The French have a rich and varied culture that has influenced people and industry all over the world, and one of the most important parts of that is their gastronomy. Although the French people don’t eat on ceremony, meal times are still an important part of French life, and the same can be said of the ingredients and recipes that make up this renowned cuisine.
One of the most varied items in the French diet is cheese, which is commonly served before dessert at mealtimes. There are around 400 varieties of French cheese, some of which are regional farm produced specialities; others are produced throughout France in modern dairies. One of the most famous names in cheese is Brie, which originates from the Ille De France region, while other popular names include Roquefort, a blue cheese originating from the South of France, Camembert which comes from Normandy, and Emmental which is produced in a large area of Eastern France.
Other popular products include bread, in particular the baguette, cured, smoked, or processed meat known as charcuterie, ceps or truffle mushrooms, foie gras, which is made from duck or goose liver, and sweet chestnuts/walnuts which are both grown in the Perigord region of France, also Garlic, snails and frogs legs.
These ingredients, along with other staples such as seafood, cereals, fresh vegetables and meats, herbs, spices, and fruit, are combined with classic French sauces to form the base of many recipes. Sauces include Bechamel, which is used in dishes such as Lasagne, Aioli, which is a garlic based Mayonnaise, Bordelaise, a brown sauce made with wine, Hollandaise Sauce, and French mustards like Dijon.
The end results of combining some or all of these items, could mean anything from a fine dining experience in a Michelin starred restaurant, to a signature dish from a famous French chef like Michel Roux. In day to day life though, it means a collection of tasty, often regional dishes that characterise the French cuisine and culture.
The start of a meal is often characterised by pates, crudités, which are raw vegetables tossed in a sauce, savoury cookies such as Basil Palmiers, and dishes involving sautéed scallops. Rustic stews and soups also appear on dinner tables all over France, and include Puchouse, a fresh water fish stew from Burgundy, Bouillabaise, a fish based soup from Marseille, and Garbure, a thick meat, bean, and vegetable soup from South West France. Other specialities include Beef Bourguignon from Burgundy, Oyster based dishes from Brittany, or the steak based dishes popular along the Atlantic coast, which are often served with a red wine sauce.
The French are also experts in pastry making, and bakeries regularly stock items like Gougere, known in English as a cheese puff, Tarte Flambee, which contains onions, bacon, and cream, and the well-known Quiche Lorraine. Pastries also form a significant part of French dessert menus, including Tarte Aux Fruits, which is produced throughout France, and the indulgent Chocolate Éclair. Other French desserts include Crepes (French pancakes), Clafouti, a cherry based dessert from Limousin, Kuogelhopf, a cake from the Alsace region, and Madeleines, small shell shaped cakes.
Travel throughout France, and you’ll find many other examples of fine French food and cuisine, readily available through local grocers, bakeries, supermarkets, hotels and restaurants. The focus of any French cooking is the quality and freshness of ingredients, and the techniques used to produce the recipes, so wherever you go, and whatever you decide to sample, a good meal is assured.