Monday, November 13, 2006

The Ideal Food Exhibition (Part 1)

I trust you did a double-take on today's title. Ideal Food Exhibition ? Is there such a thing ? Well, according to Google, the expression has only been used once before, and that was in a 1949 proceedings of the Dail, the Irish Parliament. But it seems an apt expression for yesterday's excursion.

It began by catching the train at Antibes, going in the Nice direction, and getting off 3 stops along the line, at Cagnes-sur-Mer. As we approached the station we spotted the race-course, sandwiched between the track and the sea, with a promising number of marquees, our destination.. Coats were being put onto horses, long before sundown.

We had a mile or so to walk, with the above sign confirming we were going in the right direction, ie to the "Hippodrome de la Côte d'Azur. Regular visitors to this blog, all three (?) of them, will know what I mean when I say that a small inner voice said " Hey, that looks interesting" on seeing the sign at the bottom.

Closer still, at the edge of the race -track, was a
banner advertising the event to which we were the beneficiary of free tickets: The Salon Du Palais Gourmand", or as I prefer to call it, The Ideal Food Exhibition - a kind of Olympia in miniature, a temporary and makeshift temple to France's great obsession.

We went into the main marquee, and were first hit by the heat and fug, despite it being an autumn day with a hint of crispness in the afternoon air. And the next thing to strike us was that flag, the one I'd now recognize anywhere, thanks to researching this blog's previous topic.

Yes, it was none other than the Basque flag, would you believe it ? Naturally I wasted no time in introducing myself to my long lost cousins. There was much nodding and beaming, but little comprehension I suspect: Stephen Oppenheimer does not appear to be a household name as yet in Biarritz. More about our prehistoric kith and kin tomorrow, in Part 2 of this epistle.

In passing, don't those wares of theirs look just delicious. But that was the trouble - everything was so tempting, and the euros were flying out of our pockets at a rate of knots.

Suddenly my wife moved off, as if drawn by a strange force. It was the violet- chocolate stall,
calling her from afar.

There was a delightfully home-made look about the packaging and presentation. We wondered if the violets, or the flavour thereof, might have come from Tourrettes-sur-Loup, up towards Grasse, which specializes in the cultivation of that flower, but the labelling was somewhat vague, apart from a reference to Nice. Curiously, the French version of my wife's favourite confectionery is made inside out, ie, chocolate on the inside, and violet-flavoured sugar coating on the outside. Very tasty all the same.

There were far too many delectable offerings to capture here. But I do love to see the olive displays. We have a little book somewhere that goes into olive culture - a fascinating business, one that could be the subject of a future post here. I had always assumed that green and black olives were different species. Not so, apparently. It's to do with the time of harvesting, the black ones having matured on the tree.

We then stopped by at a stall that was offering free samples of a novel wine called Hypocras from the Pays d'Oc, and described by the nice lady as a "medieval drink". It was spiced we were told, ie vin épicé. I was a bit reluctant at first, being somewhat conservative in my wines. But two small sips, and hey presto, there was an instant convert, parting with his €10. The initial sensation was that of cinnamon, not too powerful, but hints of other things besides.

The following ingredients were listed in small print on the label: Vin, Cannelle, Gingembre, Muscade, Cardamom, Miel, Sucre, Eau de Rose, Orange and Macis. I'll need to get the dictionary out for some of those. But one thing is certain: those folk in the Pays d'Oc have devoted centuries of experimenting and tweaking to get the balance of fruit and spice just right.

The alcohol content is described as 12%, not a fortified wine as one might have expected. But the lady says it will keep for a year in the fridge after opening, confirmed on a little set of notes. But as my wife says, it's unlikely to last that long in this household.

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