Crusty baguettes generously filled with cured meats and soft cheese, curd tarts ladled with seasonal fruit, flaky butter croissants dressed with toasted almond and colourful petit fours lined ever so neatly upon polished silver platters. How does one describe a typical French boulangerie? Decadent yet humble!
“Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture” - Mark Kurlansky
It’s the smell of baking bread, the creaking of polished timber floorboards beneath my feet and the undeniable temptation of home made pastries and cake at my fingertips.
In France it became a morning ritual, my version of brunch: a croque-monsieur, pastry and a bottle of sparkling mineral water to kick start my day. And if you’ve never tried a croque-monsieur – you absolutely must! Typically French, this grilled cheese (commonly gruyere) and ham sandwich is often served with a poached or fried egg on top and has been around since the early 1900s! This, like most French food, is delicious, simple and undeniably addictive!
Provence in the south of France has been a dream for as long as I can remember. To trade the glistening lights of Paris for the raw untouched beauty of the French countryside. I hired a bicycle to venture beyond the beaten track, meet the people who farm these lands, indulge my senses with typical provincial cuisine and even try my hand at a little Provencal cooking!
The roads were narrow, well maintained and basically deserted. Medieval ramparts stood high protecting picturesque villages, cobblestone streets and gardens were filled with brightly coloured pansies. At every turn was fresh air, clear blue skies, undulating lavender fields, abandoned stone homes amid large open paddocks and farmers basking in the sun.
The quality of life here appears second to none. There’s no sense of urgency, instead an unmatched lifestyle enhanced by beautiful landscapes and peaceful surrounds…not to mention, affordable local wines and delicious modern cuisine!
In fact the word ‘delicious’ fails to cut it. Provence food is exceptional, think slow roasted pork knuckle with roasted hazelnut and pistachio penne; fresh goats cheese, courgette and paprika pate; lavender crème brûlée and diced fruit with ginger syrup and crispy meringue!
But behind the food of this incredible region are the people. The individuals I came to meet – likeminded foodies who are passionate about seasonal, locally grown produce. And that’s exactly what I found on a small self-sustainable farm in the heart of The Luberon.
The sunlight flickered between the trees as I cycled the long winding driveway toward my afternoon cooking class. Up ahead waiting patiently at the gate was Philippe, a fourth generation farmer and local to the region. Grasping a bottle of Grenache Blanc, two glasses and a jar of his very own marinated olives, Philippe greeted me with a firm handshake, smile and an invitation to stroll the farm.
While we collected eggs and vegetables for our evening meal, Philippe spoke freely of how an interest in food sustainability led him back to the region in which he was raised and how he hopes to one day open a restaurant of his own, write a book on sustainable living and eventually expand into pre-packed meals for domestic distribution. His aspirations were inspiring, opinions profound and knowledge simply remarkable. This really felt like a holistic approach to cooking.
Philippe and I worked our way through an outstanding three course meal – braised red cabbage with green apple, steak tartare with home cut fries and chocolate cake with praline, crispy meringue and bitter sauce. And WOW! Not only was the class itself incredibly interesting and the food absolutely delicious, I was given the opportunity to enter the home and heart of a Frenchman who lives and breathes food – an experience that was invaluable.
A mecca for the foodie at heart and adventurer by nature, go cycling in Provence and you won’t be disappointed. Bon appétit!