France – Food & Beverage
It’s not a surprise that every country has its distinctive cuisine and specialty drinks, but France goes beyond that. Most top chefs have trained at some point in France. The wine industry looks to France for its standards. And the French are very proud of their reputation for being food and wine aficionados. But what makes this country stand out to our taste buds?
Let’s start with the geography. France just happens to cover enough territory that it has a variation of mountains, rolling hills, valleys and plains, not to mention rivers and other water sources. The climate in different parts of the country is optimal for growing fresh produce, grapes and supporting livestock. And we can’t go without mentioning “terroir”, which is a French word with no literal translation because it takes into account all of these things and includes the rich soil that makes for excellent growing conditions.
But where do you go for the best meals and what ARE the specialties? Paris and Lyon are your top two cities for gastronomy in France. They have the most Michelin star rated restaurants in the country and are #1 and #5 respectively in the world. That doesn’t mean you can’t find amazing meals in any city or town and often, finding the “off the main street” small local restaurants give you the most authentic meals.
French food is rich, with a good amount of butter and/or cream used in most everything. Sauces are the diet of the day and are common on everything from meats and seafood to vegetables and potatoes. Cheese is also used in many dishes. Fresh produce and herbs bought in the local markets make the flavors come alive. This is another reason that the smaller town restaurants thrive, as they are more likely to use fresh ingredients.
Then there are the ever famous pastries and breads. A croissant straight from the “patisserie” is melt in your mouth delicious and if you have a sweet tooth, the “pain au chocolat” or chocolate croissant will not disappoint! Baguettes are seen everywhere and broken into pieces with a good cheese and some ham or sausage becomes a fine meal paired with a nice bottle of wine.
Different regions have different specialties. Crêpes, the thin pancake that can be used for main meals or desserts, come from the Brittany area in the northwest and Cassoulet, the casserole with duck, beans and pork come from the Languedoc area in the southwest. Seafood, including my favorite Coquille St Jacques, is found wherever there is coastline, from the north, down the west coast to the Mediterranean in the south.
What makes any meal more enjoyable, in my opinion, is a well paired wine. France has no shortage of good wine. With five distinct regions producing numerous grape varieties and styles of wine, most people can find a French wine to their liking.
Wine has been produced in France for thousands of years, so there is history and a wine making tradition that continues to flourish. But the real key to holding the distinguished reputation of great wines comes from quality control. The AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) sets up strict governmental controls regulating winemaking in France. From the geographic region of production and what grape varietals can be grown there to the alcohol content of the wine and even how much wine can be produced per acre, these laws are set up to control the quality of French wines. Not all wines are worthy of the AOC designation and this has become important among wine enthusiasts.
Brandy is another beverage worth noting in France. Distilled from wine, again the different regions offer different styles or flavors of brandy. Cognac comes the southwest and Calvados, an apple brandy, comes from Normandy. These are higher in alcohol content and are usually served as an after dinner drink.
No matter what your preference, France offers something for everyone. If you’re looking to experience high quality food and wine, this is the country for you!