Villebois-Lavalette Market

Staying with friends in the countryside for a few days last week, we were fortunate to discover that a neighbor was making his own bread, which was excellent. The young man bakes just a few loaves a couple of times a week.

Romain, in his wisdom (a trait he may have picked up from me: buy as much as you can, when you come across something good), put in dibs for five loaves, which went to good use for breakfast, lunch and dinner.


Bread-making in the countryside can seem like a lost art, as the younger generation likely isn’t as interested in keeping baker’s hours (nor the work involved) as the previous generation of bakers. Those that are, move to the city, where they can sell a lot more loaves than the several dozen this fellow makes and sells every couple of days. Unless you have city-slickers visiting, that is. Then you’ve got it made. Well, at least for the week.

Well, at least for that week.


One nice thing about visiting and exploring the various regions of France are the outdoor markets, open-air marchés where most, if not all, of the produce is regional and local, which includes honey, wine, (in the case of this region, Cognac and Pineau de Charentes), as well as moist, fresh goat cheeses, vegetables that look like they are bursting flavor, shiny-skinned peppers, and baskets of tomatoes so voluptuous and ripe, that I was tempted to lug them all back to Paris.

Located in the region now known as Nouvelle-Aquitaine, formerly (and still referred to, as) the Poitou-Charentes, the outdoor market in Villebois-Lavalette is not a sprawling affair, but lovely and compact, taking place in the center of town on Saturday until 1pm, underneath ancient wooden rafters. (The website for the town also says a smaller market takes place on Wednesday there as well, although I don’t know if it’s actually a market, or just a few vendors.)


We had to make a quick stop before hitting the market to pick up a poussin at a truck parked in a nearby lot, who’d sold out of all their live poultry before we got there. But my friend wanted some baby chicks, and she got the last one.

Like in much of France, most of the local bakeries were closed up for August vacation, but one fellow was selling loaves of bread, as well as les cookies, aka chocolate chip cookies. I was a good guest and baked up a batch of Salted Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies to bring to our hosts, so didn’t try any of his. And we had our bread supply worked out, courtesy of Romain’s American-style ambition to buy, so we didn’t pick up any more loaves.

We also decide to take a pass on going to the local Soirée anguilles, or Night of Eels, that was coming up. I could only imagine the cauchemars (nightmares) people must have after that event. I know, because I still can’t forget when I working in a restaurant kitchen where the chef filled a sink one night with live eels, which kept slithering out and writhing around the floor, trying to escape from the kitchen. He kept grabbing them and tossing the slippery beasts back into the tangle, with a loud “thunk” as they hit the side of the stainless-steel basin.

Market shopping in France also means taking time for a pause café, with the vendors (and shoppers) downing a café express to keep themselves well-fueled. I decided to hold out for wine, eying the platters of oysters and glasses of wine that other shoppers had already started on.

We wandered around, picking up a few things here and there, but I had my eye on the local goat cheese producer. As did a female friend we were with. I told her to go to the Soirée célibataires, a singles night they were having that evening in the village, and maybe she’d bring home more than a few rounds of goat cheese?

The eye-catching fromager had a small selection of cheeses he made from sheeps’ and goat milk, including these dewy, delicate rounds of Chabrol, which he was wrapping up the last of, for the few remaining customers of the day.

I had my eye on the last ash-covered pyramide, which looked similar to Valençay cheese. And got it.

Being summer, there wasn’t a lot of seafood, so we passed on that.

But being France, there’s always oysters.

We found seats amongst the crowd and ordered a bottle of Muscadet, while Romain headed over to the rugged écaillier to order some oysters, and check out what else he had to offer.

White wine has a funny status in France. Many people don’t (or won’t) drink it, for unspecified reasons. I’ve been told that it was “hard to digest,” that white wine will make you fat (which apparently isn’t a problem with red wine), or that it doesn’t go with cheese, which is curious, because if you’ve ever had wine from the Jura with Comté, Selles-sur-Cher with a Sauvignon or Chenin Blanc from the Touraine, or Sauternes with Roquefort, you know how brilliantly white wine pairs with cheese.

Ditto with oysters. For some reason, white is okay (and healthy?) to consume with bivalves, so I didn’t have to do any arm-twisting to get everyone on board with a bottle of Muscadet, a wine that’s been becoming more and more appreciated in the U.S. (I think it got a bad rap as people associated it with Muscat, a grape often made into sweet wine.) Even though the Muscadet the café had wasn’t a top-of-the-line bottle, it was much appreciated with the oysters.

Heading home, we unpacked our bounty, including the four-day-old chick that our friend slipped into the chicken coop once it got dark, which apparently is the best way to introduce a new member to the coop (when everyone is asleep), so it doesn’t get rejected as a newbie, which would happen in daylight hours.

We had a nice lunch after the market. I made a rustic French tomato tart, as well as one with bacon and mustard greens that I plucked from a lovely bag filled with feuilles de moutarde that a local grower/neighbor gave us, who had trouble selling the piquant leaves. I had no trouble using them. And no one had any trouble eating them, either.

