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FRANCE, SOUTHERN

and salamu is clear, but the excellent quality of the semi- wild Corsican pigs, fattened on the chestnuts and acorns of the island’s extensive forests (le maquis), sets them quite apart—to say nothing of the inimitable ficatellu, a pun- gent liver-based sausage, grilled when fresh, sliced like salami when dried. The Corsicans themselves subsisted for centuries on chestnuts, and chestnut flour is still used in many local specialties like nicci (thin crepes) or casta- gnacciu (chestnut cake). But perhaps the most emblem- atic products of the Isle of Beauty are cabri, baby goat, the high point of every festive occasion, and brocciu, the “national cheese of Corsica,” made from the whey left over from the fabrication of other cheeses. Although it may be consumed as is, fresh or aged, brocciu often en- ters into desserts, whether fritters ( fritelle), turnovers ( pastelle), or the king of Corsican cheesecakes, fiadone.

The Northeast and Lyons

Just north of Nice the Alps begin, extending all the way to Geneva. The olive groves blend progressively into a land of pasture, cows, and butter. Cow’s milk cheeses such as the orange-crusted Reblochon, the creamy Vacherin, or the gruyerelike Beaufort are the pride of the region. Rich potato dishes abound, the most famous being the gratin dauphinois, from around Grenoble, where thinly sliced potatoes are baked in cream until brown. To put cheese on top is considered heresy here (but typical of the Savoyard version of the dish made high in the Alps to the north). Another specialty associated all over France with Grenoble is walnuts. The large tender nuts, shipped in their shells throughout the country during the fall and winter seasons, are considered so specific to the area that they have been accorded their own prestigious AOC.

A small pocket of flat land lying roughly halfway be- tween the Alps and the Rhone Valley prides itself on an- other unique AOC. Called Bresse, this area is familiar to all French gourmets as being the part of the country where the best chickens are raised. The white-feathered, blue-footed poulet de Bresse can sell for three to four times the price of other free-range birds. Served in the finest restaurants around the country, it is the only bird to have been awarded AOC status. Once a year the finest speci- mens are displayed to compete for blue ribbons in Bourg- en-Bresse. Capons and pullets are specially fattened, slaughtered, and wrapped tightly in linen to press the wings and legs into the fat, producing a smooth torpedo shape. The slightest flaw, a bruise or tear in the translu- cent skin, immediately eliminates the bird. The prize winners bring not only prestige but also considerable in- come to their owners since they are sold at a premium at the conclusion of the fair.

About forty miles (sixty kilometers) southwest of Bresse is Lyons, which prides itself on being “the gas- tronomic capital of France.” Lyonnaise cuisine is very hearty, with a penchant for extremities, innards, sausages, and lots of onions. Small restaurants, called bouchons, per- petuate local traditions and serve such typically Lyon-

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

naise fare as sheep’s trotters salad (salade de pieds de mou- ton), crunchy, pan-fried smooth tripe (tablier de sapeur), honeycomb tripe sauteed with onions (gras-double à la lyonnaise), pork sausage with potatoes (saucisson lyonnais, pommes à l’huile), as well as more refined dishes like pike dumplings with crayfish sauce (quenelles de brochet, sauce nantua), or a creamy cheese mixture laced with herbs and a little white wine called cervelle des canuts.

The French Paradox

Each part of France has its own culinary traditions. France’s temperate climate, varied topography, different soils, and multiple coastlines combine to make it one of the richest agricultural countries in Europe. Nonetheless, like most industrial countries today, France’s culinary landscape is changing. Although some foods like the wind-dried cod (stockfish) still favored in isolated com- munities in south-central France and in Nice rarely travel far from home, many that were once reserved for festive occasions are now consumed on a daily basis while oth- ers, once hardly eaten outside their place of origin, like confit de canard, are now readily available in shops and restaurants throughout the country.

The wide variety of French regional cuisines bears witness to the longevity of local cultural traditions—as well as of the country’s inhabitants: France enjoys the lowest rate of cardiovascular disease in Europe (ahead of Portugal, Spain, and Italy) and, curiously enough, it is precisely in the southwest of French, the land of foie gras and confit de canard, that people enjoy the lowest rate of cardiovascular disease in the industrialized world outside of Japan. The famous French paradox. What is the se- cret? Nobody knows for sure, but goose and duck fat, garlic, and tannic red wines—the staples of the local diet along with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables—are all known to produce substances that protect the heart. Be- yond that, the sheer beauty of a French open-air market with its multiplicity of fresh foodstuffs of every possible color and smell, and the enjoyment of savoring them at a leisurely meal with a glass of wine and good company, may provide part of the answer.

See also Cheese; Fish; Iberian Peninsula; Wine.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Froc, J., Mary Hyman, and Philip Hyman, eds. Inventaire du patri- moine culinaire de la France. Paris: Michel Albin (Conseil na- tional des arts culinaires). Volumes on Poitou-Charentes, 1994; Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Rhône-Alpes, 1995; Corse, Midi- Pyrénées, 1996; Aquitaine, 1997; Languedoc-Roussillon, Lim- ousin, 1998.

Hanicotte, Colette, and Jean Froc, et al. La cuisine des terroirs. Paris: Larousse, 2000.

Stouff, Louis. Ravitaillement et alimentation en Provence aux XIV e et XVe

siècles. Paris: Mouton and Co., 1970.

Mary Hyman Philip Hyman

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