Going to the butcher’s shop in France

Written by on June 9, 2018 in Guest Blogs

Frontage of a traditional butchers store in France

A French town without a baker – it’s unthinkable – everyone would move away!

A butcher is almost as important to French village life as a baker. The butcher sells the usual roasts and chops and chickens, as well as a variety of prepared foods.

My wife Val and I live part of the year in St.-Rémy-de-Provence, a charming town between Arles and Avignon. We love going to our favorite butcher shop, a place that has been serving the good people of St.-Rémy for decades. It’s run by a husband and wife who take great care in the quality of their products and service. When you order a piece of meat, the butcher will ask you how you plan to prepare it. Then he will slice off any extra fat, trim around the bone and cut it into the size you want. If you want hamburger, he will take a piece of beef, run it through his grinder and form it for you. Burger by burger.

A lesson in French with the butcher

The butcher takes the time to chat with every customer – waiting in line is like having a free French lesson. How is the family? Are your bunions bothering you? How will you prepare the stew? For how many people? Do you salt your food? This usually prompts a general discussion on salt. It’s like watching a French sitcom.

Sometimes the phone rings and the butcher answers it – it’s usually an order for a big meal. This leads to a long discussion between the person on the phone and the butcher and his wife.  How many people do they need to feed? What spices will they use? Should they pick it up at 11:00? No, maybe 12:00. No, 11:00 would be better. Okay, they’ll come at 12:00.

Once we went to the butcher to get a gigot d’agneau (leg of lamb.)  We were having some friends over and figured a gigot would be easy to make in advance and would feed a large group.

We explained what we wanted. For how many people, the butcher asked. Ah, the gigot in my cabinet is not large enough for your dinner for ten, he said.

So off he went to the back to get a larger one.  He appeared two minutes later carrying the entire back half of a lamb.  Oh, my. But at least the wool had been removed.

This doesn’t happen where we live in California.

He prepared the meat deftly and then came the cooking discussion. How were we preparing it? Our marinade met with his approval, but under no circumstances were we to use a temperature higher than 180 degrees Celsius. The butcher looked at us gravely to make sure we understood this important point.

And did we want the bones he had just removed? We should place them next to the lamb, cover them with some olive oil and butter, and add a full head of garlic, herbes de Provence, and salt. It would make a nice jus for the meat. This kind of advice is common in France.

If you are in a rush and go to a French butcher be prepared to be there for at least a half an hour. But if you do, the food will be delicious and the floorshow can’t be beat…

Keith Van Sickle splits his time between Silicon Valley and Provence.  He is the author of  One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence; Read more at Life in Provence.

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