Food instalment no. 2 – the French charcuterie

(written by Nancy)

Sorry to our blog readers for the long period between posts.  Our French classes are getting progressively harder and harder and this week we had to spend a lot of time in the afternoons and evenings studying just to try to keep up.  We have now headed into territory that we have not covered in any of our other classes so we are floundering a bit trying to take in new information.  Every day a new grammatical structure or type of verb conjugation is introduced along with lots of new words so we have to spend more time outside of class to try to figure things out and retain them.  Our heads are swimming with new things at the moment!  At the end of the week we finally punched each other and said ‘enough already, just relax!’.  We will try not to let so much time pass between posts.

So, on to the topic of today – our next instalment on French food stores.  Today the focus is on the charcuterie – what we would call a delicatessen in English.  These shops sell all kinds of cured or processed meats – salami, sausages, smoked hams and many other meats made of ingredients that some might consider a bit unsavoury.  Charcuteries are often also boucheries (butcheries) so you can buy fresh meat of all types as well as the usual cured or processed meats.  If the shop is also a boucherie you often find a rotisserie just outside the front door with 10-15 chickens roasting.  You can usually smell these from down the street and funnily enough suddenly decide you really might like chicken for dinner…

Charcuteries generally also sell pâtés, terrines and other types of prepared meats, including head cheese and blood sausage (those are a couple of the unsavoury items!).  While many of the meat products are pork-based you can also find other meats.  You can also usually purchase olives, sundried tomatoes, pickled artichokes and other similar types of prepared vegetables.  Almost everything you need for a takeaway picnic except a nice baguette (you just run around the corner to the boulangerie for that).

The classic charcuterie shop have large display cases that hold plates and bowls of various items and above which hang big pieces of cured ham.  They are often relatively small so when there is more than two or three people are in shop it’s a delicate dance to move around to look at things without knocking things off the generally overburdened shelves that run along the wall across from the display case.

Because of Nice’s proximity to Italy (less than an hour’s drive away) many of the charcuteries here have an Italian flavour, as do many of the restaurants.  As a consequence, we often see charcuteries that also sell freshly made pasta and cheeses of various types.  These shops are quite fun to go into, as they are usually staffed by Italians who love to talk and have people in their shop.  As many people know, while the French are generally lovely people they do not have what we would consider a real ‘service’ culture…

As you can imagine with all of the cured meat and cheese contained in what is usually a small space the first thing you notice when you enter these shops are the smells.  If you weren’t hungry before you enter the shop you will be shortly, as the salty smell of the cured ham (jamon) and the sharp cheese hits your nose.  I try not to look too closely at the head cheese or the odd dishes with jelly-like goops and mushy meat product (remember those old braunschweiger sandwiches when you were a kid?).  I also don’t look too closely at the whole pig heads that are often sitting with pride of place in the case.  Though we probably saw much more stomach-flipping sights at the markets in SE Asia, it seems very odd to see a pig head sitting so serenely in a food case amongst all the other food products.

There are what seem to be hundreds of types of jamon, which you buy in paper thin slices that they slice to order off the big chunks of ham.  Dave loves Serrano jamon – he seems to be finding any way to fit it into many of the dinners we have now.  Pasta with olive oil, tomatoes and a bit of jamon, pumpkin soup with a bit of jamon, eggs on toast with a bit of jamon on the side, and the old standby – a fresh baguette, sliced, some sun dried tomatoes, some olive oil, some sharp cheese (pecorino with pepper is very nice), and some slices of jamon.  All very tasty, no complaints from me!

We have tried a couple of new bottles of red wine in the last week or two.  We heard in class about a wine area called Chateauneuf du Pape – an Appellation of the Rhône region – that was supposed to produce quite nice wine.  We stopped at a wine shop near our apartment and the proprietor gave us some suggestions.  We picked up one from that region and then another bottle he suggested.  As you can see from the pictures, we forgot to take a picture of the Chateauneuf du Pape wine before we imbibed – notice the drips down the side of the label.  It was actually very nice – I think one of the best we’ve had so far.  It was a big wine and the alcohol content is relatively high at 14.5%.  The other wine we had was from the Provence region – quite tasty too.  Thanks to a reader’s suggestion, we also tried a bottle from Ventoux (the famous mountain top finish in many bike races).  Based on the one bottle, I would suggest that curious readers take up cycling if they wish to “try out” Ventoux as the vine was not to flash.

So, after all that meat and cheese and red wine perhaps it’s time for a nice big salad and a glass of water… nah, plenty of time for that later I think.  Anyway, we need to eat up all the food that Dave bought while taking these pictures…!

We only have a couple more weeks here in Nice, with a tentative departure date of 1 March.  We are hoping it will warm up significantly between now and then, as the temperatures here and across Europe have been unseasonably cold for the last few weeks.  They are referring to it as ‘Le Grande Froid’ (the Big Cold) here in France and the nightly news is full of pictures of snowbound villages and icy streets.  We have worked out a rough plan for the next couple of months – we’ll post more on that soon.

In meantime, hope you enjoy the pictures!  (Vegetarians may consider skipping the slide show today 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Food instalment no. 2 – the French charcuterie

  1. Hey Dave, glad that you are enjoying yourself. When you were riding through Asia I was excited every morning to hear about your adventures. Reading about you going to school and studying causes me a little stress. Given my language skills I know this would be a struggle. Anyway good for you for taking French, I might be able to convince Cindi to do a Spanish immersion program next year. I don’t have 2 months but maybe 3 weeks will be enough for me to feel comfortable. I’m glad that you have been able to put a little meat on your bones while you are in France (not making an observation from the photos, just speculating!) and I’m looking forward to the next phase of your adventure!

    • French has been harder than I thought it would be.  Immersion is good but our school has a “no English” policy that makes it hard for me.  Having had no French growing up, many of the words used to describe the new concepts are also new to me.  So I have to figure new out words and concepts on the fly.  I wake up at night with French words running through my head!

      I have to remind myself that this is supposed to be fun – that helps a lot – everything is easier when you can smile while doing it!

      As for the weight gain, I’m not sure but I will say that a rest has been good.  The legs are now ready to ride again.  


  2. Yum. I am enjoying reading about your local food research. Can’t wait to hear about your future plans. Enjoy your last few weeks and I’ll send thoughts of warm sunny weather your way (we have plenty of it here). Carson is loving her French class and looks forward to practicing on her trip to Paris in June…

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