Memories of France: A guide to the best treats to return home with.
When people think of travelling to France and bringing back keepsakes, some might think of shoes, bags, scarves and perfume. While I have bought some of those items over the years, it’s not what I normally want to bring home with me. When I am back in the depths of winter, those shoes won’t make me feel any better. But a delicious, hearty cassoulet will.
For someone who actually doesn’t like shopping at all, I do love shopping for food; whether at a grocery store or open-air market, it doesn’t matter. One of my favourite things to do in a new country is hit the grocery store. It’s a gold mine full of adventure.
Here are some items you might want to consider checking out the next time you are in France and looking for gifts to come home with. No one needs another t-shirt, but something delicious is always welcome. Make sure you check the rules and regulations for your particular country’s allowable Items.
This can be a bit tricky. There are so many amazing cheeses that vary from region to region. From hearty Tommes and Beauforts in the Savoie to runny Camemberts from the north to tangy chèvres in the Loire and Provence, you can’t go wrong. It’s a feast of smells and tastes. Sometimes you can find shops or even vendors at markets that will vacuum seal it for you. This helps keep it fresh and the odour from offending your airplane mates on the way home.
Olive oil is a southern thing. Butter is in the north, and there is nothing better than French butter. If you can figure out a way to transport some home, go for it! But the easier and equally delicious option is olive oil. There are some very famous regions in Provence for olives and oil: Nyons, Vallée-des-Baux, Nice, Aix-en-Provence etcetera. It doesn’t matter where you find yourself in Provence, you will find olive oil of varying tastes to suit your palate. The packing is often beautiful, and you can find many brands packaged in a tin, which is lighter than glass.
This is a long conversation and one I cannot even attempt to cover in this small article. French wine has a long history and the quality and selection are endless. Whatever region you find yourself, try the local wine. Often you’ll find something you’ve never heard of, and it will open up a whole new world of wine to you. Taking a few bottles of something you absolutely cannot find back home is sure to put a smile on your face a few months or years later.
Honey is one of my favourite things to buy wherever I go. It’s nuanced and unique based on the flower it comes from. Of course, in Provence, we love our lavender honey. It is still my favourite. But there is also rosemary, fleur d’oranger, chestnut, garrigue (the brush or scrubland) and more. At most markets, you can try them, and you’ll definitely find some interesting flavours you might not have had before.
Then there is nougat, and the main ingredient is honey of course! For those with a sweet tooth, this is a chewy confection made from honey, whipped egg whites, roasted nuts and sometimes candied fruit. It’s light and easily portable. In markets, there are huge slabs of it, but be careful, it can be very expensive. Montélimar is famous for its nougat, as is Sault which is made using lavender honey.
This is an ancient grain grown primarily in the Drôme, Haute Provence and Vaucluse departments of Provence. It is officially Einkorn, not spelt which it is often confused with. I know it’s odd to imagine bringing a grain home but hear me out. You can make risotto-type dishes with the whole grain, and the flour is beautiful in pizza dough, bread and other baking. It’s high in protein and low in gluten, and it has a beautifully nutty characteristic. It’s hearty and rustic and I bring some home each time and enjoy it all year long until I run out.
Cassoulet or Daube
This is something I’ve seen on the shelves of grocery stores for years. I never tried it until some friends said it was delicious. Pre-made, canned duck confit, cassoulet, daube, bouillabaisse; you name it, they have it. Some brands are better than others, and it’s sealed so it’s easily transportable. On a chilly evening when you’ve nothing in the fridge, you’ll be glad to open one of these nourishing meals. Bust open that bottle of wine you brought back from France, light some candles and you might even feel like you are back at that charming bistrot you went to. Tangible memories are the very best, bon appétit!