`Season of Plenty - Olive Oil Times

Season of Plenty

Dec. 9, 2010
Joelle Laffitte

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By Joëlle Laffitte
Olive Oil Times Contributor | Reporting from Paris

Winter arrived early. Paris saw its first snow of the sea­son this week, and my tiny gar­den of herbs is blan­keted in white. Christmas lights are already sparkling on cer­tain streets, and shop win­dows are dressed in white glit­ter­ing stars and crim­son fab­rics. The yeasty- sweet aro­mas of baked breads and pas­tries are par­tic­u­larly entic­ing in the cold, and men in black top coats are seen exit­ing boulan­geries with neatly wrapped pack­ages tied up in lit­tle red bows. Petite ladies in fur trimmed hats scurry in and out of butch­ers’ and choco­late shops, and foie gras is on every restau­rant, café, and brasserie menu. It is the sea­son of indul­gence. This time of year, the French are ever ready to treat them­selves to a lit­tle more, whether it be truf­fles or choco­lates or fine wine.

For me, these indul­gences come by way of the yearly salon of gas­tronomie, a large exhi­bi­tion of France’s finest arti­sanal prod­ucts, where pur­vey­ors from all over the coun­try come to show­case their bril­liance. If ever there was a time and place to taste the crème de la crème, this is it. I felt giddy with antic­i­pa­tion as I dusted off my beret and trudged through the snow, large empty bas­ket in hand, ready for any­thing. And I did have a lit­tle of every­thing. I sam­pled the cheeses and breads first, promptly fill­ing up my bas­ket with sheeps’ milk cheeses and a hefty baguette made from wild yeasts. Then there were saumon sauvage and oys­ters, and small jars of caviar that caused my hus­band to become weak-kneed and spon­ta­neously gen­er­ous with wal­let. I left him to the trout roe while I waited my turn in a queue that wrapped around twice for plates of stuffed pigs’ feet served with a gen­er­ous help­ing of Aligot, a puree of pota­toes with as much cheese
tucked into them as humanly pos­si­ble.

There was, of course, an abun­dance of olives and olive oils fea­tur­ing every vari­ety of French olive, includ­ing my per­sonal favorite, the glo­ri­ous Lucque. A knowl­edge­able and enthu­si­as­tic vendeuse described the dif­fer­ent regions in the south of France where the olives are grown and har­vested, and then kindly showed me how to prop­erly taste each oil, hand­ing me a small cup and instruct­ing me to care­fully roll it around in my mouth for a while before swal­low­ing. I liked them all, and was espe­cially taken by the pep­pery olive oil pro­duced by the Picholine du Gard, though in the end, the Lucque will always have my heart. It’s a good thing I did give every oil a chance, how­ever, as I needed some­thing to pro­tect my stom­ach from the onslaught of wines I doused upon it next. I came home with three bot­tles, hav­ing tasted six times as many wines.

I received a casual but lengthy edu­ca­tion on Bordeaux from a polite woman who became com­pletely hor­ri­fied when I men­tioned that I like to store my wines in the chim­ney, before I had the chance to explain that I leave the flu open to keep them cool and haven’t built a fire in there for years. So she must have imag­ined men­ac­ing flames com­ing within inches of the pre­cious bot­tles. When I explained in my less than per­fect French, the expres­sion of relief that washed over her was price­less. We shared a good laugh along with another taste” before I made my way to the char­cu­terie, where there were mouth­wa­ter­ing saucisses and pot­ted ril­lettes, a sta­ple all over France. If you aren’t famil­iar with ril­lettes, it is sim­ply meat (veni­son, pork, goose, and duck are a few exam­ples) that has been shred­ded and pre­served in fat, and sea­soned. I picked up a jar each of veni­son and wild boar, sav­ing the lat­ter for spread­ing on small toasts and serv­ing to friends at aper­i­tif time. As for the veni­son, I must con­fess to pol­ish­ing off the pot myself, smear­ing it thickly onto a baguette at lunchtime, accom­pa­nied by lit­tle cor­ni­chons.

I men­tioned that it is the sea­son to indulge, and as such, I couldn’t leave the fes­tiv­i­ties with­out dessert. I have always believe in sweet end­ings, and since I had already splurged this much any­way, why not spring for a few- or a few dozen — mac­arons? I chose a baker who likes to stick to tra­di­tion, and as she read­ily explained, tra­di­tional mac­arons do not come in flashy col­ors, nor do they have a fill­ing. They are soft and dense and infused with nat­ural fla­vors of pis­ta­chio, apri­cot, cas­sis, choco­late, or vio­let. Each one is spe­cial, so, as with the olive oils, obvi­ously I needed a taste of each. The lovely young baker was happy to indulge
me. I guess she could tell I’d be back for more.

You may think I wouldn’t be hun­gry for din­ner after a full day of tast­ing, but it is my motto to never allow a momen­tary lack of hunger to come between me and a per­fect meal. Besides, heav­i­est in my bas­ket, other than the bot­tles of wines and oils, was a large slab of smoked échine of pork, a cut so ten­der and suc­cu­lent it seems wrong to even tell you about it, as I have never seen it in else­where. The Madame and Monsieur sell­ing it beamed with pride when I returned again the fol­low­ing day, eager for more of the cured pork I had (per­haps greed­ily) already fin­ished. To my dis­ap­point­ment they had sold out of it, but since I had light­ened my wal­let so much by tak­ing a detour by a Burgundy tast­ing, I thought it was just as well.

I felt like a kid at Christmas, overex­cited and hav­ing spent all my allowance on the first thing I saw, not remem­ber­ing to save some for later. Fortunately, as in child­hood, my elders took pity, and these farm­ers weren’t about to let me go home ham-less. They accepted a very small dona­tion in exchange for what turned out to be the best smoked sausages I have ever eaten. After all, besides being the sea­son of indul­gence, it is the sea­son of giv­ing, too. Grateful for this, I walked home in the snow, my bas­ket full of good­will, and my wine glass over­floweth.

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