spring break: exploring parisian food

When planning for our trip, one of the things I came across was a company called Paris by Mouth, which runs a variety of food-focused tours in the city. The reviews of the tours looked great, and this was too tempting an option to pass up (given that I’d have my favorite chef with me), so I signed us up for their “Taste of the Marais” tour. It was scheduled to start at the very civilized hour of 10:30am, and run for about three hours. The cost per person was €95, which was pretty reasonable considering that it included tastings at all the shops we visited, along with expert commentary.

Sniffing Bar at Thiercelin 1809 Paris

Sniffing Bar at Thiercelin 1809 Paris

We met our tour guide (Catherine), and the five other members of our group (group size is capped at 8, because it would be impossible to fit more people comfortably into the tiny stores we visited), right by the award-winning bakery 134 RdT. Once inside where we could see (and smell) the bread, we learned about the various laws governing how baguettes and croissants can be labeled, as well as the annual competitions held to determine the best of the best. And yes, the croissants and baguettes at 134 RdT are as amazing as you’ve ever dreamed french bread could be. (The photo up at the top of this post is from the bakery.)

After the bakery, we visited a lovely spice shop called Thiercelin 1809 Paris, which featured a “sniffing bar” of amazing peppers (including one that smelled like grapefruit, which I think Scott bought a bottle of), as well as a large stash of saffron kept under lock and key in the basement. (We had to be buzzed in to the shop, since the saffron is so valuable!)

We then stopped briefly at a shop that sells a variety of prepared foods–terrines, patés, etc. Everything was beautifully prepared and presented.

Prepared Foods at Ramella

Prepared Foods at Ramella

Next up was a fromagerie (cheese shop), where Catherine purchased quite a few cheeses for us to sample. Without a doubt, my favorite was the Comté AOC 30 months. In the very helpful followup message that Catherine sent us, she provided these details on the cheese: “Cow, Jura, usually 6-36 months. Has a firm and supple texture that melts in the mouth and leaves a sweet taste (95% of cows used for this cheese are Monbeliarde, known for their sweet milk; the rest are Simmental). Can taste of melted butter, milk chocolate, hazelnuts, toast, leather, pepper, butterscotch, sweet orange. Strong salt but balanced with a nutty tang. This cheese has the highest production figures of all French cheese. Graded on a scale of 1-20. Those that score 15-20 wear a green band, those from 12-15 wear a red band. Below three can’t be labeled Comte. Aged for a minimum of 3 months but can be aged up to five years, although 18, 24, 30 and 36 are more common.”

"Caractere de Cochon" Chacuterie

“Caractere de Cochon” Chacuterie

My mouth is watering now just thinking about that cheese, and I’m hoping I can find something resembling it at the European cheese shop in Rochester when I return!

We followed the fromagerie with a charcuterie. Its name, “Caractere de Cochon,” translates literally as “character of the pig,” but idiomatically as “pig-headed” 🙂 It was a tiny little shop, and we could barely squeeze in, but it was worth it for the amazingly delicious tastes of cured meat that we tried while we were there.

After the charcuterie, we wandered through one of the oldest covered markets in Paris, Marché des Enfants Rouge. It’s a mix of funky restaurants and various grocery stalls, and was great fun to visit.

Our second last stop, after the market, was a wine shop nearby (Bibo Vino) that sells its excellent wines in boxes–which is definitely not typical in Paris. I know from my own experience that there are some quite decent wines that can be purchased by the box, but I was surprised to find a shop specializing in that here. We stopped here for a while to break out the bread, cheese, rillette and terrine that Catherine had acquired along the way, and washed that down with glasses of all of the different wines at the shop. She explained each of the cheeses in detail (and sent us a helpful email afterwards with the names of the stores we’d visited, and detailed tasting notes on the cheeses), and chatted with us for a while about her experiences in Paris.

After we’d finished eating and drinking, we had one last stop–Jacque Genin’s spectacular confectionary, where we tried not just the unbelievably great caramels and chocolates, but also the most extraordinary pâtes de fruits, which look like they’d be overly sweet chewy things, but which actually are the most incredible distillation of the flavor of fruit that I have ever experienced. The photo below doesn’t do them justice. I might go back to Paris next month just to be able to have a few more of these…

Pâte de Fruits at Jacque Genin

Pâte de Fruits at Jacque Genin

At that point it was after 2pm, and, regretfully, the tour came to an end. There is no question that the next time I’m in Paris I’ll be taking another of their tours–they do a similar tasting tour of the Latin Quarter, as well as wine and cheese tours. In a perfect world, I’ll be able to take them all!

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