Amazon Kindle Store

Monday, 28 October 2013

What is it like to shop at a French butchery shop?

Whilst I have gone by a few Boucherie in my times in France and looked through the windows eager to see the difference between the French style of butchery and display but alas I have never been inside one of these meat emporiums. There are a couple of reasons why not and those are 'lack of French language skills' and 'lack of anywhere to cook the meat' due to staying in a hotel whilst in France. In my travels over the years I have passed by Halal butchers, traditional French butchers, witnessed pre-packed meats in the Intermarché and Monoprix supermarkets and have been intrigued by whole massive freezer cabinets stuffed to the brim with duck products. The nearest I ever got to going into a butchers was in Paris (2006) when I asked permission to take a photo of a rotisserie of cooking chickens cooking in thyme. The smell was to die for! So, cher readers I recently phoned my friends, Jean and Nick who have a property in Le Grand Pressigny and are regular visitors to France and, like me, are big Francophiles. I thought that if anyone would know it would be them.

We had a lovely conversation and the outcome was that their experience of going to a French butcher was based on visits to a village butchers and they both said that it was like going back to the 1950s. I spoke mostly to Nick and Jean has forwarded me some links to HER BLOG that have proved very good in writing this blogpost. Many thanks for your encouragement Jean and Nick. I hope that you like what I have written.

So here is a slice of Nick and Jean's experience of shopping at the village butcher owned by M & Mme Poupeau.

Jean: "One thing I do like about the French butchers there is the way they give old fashioned personal attention to each customer regardless of how many people are waiting in the queue. And those waiting always seem perfectly happy to wait their turn. They exchange pleasantries, wrap meat beautifully, often in two layers of paper tied with string, almost as if the person they are serving is the only one in the shop! The couple in LGP never rush a customer because people are waiting, so different to over here."

                                                               image supplied by Jean
Nick: "Well, this is how it is Phil, one day we plucked up courage to enter the village butchers. I say this because, even now, a trip to the butcher is a slightly unnerving experience. Personally I find it makes a huge difference how many people are in the shop already when I enter. Look at it this way, let's say there are just one or two customers waiting therefore I have enough time to scan the produce on offer, decide what to have, configure actually how to ask for it in French, buy it and leave before I lose my nerve. If there are too many people in front of me I lose track of what I want because I'm busy  listening to the locals who buy all kinds of scary looking stuff and know exactly what to do with it. Then I realise that it is finally my turn and I'm forced to speak French. I try not to appear nervous and the reality is that the proprietors, M. and Mme. Poupeau are immensely patient, helpful and kind to us and have never ever said a single word that was intended to make us feel uncomfortable or inadequate in any way."
                                                           image supplied by Jean
Jean: " One day we were in luck. There was just one person in front of us Phil, so we checked out the meat in the display and also spotted some quiche and taboulé we would have for lunch plus some paté we could serve as a starter for our little dinner party. This was quite an order and we were feeling confident. Nick was at the helm and he asked Mme for "un pièce de boeuf à rôtir pour quatre personnes" (in his best Crabtree accent). Lydie Poupeau smiled, disappeared in the back and re-emerged with the biggest and most fabulous piece of meat I have ever seen in my life. She sliced a piece off and took the rest back to the fridge, re-emerging with a large parcel. This turned out to be thin slices of fat, some of which she wrapped around the meat and tied in place with string from a ball nailed to the ceiling. We marvelled at the whole performance. Next our joint was wrapped and weighed, hitting the mark at 800 grams exactly! With a sweet smile, she lifted it up and as she was about to hand it to Nick she seemed to have second thoughts and quickly drew it back towards her, just out of his grasp! Then she said, in a stern voice. "quinze minutes, Monsieur". About two seconds passed as their eyes met and she said, leaning forwards ever so slightly, "quinze minutes......vingt minutes, maximum !"

Quick thinking as ever, Nick replied "Mais oui Madame, vignt minutes, bien sûr !" Satisfied that we were going to treat her beef with the respect it deserved, she allowed us to pay for it and we left the shop with our purchases, stunned but happy."

Nick:" That's right - the thing about the French butchers is that they are extremely passionate about giving you the very precise piece of meat that you want and really keen to know how you are going to cook it and want to offer their sage advice into the shopping bargain to make absolutely sure you go away and the correct thing and the very best correct thing at that. Plus the provenance of the produce is key to the French people's enjoyment of food. "

Jean:"At Easter the French (mainly Catholic) eat lamb and lamb in France is very expensive. They won't touch New Zealand lamb - it has to be French almost down to knowing what field the lamb grazed in! So what they tend to do is buy a small piece and really enjoy the taste rather than spend a fortune. Saying that, there was a queue right round the block last Easter for M. Poupeau's delicious lamb!

Nick:" What is interesting is that if you want something actually chopped with the cleaver the lady owner will hand the cleaving job to her husband Laurent as the huge cleaver is too heavy for this tiny woman to use. Also, there is not so much constant hand washing as in the butchery shops in the UK and the displays are fantastic even for a small village butcher and the choices of cuts are very different to those in British shops. They'll have stuffed meats on offer and steaks and chops all done in fantastic herbs and of course the French aren't shy about putting all the offal out for sale including brains. Like I said, it is like going back to the 1950s and '60s and nothing - nothing at all is wrapped in plastic! You might get a plastic bag to carry all your goodies home in, that's it. All is carefully wrapped in paper and done with such pleasure and pride. My particular favourite from their shop is the Morteau boiling sausage - Saucisse de Morteau smoked to perfection."

