Of course we went on a food tour while in Paris. How could we not? This is the city where I learned to cook (and drink), and there are far too many delicious choices to navigate on your own. Many thanks to Jennifer from Paris by Mouth, who escorted us through the Saint-Germain neighborhood with grace, hospitality and true passion for food and wine.
Our first stop: the esteemed Poilâne bakery, the most famous boulanger in the world. Poilâne is operated by Apollonia Poilâne, who took over the company when her parents died in an accident in 2002. She was eighteen, and she ran the company from her dorm room at Harvard until her graduation, four years later. Interviewed during that time, she said, “The one or two hours you spend procrastinating, I spend working. It’s nothing demanding at all.” Words of wisdom, indeed.
Every Poilâne miche is slashed with its signature ‘P’ before baking.
Apple tartelette, with world-famous sliced miche behind.
Today, Poilâne ships bread and operates bakeries all over the world, but they’re still most famous for their miche, or country bread, a four-pound loaf of traditional sourdough made with just original starter (from the 1920s!), wheat flour, sea salt and water. Lionel Poilâne singlehandedly resurrected this coarse, rustic style of sourdough; even though France might be famous for its baguettes, the tang and color of a Poilâne loaf is unmistakable.
Salted caramel (left) and pistachio-raspberry (right).
After Poilâne, we’re off to the legendary Pierre Hermé, who has also built a strong international presence. A classically-trained patissier and chocolatier, Pierre Hermé is perhaps most famous for creating a cult following for his unusually flavored macarons. Macarons are as common as cupcakes these days, but it’s useful to travel back to the source and taste the best. Chef Hermé’s unique flavors include chocolate and passionfruit; rose, lychee and raspberry; and jasmine tea and flower, among other, more conventional offerings such as coffee and salted caramel. Not inexpensive, but truly worth every penny for the experience. And they’re utterly gorgeous.
Made entirely from chocolate!
Our sweet tooth not yet sated, we then walk a short distance to avant-garde chocolatier Patrick Roger. Not just a high-end chocolate shop, the store is more of a conceptual art gallery – where you can eat the exhibits. Large-scale sculptures made entirely from chocolate dominate the windows, and the bonbons are exquisite and unusual. As at Pierre Hermé the flavors are iconoclastic, but in a city like Paris, with delicacies around every corner, you must set yourself apart.
Dark chocolate with lemon and basil (left); milk chocolate rochers (right).
Truly a jewel box.
Napoleon was told that covered markets would prevent cholera. Not true, but aesthetically pleasing nonetheless.
“How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” -Charles de Gaulle
Next, we explore the Marché Saint-Germain, one of the dozens of covered markets that dot the city. Each neighborhood has its own unique market; inside you’ll typically find produce, cheese, meat and flowers. Here we buy a selection of charcuterie and cheeses, for our indoor wine-tasting picnic still to come.
As it’s been done for decades.
Délice, made with ham and cornichons in aspic.
So huggable! But probably don’t.
The final stop of our tour is a wine shop appropriately named “La Dernière Goutte,” or “the last drop.” Our group settles around a table in the back of the cozy store, and we share travel stories and enjoy our wine and cheese and délice and jambon des Pyrénées and of course our Poilâne bread. We taste wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon, from Beaujolais and from the northern Rhône.
And we eat cow, goat and sheep cheeses, from all over France: Tome de Provence, Napoléon sheep’s milk cheese from Aquitaine, true Camembert from Normandy, Trou du Cru from Bourgogne and more. It never ceases to amaze that one ingredient – milk – plus a little salt and time can make such staggeringly unique cheeses. How can a sharp, nutty Comté originate from the same base ingredient as a creamy, fresh chèvre redolent of herbs and grasses? It’s all in the terroir, or sense of place.
And then we have to go, because the shop closes for lunch. How lovely that in one of the busiest, most cosmopolitan cities in the world, businesses actually close for lunch. Let’s all work on reviving that devotion to a good, carefully prepared meal, rather than seeing what we can jam into the cupholder, shall we?
Our food and wine experience was one of the highlights of our short but sweet visit to the City of Light. If you’re in Paris, we’d highly recommend a neighborhood tour with Paris by Mouth. Thanks again, Jennifer, for your warmth, your knowledge and your hospitality!