` The Biggest Farm in France? Take the Subway

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The Biggest Farm in France? Take the Subway

Mar. 8, 2011
By Laura Rose

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The des­tiny of nations depends on the way they eat.”

So said the famous eigh­teenth cen­tury French politi­cian and gas­tronome, Jean Anthelme Bril­lat-Savarin, and they are words that seem to guide the French can­on­iza­tion of their food.

French cui­sine is main­tained and taught to the younger gen­er­a­tion with at least as much dili­gence as the arts and lan­guage of France. An impor­tant part of this tra­di­tion is the philo­soph­i­cal and com­mer­cial heart of French gas­tron­omy, the giant annual Salon de l’Agriculture in Paris, show­cas­ing the nation’s farm­ers and their vir­tu­oso com­mit­ment to pro­duc­ing the finest prod­ucts.

Always a grand affair, the show is vis­ited annu­ally by the pres­i­dents past, present, and future, as well as bus­loads of school chil­dren being taught where their excel­lent Camem­bert comes from. The sprawl­ing exhi­bi­tion hall at Porte de Ver­sailles is turned into a colos­sal farm, with cows, sheep, goats, chick­ens, and other ani­mals around for close inspec­tion — the main attrac­tion for the kids. The chance to sam­ple the best of France’s food and wine draws in masses of grown-ups. The high­light is the Gen­eral Agri­cul­tural Com­pe­ti­tion, reward­ing the best pro­duc­ers with gold, sil­ver, and bronze medals in their cat­e­gories since 1843.

This year marked a height­ened aware­ness at the always intense show, as it was only a few months ago that UNESCO placed France’s cui­sine on its revered list of human cul­tural her­itage. In response, this year’s theme was the French Food Model.” This is meant to refer to a way of eat­ing that sig­ni­fies much more than clas­sic Gal­lic dishes. It is about the man­ner of con­sum­ing food — the ingrained three meals a day, with a final con­vivial fam­ily din­ner clos­ing the day. It is about the meth­ods of cook­ing, passed down through many gen­er­a­tions and repeated with care. It is, above all, about the qual­ity of ingre­di­ents, about a com­mit­ment and know-how that pro­duces the very best olive oils, cheeses, pro­duce, meats, and wines, there­fore it is above all about the farm­ers.

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The ten-day sched­ule is packed with events of every pos­si­ble rela­tion to food. Jacque­line Bellino held read­ings and signed copies of his book, Pour l’Amour de l’Olivier (for the Love of the Olive Grove). An immense bar stocked with olive oils from all the regions south of Paris offered the chance to try the many vari­eties and ter­roirs of France, with over 700 tast­ings daily. Olive oils from Nice got a good push from the Olive Union of Nice, who pre­pared and gave away thou­sands of pieces of the local bris­saouda, a slice of toast rubbed with gar­lic and fresh 2011 extra vir­gin olive oil.

They pro­moted the gov­ern­ment clas­si­fied PDO (Pro­tected Des­ig­na­tion of Ori­gin) label of Nice and its sur­round­ing region of Provence, and with rea­son. Within the grand com­pe­ti­tion for the final medals of honor, seven of the eleven PDO cat­e­gories for olive oil are in Provence. Pro­duc­ers such as Château Virant, which won three gold medals and one sil­ver, will be able to put the esteemed oak leaf sym­bol of the com­pe­ti­tion on their bot­tles, which serves as a well-respected guide to con­sumers, increas­ing sales as well as encour­ag­ing con­tin­ued excel­lence and com­pe­ti­tion to pro­duce the best food for France.

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