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FRANCE, NORTHERN

study, and for whom gastronomy was a central feature of their existence, were “gastronomes.”

The gastronome was defined as a critical observer of the chef’s work—not a chef. As professionals, gastro- nomes became food critics, the earliest of whom in the western world appear to be French. Among them, Gri- mod de la Reynière leads the list as the inventor of a new branch of literature with the publication of his L’almanach des gourmands from 1803 to 1812. In this yearly journal, he reviewed restaurants and published the results of tast- ings aimed at selecting the best artisans and products of his day, beginning a tradition of searching out quality that remains very much alive in the French mentality today.

L’exception française

One has only to contemplate the ferocious aversion of French consumers to hormone-fed beef and veal, to ge- netically modified food plants and the standardization of food in general, to understand that their relationship to food goes far beyond just eating—much to the bemuse- ment and exasperation of France’s trading partners. And where else but in France would the Education and Cul- ture Ministries sponsor a national inventory of traditional food products, or classes teaching children how various foods are made and how to appreciate different tastes, smells, and textures?

The French approach to cookery, the institutions de- veloped by its proponents and the gastronomic culture it glorifies have all contributed to the preeminence of French cuisine. Indeed, the very use of the term “cui- sine,” when applied to the food of another nation, im- plies that it has gone from simply being cooking to something more refined and complex—something closer to the French model. Naturally, the culinary superiority of France has been challenged in the past and continues to be challenged today, but no other cuisine has had such a sustained influence on the cooking practices of its neighbors, nor can any other claim to have exerted as universal an impact on professional cooks around the world, as that which developed and continues to evolve in France.

See also Carême, Marie Antoine; Chef, The; Cookbooks; Cuisine, Evolution of; Escoffier, Georges-Auguste; La Varenne, Pierre François de; Medici, Catherine de’; Middle Ages, European; Nouvelle Cuisine; Rabelais, François.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Flandrin, Jean-Louis, Philip Hyman, and Mary Hyman. “In- troduction.” In Le Cuisinier françois by La Varenne. Paris: Editions Montalba, 1983.

Hyman, Philip, and Mary Hyman. “La première nouvelle cui-

sine.” In L’honnête volupté: Art culinaire, art majeur,” pp.

73–74. Paris: Editions Michel de Maule, 1989.

Mennell, Stephen. All Manners of Food: Eating and Taste in En- gland and France from the Middle Ages to the Present. Oxford,

Basil Blackwood, 1985.

34

Wheaton, Barbara Ketcham. Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789. Philadelphia: Univer-

sity of Pennsylvania Press, 1983.

Philip Hyman Mary Hyman

NORTHERN FRENCH CUISINES

The Loire River has long served as a divide between northern and southern France. It runs from Nantes on the Atlantic coast to the south of Burgundy, where it veers south at Pouilly, though the French mentally con- tinue the division line eastward to Geneva. Roughly half of France is north of the Nantes-Geneva line, in- cluding Brittany, the château country (Orléans to Tours), Normandy, Paris and the surrounding area known as Île-de-France, French Flanders, Alsace, Lorraine, Bur- gundy, and the Franche-Comté.

Farmers here are basically well-off. The wheat fields of the Beauce, just south of Paris, produce the finest wheat in France, Normandy is famous for its beef and cheese, and the lambs that graze near the sea in Brittany and in Picardy are among the most esteemed in France. Paris itself was once surrounded by vast gardens that sup- plied the capital’s needs.

Beer, Gin, and Sugar Beets

Running along its most northerly perimeter and extend- ing out to the tip of Brittany is France’s longest coast- line. From the English Channel to the Atlantic seaboard, fishing has always been a major industry. Herring was the dominant fish along the northeastern part of the Chan- nel, and today salted and smoked herring are still a spe- cialty there. French Flanders, however—like neighboring Belgium, with which it has strong cultural ties—does not spontaneously come to mind as a gastronomic haven. Coal mining was a major industry here, and those who survived the backbreaking work often sought relief in tav- erns and bars. Beer and hard liquor were consumed in great quantities, and a French version of gin (genièvre) wreaked havoc on the health of those who overindulged. It is therefore no surprise that this province holds the sad record of having the highest rate of cirrhosis of the liver in France.

One can nevertheless find something positive here: nowhere else in France is there as great a variety of tra- ditional beers, of every conceivable taste and ranging in color from rich brown to amber, blond, and white. Not surprisingly, beer is the perfect accompaniment to the hearty local cuisine, whether one of the many forms of herring, a Flemish hotpot (hochepot flamand), or a pun- gent Maroilles, “the most delicate of strong cheeses.” A by-product of beer production, brewer’s yeast, also con- tributes to the character of the pastries, many of which use raised doughs, such as the light and airy Flemish-style waffles (gaufres flamandes) or briochelike cakes with

names like craquelin, cramique, or couquebottrom.

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