The Food of France - World Cup Champions
The summer of 2018 was unforgettable for all nations participating in the World Cup. An exciting month-long tournament, it culminated in an unforgettable final between Croatia and France. France emerged victorious in the clash, and while this is the first time they’ve been World Cup winners in 20 years, they’ve always been winners in the culinary world. So let’s take a tour of some of France’s most iconic foods to celebrate this beautiful country and their historic victory.
The French are very proud of their cheese, and with good reason. There are so many scrumptious varieties across the nation – ranging from creamy and mild to firm and delightfully stinky. When you eat a meal in a regional French restaurant, the cheese course will come to you on a packed board from which you can take as much as you want. The honor system will most likely stop you from being too gluttonous, but it’s not easy to show restraint when so much goodness is in front of you for the taking. You’ll have a variety of classics plus some regional favorites – all ultra fresh. It’s an experience no one should miss in this lifetime.
For a soft cheese, Camembert comes to mind. It’s a classic for a reason. It’s smelly but mild and though it’s sometimes mistaken for Brie because of its rind, it has a distinct flavor and oozier middle. The best Camembert comes from Normandy and traditionally requires the use of at least 38% raw unpasteurized cow’s milk that is hand-ladled and separated multiple times. This is a tedious process when you are producing on a large scale, and controversial because of the use of raw milk and the danger of bacteria. In the US, raw milk products are banned from import, so for a real Normandy Camembert, you’ll have to eat it at its origin. There are worse things for sure!
For a delightful goat cheese, try the cabecou de Rocamadour. It tastes like a standard goat cheese, but milder and lighter. This cheese is named after the town where it’s produced, a gorgeous medieval village built into a rocky hillside in the Midi-Pyrenees. As a matter of fact, the production of this cheese dates back to the Middle Ages as well, and they ‘ve got it down pat. As you walk through the steep village and climb the hundreds of stairs to visit the famous Black Madonna, you’ll work up an appetite and be ready to sample this regional delight.
We can’t leave out a representative from the super smelly, super strong, and firm cheese family. Who would ever guess that mold spores make for such delicious cheese? They do and the result is Roquefort cheese - the pride of France. It’s tangy and stinky and visually complex with its blue green speckles of mold. Its production using sheep’s milk dates back at least 2000 years in the village of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon in southern France. Adding it to a salad, melting it on a soup or pairing it with fruit adds a stunning flavor dimension. There is nothing like it.
Every morning in France begins with a croissant. As ubiquitous as a baguette, you’d be hard pressed NOT to find it in every establishment that sells food across the country. It’s not more popular in one region or the other. It’s equally beloved everywhere. And to up the flavor ante, you’ll always be given a choice of the classic butter croissant, and the pain au chocolat (literally chocolate bread,) a croissant of a different shape filled with a solid but creamy French chocolate.
Croissants in France are better than anywhere in the world because they are in such high demand. They are produced constantly and devoured just as quickly. Chances are, any croissant you eat in France will be fresh. There just isn’t time for it to get even slightly stale. It will always be soft and buttery, because it was just made. The French croissant is brilliant in its simplicity. It has few ingredients (mostly butter) combined perfectly. You could say that about French cooking in general. Simple, fresh ingredients combined perfectly. That is why everything you eat in France is so good.
Foie gras is another delightful French delicacy that is, literally, the fatty liver of a duck. In France, its production is an art and while the ducks are force fed to fatten up their livers, the methods are not cruel and the ducks are not mistreated. French food production is nothing like factory farming in the US, and maintains traditions that are thousands of years old. French farmers have great respect for the animals they raise, and pride themselves in not causing the animals any pain or discomfort during their lifetime. The result of their efforts is a creamy spread that can be enjoyed on bread, on a salad, or on its own. You can sear it, put it in pasta, make a foie gras dumpling, or even add it to sweet dishes. It’s amazingly versatile.
Foie gras production in France is limited to five areas of the country – Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrenees, Pays de la Loire, Poitou, and Brittany. These areas offer the best environment for the raising of the ducks and produce the finest examples of this rich French farming tradition.
It’s been a great summer for France, one that French fans far and wide won’t soon forget. And if you’ve ever been to France and had the pleasure of sampling some of their world-class food, those culinary experiences are something you won’t soon forget either. France is a nation that has a lot to be proud of. It boasts three unique coastlines, mountain ranges, river valleys, myriad heritage sights, the most romantic capital in the world, fine wine and food, and a fascinating complex culture. And now, on top of everything else, France is the World Cup champion for the next four years. Vive la France!