After a morning exploring the treasures at the Marche des Puces in Restigne, Bryan, Peta, Tim and I drove to Bel-Air. Our task for the week was to wash all of the inside beams, and to put everything away for the winter. Although we arrived to a cold house, we got the wood stove burning and it was soon it toasty and warm.
Of course the best part of being in France is market day. Mondays are market days in Marcigny, a little village of about 2,000 people, about 20 minutes away. The town has beautiful architecture that is well looked after.
The Marcigny market is my favourite thus far. It was small, yet filled with stalls of delicious foods. Huge lettuces, about the size of the largest platter in my kitchen. Every vegetable imaginable – incredibly fresh and healthy-looking. A cheese vendor who sold the most remarkable Cantal Entre Deux (my new favourite – it’s a semi-hard cheese that is savory and earthy), a chèvre, aged, dry and nutty, and a runny, creamy something covered in ash that we didn’t get the name of but which we fought over with a passion. We bought some saucissons (dried sausage), selecting one with wild boar and one with Myrtille berries, and some delicious, dense whole wheat baguettes. Clothes, CDs, handbags mixed with food stalls wafting the delicious smells of paella, roast pork and cooked potatoes. Bryan decided to splurge on a treat that he has always wanted to try – Calamari Farci, calamari stuffed with vermicelli, mushrooms and spices. (Good, but not great. An unusual choice for a French market, but reflecting a Vietnamese influence perhaps). We walked by rabbits, pigeons, chickens and budgies in cages. Peta and I found cute winter hats, 2 for 10€ (about $12), perfect for the cool fall air.
It was about 11:00 in the morning when we finished, and we popped into a café for coffee to warm us up. Most of the people at the other tables were drinking small tumblers of white wine. By the time we left at mid-day, the market stalls had been packed up, and people had vanished from the streets.
Our days at Bel-Air were spent scrubbing and cleaning, except for the day we were invited to lunch at Suzanne and Christian’s. Their friends Monique and Jean Michel were also visiting, and the meal certainly stretched our meager French to the limit. Both Tim and I feel constantly embarrassed by our lack of French, and are very shy in social settings. However, along about the third bottle of wine, both we began to understand far more of what was being said, and were able to contribute with more enthusiasm (but with just as many faults!).
Suzanne served us appetizers (salted cashews, spicy crackers, slices of a bread, like a brioche, with ham and cheese) while Christian served Crémant. First course was a delicious seafood tarte, with a dollop of mayonnaise, olive and an Auxerrois wine (Vin des Fossils, 2010) from the Loire. Everyone we have visited in France is proud to share local produce with us, and it is one of the great pleasures of the trip to be able to try so many new foods and tastes. Suzanne and Christian had just returned from the town of Charlieu with a specialty from the Loire – Andouille. Andouille is an aged sausage, made from, as far as I can tell, the neck and lungs of pork, and possibly beef as well. It is a very old recipe, carefully guarded. “Une recette tirée des grandes traditions gastronomiques Charliendines qui date de la nuit des temps, des hommes fidèles et rigoureux de cette douce alliance vous garantit ce résultat exceptionnel.” (which translates roughly as: “A recipe drawn from the Charliendines culinary traditions, which date from the dawn of time. Add to this men faithful and rigorous, and the combination guarantees this exceptional result.” The translation is rough, but so is the original!) Suzanne served the Andouille with the traditional boiled potatoes, and sauerkraut cabbage casserole. The Andouille had a dark, extraordinary flavor. Deep, slightly smokey and aged. Like nothing I have ever tasted. Served with a special Macon-Cruzille, 2008.
The entre was followed by the cheese platter (another new favourite – Délice de Bourgueil – an amazing creamy cheese, somewhat similar to the St. Andre that we get at home). The meal was topped off with chocolates and coffee. There were other wines, other tastes. Too much for my already struggling brain to remember. Local foods, local wines, new friends who are very much of the terroir. A lunch from which we rolled home around 5:00 p.m.
Understandably, we needed a good walk the next day. The weather was lovely, and Christian offered to take us mushrooming in the nearby woods. Finding mushrooms is akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack – at this time of year they are buried beneath mounds of fallen leaves, often camouflaged the same colour. The day started promisingly, with a large Chanterelle – a mushroom that Christian knows well.
But although we found many mushrooms after this first, they were mostly inedible and potentially poisonous. However, they were very beautiful and unusual (I never knew that there were mauve mushrooms!) and after a while we developed a “catch and release” attitude. The joy of being out and tramping directionless in a fresh wood made the adventure rich in every detail.
The next day, the last of our week’s visit, the weather went from nice to spectacular. Unbelievably for late November, we took the big kitchen table out into the sunshine and had a lunch of Frisée salad and white wine, basking in the hot sunshine and overlooking the fields of Burgundy. The grey skies of London seemed a very long way away.