 


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42 comments

  • August 13, 2017 11:54am

    Luckily in Dordogne nothing closes in summer due to the tourists but in Oct or Nov instead. Suits me perfectly. Your little market reminded me very much or our local one. Aren’t they wonderful?

  • phanmo
    August 13, 2017 12:23pm

    Living in Nantes we drink a lot of muscadet, to the point where my three-year-old daughter once tried to order one at a crêperie. Funny in retrospect, extremely embarrassing at the time. I don’t tend to drink it with oysters only because I generally eat them immediately after the market, over the kitchen sink(being the only one in the household that likes them).
    BTW, last night I introduced some French friends to fresh corn on the cob, picked from the stalk 30 seconds before going on the grill!

    • Nadege
      August 13, 2017 6:05pm

      Did you bring back the seeds from the US? One year, I brought seeds for my sister to plant but she and her husband never did because they were afraid of them being GMO.

      • phanmo
        August 14, 2017 8:43am

        Ebay! It’s great for buying seeds.

  • August 13, 2017 1:03pm

    I bit into a strawberry (also a charlotte, though I think ciflorette are the strawberriest variety) just as I opened my feed and saw your post. Perfect.
    I love your odes to the market. Definitely the high point of my week, too.
    But the prices made me gasp. Tomates ananas (my favorite kind!) for €4 per kg?!?! More like €2 or €2,50 here.

  • August 13, 2017 5:04pm

    We do not live that far from Villebois-lavalette, love the market. That whole area is amazing, the church and the chateau as well as the town. Cheers Diane

  • Karen Albro
    August 13, 2017 5:13pm

    I made your tomato tart yesterday! Which I do every summer.

  • anne
    August 13, 2017 5:19pm

    I am eating with my eyes.

  • nan
    August 13, 2017 5:21pm

    Reading this post sparked memories of the beautiful skies filled with glowing clouds in that region of France — as well as the fabulous goat cheeses (and a kind of crustless sweet goat cheese dessert that was like a cross between a souffle and a cheesecake that I got at a market when I spent a week on a goat farm near Poitiers before I grounded myself by starting my own herd of dairy goats in n. California).

  • Kathleen Mann
    August 13, 2017 5:22pm

    I would say that the market experience is the highlight for me always, but then we take it higher in our kitchens and with our friends. You live and capture a beautiful life; thank you for sharing.

  • Bernadette
    August 13, 2017 5:25pm

    Sounds like an idyllic stay, David. Fresh foods, quiet and looked to be beautiful outside.

    That man in photo #14 is the spitting image of Martin Scorsese with longer hair. Must be his French Doppelganger!

    • August 13, 2017 6:53pm

      Yes, Scorsese with Donald Sutherland!

      Another terrific post, David!

  • August 13, 2017 5:36pm

    How wonderful that I can sit down on misty Seattle morning with cup of coffee, and be transported immediately to a wonderful outing in a small village in France. Thank you David, such a sentient daydream thanks to your wonderful skills as a writer and photographer. Always appreciated.

  • Vickie
    August 13, 2017 5:44pm

    In our village in the Dordogne, not far from Villebois, a young, energetic couple took over the bakery a year ago–they work very hard, make fantastic breads and croissants, and have clients from all the surrounding villages. We consider ourselves very lucky. A three minute walk to gorgeous bread every day.

  • Victoria Fairbanks
    August 13, 2017 6:00pm

    Yes, like the writer above, here I am on Whidbey Island just north or Seattle – Sunday, late morning, first cup of coffee, and yet I am so completely in France with the perfect visceral descriptions of all the foods and places you write about. I am very happy where I live although today a longing to be in France experiencing all the deliciousnesses is a bit overwhelming, to say the least! Thank you for this virtual reality!

  • Paul Leibovitz
    August 13, 2017 6:41pm

    Anyone can recommend staying with a farm family or inexpensive B & B in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine area, to spend 4-5 days, out of season and really explore its culinary marvels in greater depth?? Thanks in advance, PL, callcentertiger@gmail.com

    • August 14, 2017 10:37am
      David Lebovitz

      Try the Gîtes de France website, for gîtes and rooms in France. (Clicking on “Theme stays” may help you specify the kind of place you’re looking for.)

  • Francoise
    August 13, 2017 7:52pm

    Great read and wonderful pictures, Merci David, j’ai apprecie ces images de mon pays natal !

  • Laurie Gafni
    August 13, 2017 8:21pm

    LOVE LOVE LOVE Marc Bredif Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie!!!

  • August 13, 2017 8:32pm

    Why no seafood in summer? And I thought oysters were only for months that end in “r”….. ?

    • August 14, 2017 9:06am
      David Lebovitz

      Many people are on vacation so seafood sellers tend to carry less (or close) because it’s so perishable. Oysters are usually best in winter months, but are available year-round in France. You can read more on this website (published by a major university) and this article in the New York Times, about eating oysters in months that don’t end with “r.”

