We landed in Paris, rented our automatic car (a bit of a luxury over there) and drove through the onset of French Veterans’ Holiday weekend that created traffic of “strike” proportions. We were grateful to have Colette TomTom deliver us safely to our destination in Esvres, Loire Valley and we enjoyed meeting and dining with our lovely hosts at Chateau de la Villaine, Adriaan and Joke. It was our first night and we were anxious to begin our week long adventure. The primary goal of the trip is to create a travel program highlighting the traditional french lifestyle. Therefore, a visit to La Boucherie is of utmost importance! I am always mesmerized as I look at the cases of a quality butcher, the cuts the color the variety, as well as the matter of fact way the butchers handle the meat, select the perfect pieces, chop and prepare it with a straightforward confidence with giant heavy sharp knives.
Our butcher shops must have changed dramatically through the past century. My great grandfather was a butcher. He was not around for most of my life but his influence (of health – not knife skills!) must be filtered down through my grandmother. She is one of the most healthy, quick witted, fashionable people I know and at 94, she must be doing something right. She attributes so much of her health to the access to quality meat they had growing up. During one of our trips, we visited Borough Market in London, I remember her staring at the butcher cases in awe, a familiarity of cuts of meat that are not always offered in many of our standard butcher shops. She was looking at the brightness, the marbling, the variety, a familiarity of “by gone” meats that was only in her past. I thought of her immediately when my dad and I made our first stop – I don’t even know the name of the town since it seemed like all the others, it had le fleuriste, la boucherie, charcuterie, la boulangerie, patisserie, cafe and coiffeur? I had to go straight to La Boucherie/Charcuterie. I was mesmerized by the variety of meats, the presentation cuts, foreign yet familiar descriptions and the charcuterie assortment. I had flashbacks to elementary french lessons – lapin, le canard, le poulet and a favorite snack during that time – La Vache qui rit! The rabbits hung beautifully as in an 18th century painting.
I realized how far away I am from my meat sources. I was taking photos of the hanging rabbits and chickens. I could tell the shop people thought it was a bit silly. And actually it is. I am a 2 yr old chicken owner but yet I cannot think about donating one to our meal. Later in the week when we had our cooking lesson, in addition to descaling the fish, I was to chop the head off of the quail. Anne let me off easy and took care of that, but even preparing the quail pieces was difficult for me.
Luckily, I enjoy the meats prepared for us and I recognize that it has to do with the quality of the meat and the preparation techniques. How could I not enjoy lapin avec le chocolate, cafe et les cerises? Coincidentally, a similar recipe was prepared for us in both Loire and Aveyron.
Since La Boucherie was a top priority, in Ambeyrac, Aveyron Anne brought us to the butcher shop and we met with one of the younger members of the Soulie family. The pride in work, simplicity yet skill of preparation and all round pleasant host of our local Ambeyrac butcher was such a treat.
I have many clips of our visit but I thought I would share one that gives a gist of the behind the scenes, click here. My dad was reminiscing about his annual sausage making endeavors and how helpful it would be to have the equipment and their drying areas! As you watch, please keep in mind that we were under the main area of the shop so when a customer came in, the bell would ring and he would politely excuse himself and then come back happily to continue the tour. Anne has lived 50 paces from the shop for about 10 years, buys from them every week and this was her first visit as well so my dad and I feel very honored and appreciative of our visit.
As we were there I was thinking how lucky we are to have Matt of PorcSalt, creating traditional french and Italian charcuterie as well as having Christopher & Melissa’s latest Canal House Book which features the recipes for traditional sausage making. Yes, it is nice to be home and also wonderful to be transported afar and to a seemingly different era avec La Boucherie!