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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Dining in France – Do You Dream of the Perfect Meal in France. France’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Louis XIV dining table at the Louvre, Paris

When we travel to other countries, we allocate time to visit places that are part of a nation’s cultural and natural heritage. That may be the Pyramids in Egypt, the statue of Liberty and Grand Canyon in the USA,  the Historic Center of Florence in Italy, the Chateau de Versailles in France. 
The Sphynx and a pyramid
Photograph courtesy of Dan

Intangible cultural heritage.

Elsewhere we want to see, watch, take part in, or taste a country’s intangible cultural heritage. That may be the Samba in Brazil, Flamenco and Valencian Paella in Spain, Sushi and Kabuki Theater in Japan, riding on a Gondola and Neapolitan Pizza in Italy, Aubusson Tapestries and a gastronomic meal in France.
Pizza Margarita in Naples, Italy

France has registered its repas gastronomique
as part of its Intangible Cultural Heritage
To keep its intangible cultural history alive France has registered its Repas Gastronomique, its gastronomic meal. That meal is not linked to castles and chandeliers or famous chefs. It is part of meaningful moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions that are celebrated with a meal. This celebration brings people together through the art of good eating and drinking. For the French, a meal emphasizes togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature.  

Great importance is given to the careful selection of dishes; the purchase of good, preferably local products, whose flavors go well together; the pairing of food with wine; the setting of a beautiful table.  During the meal, all take part in enjoying the aromas and the tastes at the table.
The French gastronomic meal is not a tasting menu with seven, nine or more courses, nor does it require a chef, cook or servers from outside the group. However, it does have a fixed structure, commencing with an aperitif  (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs.  In between there are at least four courses, beginning with an entree, the French starter,  a main course of fish and/or meat with vegetables, a cheese course, and a dessert.  The meal draws the circles of family and friends closer together and strengthens social ties.
This is the idea of a meal shared with friends and family; it is the Repas Gastronomique, it is part the intangible cultural heritage of France.  It is part of French cultural identity.

The different parts of France.

Every part of France has different types of bread, agriculture, wines, animal products, recipes and methods of cooking. Different parts of France sit down to different recipes, ingredients and distinct wines, but the format will be the same. An hors d’œuvre may be added, a soup may replace an entrée, a sorbet may be served between courses and coffee or tea may be added, but the core idea remains.
The Aperitif, the pre-dinner drink.
Pastis 51

In the Grande Est, in North Eastern France, the aperitif may be a sparkling Cremant d’Alsace, close to Cognac it may be a Pineau des Charentes, while in Burgundy it will likely be a Kir made with a local white wine and Crème de Cassis, the alcoholic blackcurrant cordial.  In Provence, the aniseed-flavored Pastis will be the only choice.

The Entrée, the French starter

In Brittany, there may be oysters while in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes there may be a Crème de Lentilles du Puy, a crème of lentil soup. Around Bordeaux, in-season it may be Cèpes à la Bordelaise, made with the local, wild, cepes, the French porcini mushrooms. In the Basque country in Nouvelle Aquitaine, there may be Jambon de Bayonne, France’s favorite cured ham.

The wines will be local.

For fish in the north there may be a white Gewürztraminer, for meat and fish in Paris there may a Champagne, from a vineyard just 140 km (87 miles) to the North.  In Burgundy, the choice may a red Beaujolais Village, in Bordeaux a red Médoc, in Corsica  a red Patrimonio.
Barrels of Medoc

The plat, the main course.
Le plat principal.
In Normandy, the main course may be an Escalope de Veau à la Normande, veal cutlets prepared with onions, button mushrooms, and crème fraiche.  In the Alsace, it may be a Choucroûte Garnie. In the Savoy a Fondue SavoyardeFrom around Bordeaux may come a Carré d'Agneau de Pauillac, a rack of lamb from the label rouge, red label, lambs raised along the meadows close to the coast. In Provence it may be a Grande Aoili.

Plateau de Fromage,
Ready for the cheese plate
The cheese platter, of three or four cheeses, will be chosen from among France’s 400 registered cheeses, possibly with the addition of a local cheese only made on a single farm. From the North-West may be chosen Maroilles, Mimolette a French copy of Dutch Edam, and the Boulette d'Avesnes. From Savoy, it may be  Abondance, Beaufort, and Tomme de Savoie.  From the Centre Pays de la Loire may come the Crottin de Chavignol, Valençay, Sainte-Maure de Touraine     From the South-West may come Roquefort,  Ossau Iraty, and Laguiole. 
The desserts

The desserts from the Centre- Val de Lore may include a Tarte-Tatin, while from the Languedoc-Roussillon area in Occitanie may come a Fine Tarte Sablée aux Abricots et Amandes.  From around Dijon in Burgundy might come a Crème Brûlée au Pain d'Épices de Dijon,  a Crème Brulee with the gingerbread of Dijon.  From Provence, in season, a Cavaillon Melon.
The digestif, the digestive.

From the North will come Calvados, from France’s center will come Cognac and from the South touching Basque country will come Armagnac. That may seem a simple division but there are plenty of contenders such as the Lambig Cider brandy of Britanny,  the Marc de Bourgogne from Burgundy, or Grappa from Corsica.
France has more visitors than any country in the world, 83,000,000 in 2016, more than its own population. What do most of these visitors think of when they consider France’s cultural history. Somewhere in a corner of everyone's mind's eye, is a picture of French cuisine.  
See the Lists of other parts of our Intangible Cultural Heritages that are already registered/

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2018.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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