Fair’s Fare, More Than Fair

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The Salon de l’Agriculture, held every year in Paris, is also a political crucible. PHOTOGRAPH BY IMMO KLINK FOR THE NEW YORKER

It is our favorite annual edition of our favorite source of longform journalism, and this looks like it could be our favorite article from this year’s edition:

Come to the Fair

The food-and-booze fest that is France’s national agricultural exhibition.

BY LAUREN COLLINS

It would be a mistake to think of microtourism, the latest invented word to capture the imagination of the travel sector, as mere staycationing. The practice, as defined by a pair of design students in Denmark who recently completed a project on the theme, is a prerogative of a future in which “gas prices are so high that we must develop a new form of adventure that does not require travelling great distances.” Microtourism is not glamping (no yurt) or bleisure (no work) or minimooning (no wedding). Nor is it Netflix and putter. If a staycation means pajamas and the garden shed, microtourism means sneakers and the subway.

For several years now, my favorite microtouristic destination has been the Salon International de l’Agriculture, the enormous show that each spring brings the farmers of France together under the eight roofs of the Porte de Versailles convention center, accompanied by nearly four thousand of their bovine, ovine, caprine, porcine, equine, asinine, and canine companions. (The weight of the manure generated, almost three hundred tons, is equivalent to that of the steamship in “Fitzcarraldo.”) The Salon is about the bounty of la France profonde. Anything passably earthy goes. And, so, in addition to the éleveurs (animal farmers), there areagriculteurs (farmers in general), knife-makers, beekeepers, hot-tub venders, insurance agents, representatives of feed conglomerates, backhoe salesmen.

The notaries of France have a stand, as does the national association of drainage. You can buy a beret or a birdcage. You can obtain an I.D. card for your pet. You can subscribe to Pâtre, a monthly magazine for shepherds. Each of the country’s eighteen regions sponsors an area highlighting its gastronomy. Slurp down some oysters in Arcachon, grab some choucroute in Alsace, and then turn a corner and you’re in Martinique, drinking Ti’ Punch. Picture the Iowa State Fair crossed with the Aspen Food & Wine Classic, with the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show going on in a side ring.

In 2013, the first year I went to the Salon, I was living in Geneva. One Sunday morning, my husband and I caught the seven-forty-two train to Paris. By eleven-thirty (from Switzerland, it was maybe a mesotour), we were sampling what would become my favorite delicacy in all the land, the tourteau fromagé of Poitou-Charentes. (Giving Mancunians and Arkansawyers a run for their money in the demonym stakes, the area’s residents are known as the Picto-Charentais.) The tourteau fromagéis—getting into the compound-word spirit here—a goatcheesecake. The shortcrust pastry of the bottom part forms a lip where it meets the upper half, which rises domelike from the cereal-bowl-shaped base, and looks as though it were composed of volcanic ash. The burnt top is deceiving. It imparts just the slightest char, in the manner of a good pizza crust. The inside is tangy. Poke the crumb, and your finger emerges feeling almost wet, as though you’d stuck it into a loofah. At Tourteaux Jahan, Joël Ricard’s stand in Pavilion 3, the wares are displayed on risers, like a boys’ choir at a holiday concert. Ricard has been coming to the Salon since 1983. In a week, he sells five thousand cakes.

After the tourteau fromagé, it was the hatching chicks that hooked us. Watch them struggling out of their shells—albumen-coated miracles, translucent and greasy—and you’ll never again classify eggs as inanimate objects. (I read that the éleveurs brought fresh eggs every morning from Loué, a hundred and fifty miles southwest of Paris, a few premature emergences delighting commuters on the high-speed train.) We went again in 2014. And in 2015. Two months before the opening of this year’s fair, we moved to Paris. For me, the City of Light is as much about the allées de prestige—the orange-carpeted promenades lined with prize-winning exemplars of heritage breeds—as it is about the Champs-Élysées. Trudging their lengths with a bulging backpack and mucky shoes, I fell in love with the place. The Eiffel Tower will never be as dear to me as its produce-aisle facsimile: brassicas at the base, apples in the arches, a soaring midsection of leeks and carrots, topped by a four-layer finial of tomatoes, potatoes, pears, and lemons…

Read the whole article here.

2 thoughts on “Fair’s Fare, More Than Fair

  1. Pingback: Can You Top This? | Raxa Collective

  2. Pingback: Strange Brew | Raxa Collective

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