The Biggest French Farm is in Paris for a few days! – Meanderings through France
Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Lately asked to draw a chicken by his teacher a 9 years old schoolboy drew a plastic-wrapped plucked chicken ready to be put in the oven. As amazing as it seems this story is true and if there was only one good reason to bring country life to the city teaching children such basic knowledge should be number one.
For ten days the annual Agricultural Fair, “Le Salon de l’Agriculture“, allows numerous kids to see, touch and hear living animals. Coming from all over France 4000 animals and their breeders recreate what is traditionally called since 1870 “the biggest French farm” in Paris. The best specimens of cows, calves, bulls, sheep, horses, donkeys, pigs, goats, dogs, cats, hens, cocks and chicks are there to be elected France N° 1 in their category. Groomed, pampered, brushed and titivated with shiny coats and ribbons in their manes they submit with more or less good grace to parading in front of the juries and spectators. Even if they are not aware of it, wining a prize will ensure them long and profitable descendants! Cows, goats and ewes are daily milked while the hen’s eggs are picked and ice creams, yogurts and other fresh dairy produce are made on the spot to be tasted by the visitors.
Of course all kinds of food are available at the fair. Great quantities of fruits, jams, cakes, sausages, patés, butters, cheeses or wines come from all the French provinces to be swallowed by the hungry passers-by. There are over 1,000 exhibitors in the fair and most of them compete in the “Concours General Agricole”, a contest where they can win the highly coveted gold, silver or bronze medals. Of course being able to mention this prize on their produce can guarantee them success. It’s true that most French consumers know this label and will pick a bottle of wine or a cheese wearing it when trying to make their choice in their local shop or supermarket. Even as a tourist you can learn to recognize this logo and know that you can fairly trust it to help you if you’re not a connoisseur. As you can understand big money is at stake there beyond the genuine pride of wining this award.
No less than 15,700 different wines will compete this year to win a medal as best Champagne, best Rosé de Provence, best Beaujolais and for every “appellation controlée” French wine. The jury is made up of wine makers, oenologists, wine-waiters as well as consumers and they will sort through the wide range of wines. There are many and varied other categories in competition such as foie gras, olive oil, walnut oil, fruit juice, jams, saffron and even French whiskys!
Followed by hordes of journalists brandishing cameras, mikes or cell-phones, prominent French politicians pace up and down the alleys of the fair. Chore or pleasure the French President, the Prime Minister and many other ministers, deputies or senators spend hours at the fair shaking hands and tasting numerous wines, cheeses or pâtés. Obviously not a job for delicate stomachs!
The fair is also a great opportunity to celebrate a few gastronomic events. For example, yesterday the department of Aveyron highlighted the 90th anniversary of the protected name of ‘Roquefort’, the iconic French cheese which was in 1925 the first produce to get an AOP (Appelletion d’Origine Controlée). This AOP strictly delimitates the production area and fixes the techniques of production that belong for the Roquefort at least to the 11th Century. Obviously the State Secretary for Trade and Crafts took part in the event. Furthermore the Mayor of Paris came too to the Aveyron’s stand to pay tribute to the hard working farmers of this department who provide cities’ population with some of the most healthy and tasty products.
The Agricultural Fair is now a longstanding tradition in Paris and both Parisians and country people would badly miss this annual meeting if it should disappear. Once a year it’s one of the few pportunities for these two separate, yet so interdependent, worlds to share an essential part of their culture: the making of French gastronomy.