  • Nicolette
    August 13, 2017 8:43pm

    Once again David you have transported me to a food market on the other side of the ‘salt pond’ with your beautiful photos and lively commentary. Thank you for the trip and just the mention of Pineau de Charentes brings wonderful memories of a shared glass with my dad which is what food is all about, non?

    • August 14, 2017 9:02am
      David Lebovitz

      I love Pineau de Charentes, although it doesn’t get the press other French apéritifs get. It’s lovely to drink, isn’t it?

  • Helen
    August 13, 2017 11:21pm

    I love all your posts and the way they bring so many people around the world into your amazing world. Amused by reading posts from people in Seattle, as I open my post (also, along with morning coffee) here in rainy Auckland, New Zealand. The post brings back memories of our 4-month sojourn in France last year, and a reminder to do it again as soon as we can! Thanks David.

  • August 13, 2017 11:41pm

    Looking forward to seeing a French market again for myself in October, but your photos will keep me going until then. A wonderfully evocative post, thank you.

  • Sandra Alexander
    August 13, 2017 11:59pm

    Not on point, but just back from a holiday in Paris, and am reminded to thank you David. We were in the 11th, and were guided by your advice to terrific restaurants: Septime, The Clown Bar, Yard, Le Square Gardette and tiny, delicious lunch/takeaway spot Chez Zaline. Merci!

  • Brigitte
    August 14, 2017 3:08am

    David,
    ever since you wrote of your visit to Iceland, I’ve wished that you might have included a few dessert recipes–or the name of a cookbook featuring icelandic recipes. I look forward to each and every posting and the gorgeous photographic accompaniments. TYVM!!

    • August 14, 2017 8:58am
      David Lebovitz

      It’s not possible to feature recipes from places when I’m traveling, unfortunately, because it takes a fair amount of testing and writing before I put up a recipe, which I can’t do when I’m out-and-about. (And in some cases, like in Icelandic cooking, the ingredients aren’t widely available elsewhere, so need to be tested with other ingredients.)

      Some cookbooks and recipes on the internet were mentioned by readers in the comments on my post on Reykjavik bakeries, so there are some leads there! : )

  • Tom L
    August 14, 2017 3:41am

    The only thing I enjoy nearly as much as your wonderful posts is the number of comments that add to my joy.

  • Louise Fazzalari
    August 14, 2017 9:22am

    Hi David, loved your market visit and can so relate to your oysters and wine. We have just returned from a week in the region of Ile de Noirmoutier and other Atlantic beach towns. We enjoyed the sea food (and eel) and the sweet treats Bretagne is famous for.
    On returning home, the mirabelle plums have arrived, so I have just made your fabulous mirabelle jam and summer fruit tart.I always look forward to their short visit with great anticipation.

    Thanks again for the many visual and culinary delights you provide.
    Louise

  • Marie
    August 14, 2017 12:15pm

    Beautiful pics, as always…
    Marie

  • August 14, 2017 2:15pm

    David, thanks again for an inspiring post. I’m curious about the origin of the market name…lavalette…since it’s also the name of our ocean town (which in season also has a good, if not so picturesque or adventurous, local market).
    As a great fan of tartes (no smirks, please), in summer or winter, I love the idea of one made with fresh young greens and caramelized shallots, and a salad of small, yellow tomatoes on the side.

  • August 14, 2017 6:24pm

    Hi David,

    We have been in contact and I avidly follow your posts, and today I am transported to my country.

    Merci beaucoup, j’en ai l’eau a la bouche (salivating). Magnifique.

    Diana

  • Michelle
    August 14, 2017 6:59pm

    You’ve just made me extremely nostalgic for the market we visited in Clisson last month!

  • Pat Milito- Strauss
    August 15, 2017 2:11am

    Wonderful! Thanks for transporting me to my dream world of open local markets, a gathering of locals to enjoy the day and food and drink that is simply ( pun intended) bliss. Ahhh. In my next life…

  • August 15, 2017 12:22pm

    I really enjoyed reading about your little trip to the market. I’m always surprised at the quality of fresh produce and food that you get all over France. It’s a dream.

  • Miss B
    August 15, 2017 5:16pm

    When will you come Los Angeles?

    • August 15, 2017 7:04pm
      David Lebovitz

      I will be there this fall on my book tour. Check my Schedule page; I’ll add the dates there when they are confirmed.

  • ron shapley
    August 15, 2017 8:57pm

    Oh Dave, what a beautiful story. I’ve got to get to France…

    Ron Shapley
    NYC

  • Cece
    August 18, 2017 12:42am

    Oh, that chevre looks divine! And the bread isn’t bad either. Bon appetit! Sorry, my keyboard is sans accents.

  • roman
    August 19, 2017 9:26pm

    Looking at the photos and comments.
    Someone’s cutting onions!
    Thank you for the pics.

  • Jane
    August 23, 2017 3:48am

    I enjoy your subtle humour.
    “I had my eye on the last ash covered pyramide and got it.”
    Glad you got it and your eye, or you may have landed up as a pirate.

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