the kosher marketplace were murdered not because they were supposedly anti-Islam, but because they were Jews and that was a sufficient reason to kill them. Those killings were not simply about people of a different religion feeling marginalized, but rather in the long, grand French tradition of Jews being murdered on French soil because they were, well, Jews.

    The kosher supermarket killings are part of a pattern of ongoing attacks against Jewish synagogues and places of historic and social interest over the past few decades. But because they were linked to high-profile terrorist murders against the mostly non-Jewish Charlie Hedbo staff they received a great deal more attention than normal. In fact, in the Charlie Hedbo attacks all female staffers except one were deliberately spared by the gunmen – the one exception was, you guessed it, a Jewish female staffer who was also slaughtered.

    I know that you also wrote that “the answers aren’t easy because there are a lot of issues involved, many are deeply rooted and not easy to face.” But I think part of the reason those issues are both deeply rooted and not easy to face is because they aren’t spoken about clearly and openly. The increasing anti-semitism in Europe, the hostility to Jews as Jews, is accompanied by a dangerous unwillingness to name it as such, especially among our generation, and among more progressive Jews, and – at least in the U.S. – among the gay Jewish community. I may well be singing to the choir, and I’m sure you have your reasons for remaining oblique, but unless we speak specifically about the whole basis of the attacks, which include though aren’t limited to anti-semitism, we perpetuate an unclear historical narrative that erases the true dangers of anti-semitism and paints critical Jewish voices as those of oversensitive, effete, privileged whiners. I know this is probably precisely the kind of discussion you were hoping to avoid getting ensnared in, but that’s actually my point: we are all already ensnared and it’s a conversation that’s going on already, with or without us. Thanks for reading this. Sincerely, Rachel Lavine

  • Jeanne
    February 3, 2015 1:36pm

    Great post as always, David, and marvelous pictures. What a terrific afternoon!As for the Roquefort and butter combination, my French husband referred to it as a “gendarme”. It always proved to be very popular with American guests.

    I hope this goes through as for some reason I’ve stopped receiving your blogs online to my iPad, nor do they go to spam. I keep renewing, but for this I went on to safari. I do enjoy your posts!

  • Anne
    February 9, 2015 8:53pm

    Thank you David. Your posts are my lunchtime work treat. I was in Paris two weeks ago and all the producers on the Rue du Nil were sadly closed though I had an amazing sandwich at Frenchie to Go (squash/ricotta/pickled peppers, not the pulled pork). I did get to experience the wonders of the Rue du Nil by chance as one night I had dinner with friends and they’d gotten something from one of the producers there that was some sort of a cross between an endive and a treviso radicchio. Endive size, pale green with a blush of radicchio. SO GOOD! Is it a rare hybrid or something else? It is haunting me.

    I went to the Bastille market and was blown away by the quality and selection in the dead of winter comapared to the Union Square greenmarket. I managed a few cans of pate and some fleur de sel to take home but was so envious. That market would make any winter more bearable! Please post more on these niche producers and shops. Not only does it highlight what makes Paris and France such a special place but hopefully your readers can visit them too one day.

  • Justin
    February 19, 2015 6:17pm

    Wow…who do I have to be friends with to get text messages about events like this? Hi, David! I just moved to Paris a little over a week ago, but I’ve been following your blog for about the past six months. Thanks for the great posts!…as well as making my efforts to stay in shape a constant struggle in this wonderful city.

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