The Salon International de l'Agriculture, which is held every year in February at Paris's Porte de Versailles, is a big, BIG deal. At its core, France is an agricultural country, and the Salon de l'Agriculture celebrates that in all its glory in a week-long homage to the country, the land and the farmers and producers who cultivate it. Known as "the biggest farm in the world", the Salon attracts about 600,000 visitors every year. They come out in masses to admire all the farm animals, sample the vast array of agricultural products from all over France (wines, cheeses, mustards, breads, etc, etc) and maybe even rub shoulders with a politician or two, as this is a passage obligatoire for all of the country's political figures, for whom it is imperative to show solidarity with the farmers.
Luis and I were first-time visitors to the Salon this year. Both of us have seen plenty of farm animals in our lives, so this part of the Salon was not particularly important to us other than for a cursory run-through. Incidentally, the most popular attraction seemed to be Candy, the cow featured in this year's official Salon poster. If that doesn't tell you where people's priorities are...
The most important order of business for us was Pavillion 7, where you have all of the products from all of the country's regions. This includes France's overseas territories and départements, collectively known as the départements et territoires de l'Outre-Mer (DOM-TOM). 2011 is actually apparently the Year of the Outre-Mer at the Salon. Pavillion 7 is where you can also check out all of the products which received medals in the Concours Général Agricole which takes place every year at the Salon and designates which wines, cheeses, chocolates, champagnes, sausages, and other products are recognized as gold, silver and bronze medal winners in their respective categories for that year.
We spent hours in gastronomic bliss, checking out all of the regional products, workshops and tastings. Some of the delicious things we sampled: confiture from the Angelica plant, white wine from Sancerre (my favorite wine!), olive oils from Provence, almonds from Corsica, mustard from Burgundy, fleur du sel from Camargue, beets from Loiret, baguettes from our own Paris, cheeses from the Basque region, tapenades made from rapeseeds from Lille...just a name a few!
Naturally, we bought a few things too, including a Chardonnay from the Pays du Gard, freshly pressed apple juice and onion confit from Le Vignon and vanilla beans from Madagascar (a former French colony). For lunch, Luis had a sandwich with pan-fried foie gras and truffle sauce, while I opted for a small dish of truffade, a specialty from Auvergne consisting of mashed potatoes and Cantal cheese.
The DOM-TOM section, easily Pavillion 7's most popular and crowded area, was great too in spite of the crowds. We had fresh guava juice and rum punch from Martinique, coconut sorbet from Guadeloupe, samoussas (brought by the Indian population) from La Réunion and rum infused with bois bandé (a tree bark found in the French Caribbean which is supposedly an aphrodisiac!). We also tasted some great piment as well as banana vinegar and ketchup (which was so good that we bought it) from St. Lucia (not a part of France, but whatever!)...
If you live in Paris and haven't been to the Salon as of yet, you have one more day to get there (tomorrow is your last chance!). Otherwise, check it out next year or for those who don't live here, plan a trip to coincide with it. Not only will you get a chance to taste and buy some of the incredible products that France is known for, but you will also get a fascinating insight into French culture, society and politics. Vive l'agriculture!