Arriving in France on a Sunday evening is never ideal. It feels like the entire country has gone into hibernation. Once outside of Paris, it can be an adventure in finding a grocery store, pharmacy or even gas station open past lunch. Combine that with arriving in Lyon, home of this year’s quadrennial Women’s World Cup, (congrats Team USA), and hotel rooms are about as scarce. Let’s just say it’s been an adventure in patience and ingenuity these first two nights in France.
But we finally made it to La Borie. The cicadas did a lovely job of an insect fanfare as we pulled into the gravel drive. The sun was setting over Sainte-Victoire, and a chilled glass of Bourgogne Domaine Borgnat put me in the prefect mood for a light dinner.
There are so many things I love about France. Foremost, a thank you to the City of Lights for providing my wife with the most romantic of birthplaces. She holds passports from both France and the USA, and her aunt’s hospitality is why we get to enjoy this country so authentically. Paris was also our honeymoon destination, and the first place I ever ate foie gras.
But there are also little things that make it exciting each time I arrive here:
- There is a shop for every need in France. Of course there are the neighborhood boucheries found in every town and village, sometimes several on one block, and even more boulangeries with their assortment of baked carbohydrates. But there are also the fromagerie, librarie, and multipurpose tabac. In the words of the great Steve Martin, it’s like there’s a different store for everything!
- Roundabouts! My kids and I agree that they are so much better than streetlights. Sometimes we take another loop around just for giggles.
- Dressing up to shop: I love how people dress up to go to the grocery store. There are way more pairs of high heels, sports coats, cravats and button downs at the corner magasin. This is made even more apparent when a particularly uncouth American arrives at the bakery to get his morning croissant in sneakers, a Star Wars t-shirt and Llano Seco baseball cap. Needless to say, I stick out a bit.
- Driving in France always feels like a lap around le Circuit de la Sarthe, even if it’s in a Renault Diesel with three kids and a pile of luggage obscuring the rearview mirror. It helps that a manual transmission is compulsory with every rental car. But lane switching on the highway is almost as frequent as gear changing. I do love that French drivers use the passing lane exclusively for passing. I just wish they didn’t do it so often. Once a driver flies past you, they immediately dive back into the slow lane and decelerate to the posted speed limit. This forces you to then swing into the passing lane, and overtake them. No French driver likes to be passed, and so they pass you once more. This encourages a kind of autoroute leap frog that ends only when one of the drivers finds their exit.
But one of my favorite friends to see when I arrive in France, is the salty, wrinkly old dog known as the saucisson.
Saucisson technically translates as dry sausage. Although, Americans would probably call it a salami. This French staple is most often made with coarsely ground pork, but if you look closely, you can sometimes find the wild sanglier (boar) or taureau (beef) varieties. The French prefer to use the leaner and tougher cuts of pork—like leg or shank meat—and then make up the rest with fat back or belly. Ground together, the saucisson farce is completed with salt, sugar, regional spices, and sometimes garlic. The final product is then packed into a natural hog casing, although I have seen a small diameter beef bung used as well.
And, of course, the special ingredient is our bacterial friend, Lactobacillus. Unlike many American salamis, this meat stick is fermented, which gives the saucisson a snowy, tacky exterior, yeasty aroma, and supple chew.
It is then customarily hung from the ceiling at the local butcher shop, and dried to desired texture. Most are moist yet firm when sliced, and some are bone dry and brittle.
In the north, saucisson is unadulterated, allowing the quality of meat to stand on its own. However, once you get to the South of France, all bets are off. Whether at the ubiquitous market day stall or the more Walmart-like Carrefour hypermarche, there are almost as many saucisson flavors and additives as there are cheeses. I’ve seen saucisson with hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts, figs, olives, mushrooms, fennel seed, any number of local cheeses, raisins, dates, and of course, Herbes de Provence.
Nothing gives me greater joy than slicing off a few slivers of saucisson, adding a piece of fresh chevre goat cheese, and mashing it all between a couple of hunks of crusty baguette for a rustic picnic sandwich. Wash that down with a glass of Domaine Camaissette rosé, and you’ve just experienced the perfect Provençal afternoon.
Yet, despite several years with Electric City Butcher, decades of exploring the charcuterie of the world, and a few DIY attempts at cured meats myself, I have never successfully replicated the same yeasty bouquet or meaty chew of this perfectly seasoned salami that is France’s most delicious meat snack. Could it be the unique taste of French pork? Some secret unspoken technique of the salumiére? Or maybe theterroir that makes the wines here so grand? Who knows? But some day I’ll convince Chef Michael that we have to recreate the elusive saucisson at Electric City Butcher. Maybe upon my return in August. Restez à l’écoute!
And now it’s Tuesday, and there is a whole week ahead to explore a few butcheries in the area. Until then, you’ll have to enjoy the photos taken by my daughter at the local supermarket, which despite its size, still practices whole animal butchery every day of the week.
America’s meat industry has a lot of catching up to do.
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Photo Credits for this post belong to Sophie Sabicer.