Nick also mentioned the layout in the meat cabinet wasn't sectioned as in the UK, all the trays of raw meat were sitting happily alongside, beautiful chickens and rabbit portions, fresh salads, pates, sausages fresh and cured and terrines. He also said that the shop they go to had very pretty rustic tiles with images of rural life on them and the whole shop was spotlessly clean.

Le Grand Pressigny is situated in the Touraine region of the Loire Valley and the region specialises in andouillette de la Touraine in which calves and pigs cauls and the pluck are used to combine the taste advantages of both and give a satisfactorily balanced taste. Even across this region there have been two factions that swear that one way is better than the other in the meat content. Troyes prefer the pork and the folk of the area around Lyon have a preference for veal. Andouillettes must conform to a decree which dates from 1912 and the Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique (yes the AAAAA!) awards diplomas on which the customers can rely.

This region is also well known for the famous rillons, a speciality from Touraine, large pieces of cut pork shoulder and belly pork with milky fat running through them. These are browned with caramel added into the mix. The pieces are put into a large larded pot, sea salt added and allowed to soak. Towards the end of the soak a bottle of Vouvray wine is added and the meat is fried in the mixture and when cool, bottled up for future enjoyment.

                                                                     classy butcher's shop frontage in Paris

The French have something called Variety Meats and this practice of butchery and tripe dealing distinguish between what they call white meats and red meats. The white meats cover the various stomachs, intestines, trotters, ears and heads. The second group represents organs like the heart, the livers and the testicles, the brain, the tongue, the cheek and the tail and the origins go back to usage of the cuts in pre-historic times when the parts were eaten in ritual to gain the traits of the animal associated with them. As you may imagine Variety Meats are not to everyone's taste but the French certainly like to use every part of the animal in their Boucherie.

Here are some unfamiliar names that you may be confronted with in the beautiful butchery displays in France.

Animelles - Ram's testicles.
Caillette - Rennet stomach.
Joue de boeuf - Bull's cheek
Langues de beouf, agneau et veau - Bull's, lamb's or calf tongues.
Ris de veau et agneau - Calf and lambs sweetbreads.
Cervelle de veau - Calf's brain.
Gras double - Tripe.
Tetine - Cooked udder.
Panse - Paunch.

Now I've scared you with the names above I've put together a collection of French words for products and cooking styles you might find in a traditional French butcher's establishment.


La viande et la volaille – meat and poultry.

L'agneau – lamb

le boucher – butcher

l'allonge – meat hook

la balance – scales

le fusil – knife steel

le bacon – bacon

les saucisses – sausages

le foie – liver

le porc – porc

la venaison – venison

le boeuf – beef

le veau – veal

la langue de boeuf – ox tongue
les abats – offal

salé – cured

fumé – smoked

de ferme – free range

naturel – organic

la viande blanche – white meat

la viande rouge – red meat

la viande maigre – lean meat

la viande cuite – cooked meat

les morceaux de viande – cuts of meat

le jambon – ham

la couenne – rind

la tranche – slice

la viande hachée – mince

le filet – fillet

le rumsteck – rump steak

le bifteck d'aloyau – sirloin steak

la côte de boeuf – rib

le gigot – joint

le coeur – heart

la peau – skin

le blanc – breast (as in chicken)

la cuisse – thigh

le poulet – chicken

le poulet préparé – dressed chicken

le faisan – pheasant

la cuisse – leg

la caille – quail

le canard – duck

l'oie – goose

la charcuterie – delicatessen

le comptoir – counter

en saumure – in brine

mariné – marinated.

les pâtés en croûte – pies

les saucisson piquant – spicy sausage

le salami – salami

la tourte – pie

le rôti – roast

le ragoût – stew

le chiche kebab – kebab

les boulettes de viande – meatballs

farci – stuffed

grillé – grilled

cuit à la vapeur - steamed


Karen said...

I am not a big meat eater (I would rather eat fish, or raw veggies), but reading this marvellous article made me want to rush to France to experience the pure joy of entering a French butchers. No plastic! Wrapped in paper & string...that's how I recall small village butchers from my childhood. Of course, the dashing off to France will have to wait until a) I finally get a passport - I'm halfway through completing the application form & b)having the courage to travel (no good on planes/boats/coaches & the throught of the Chanel Tunnel fills me with Mortal Dread. It may happen one day, but in the meantime I will continue to dream, & re-read this oh-so-informative & interesting blog.

Jean said...

Thanks for a very nice post, Phil. It makes me want to rush back over there right now !!

Jean said...

Karen, I recently took a friend to France with me who was terrified of the Channel Tunnel.
She very nervous but she was really impressed by how slick and quick it is and said she would use the tunnel herself from now on.

There's none of the waiting and crowds you get at airports, no sea sickness due to the motion of the boat, you don't have to mingle with hordes of drunken louts or naughty children as you stay in your car, and it only takes 35 minutes.
There can be delays at peak travelling times but if you avoid those it's a totally smooth, painless experience. I would recommend it.

Karen said...

Thanks Jean....I will have to learn to Be Brave.