March 26, 2014

Montbard Market

France can make the simple complicated. What could be easier, one asks, than buying food? A steak is a steak, strawberries are strawberries, right?


In a culture where food is more important than income, centuries of infatuation have made selection and preparation of victuals a complex endeavor. This market, featuring 60 +/- vendors in a warehouse-type building in the center of Montbard, is a prime place to learn the importance of quality products and artisanal work in the culinary world.

Taste-tested, Frenchwoman-approved
At the produce stand, there are three types of strawberries on offer: one from Spain that seems affordable, and two French varieties, from around $8 a pound to $16 a pound. A rapport qualité-prix battle rages (loosely, the relationship between price and quality, a national obsession).

Up go the antennae: a woman is flattering the stand operator about the quality of her strawberries. They are amazing. You ask the difference between those and the Spanish ones (which look tempting themselves, at a third the price). The customer wonders if perhaps the curious gentleman could have a taste? Sadly, no, counters the shopkeeper, because they are already weighed and sold by weight. So the customer reaches into her own container and proffers one to the neophyte. Juice, sugar, and aroma explode simultaneously (this is sexy food), and the choice is made. “Achetons français,” the woman says. “We should buy French.”

Now to the steak, which will surely be easier. But, lo! What are these cuts? And what does one do with them? Onglet. Jarret. Paleron. Collier. Roasts tied with lard in perfect cylinders. 

In the adjacent case, dozens of terrines reside: duck, liver, rabbit, country, and “grandmother’s.” Hesitation in front of such choice is normal, but not always appreciated at busy times. Stand back a couple feet and let the locals shop. Eavesdrop. 
Rabbit, rabbit
The woman behind the counter delivers the gem of the day: pork cheeks. Cook them in just-bubbling water, broth, or wine, flavored with aromatics, for at least 2 ½ hours. “Vous allez voir,” she tells her customer. You will see just how good it is. You can have the leftovers, cold with mustard. Your hesitation is gone, and you take some, too.

The artisan explains that everything is made in house. Her husband, who deals with the meat while she focuses primarily on the terrines, explains that they are there to protect a certain quality of local products. When a tuberculosis outbreak affected Charolais cattle, some producers moved to the Limousin race. He continues to obtain the former, believing it is a true gem of the region, and worth celebrating. As his pride shines, one cannot help but get a little collier for some boeuf Bourgignon. A fine Sunday meal in the making, from two people who rise each morning at 4 and work 14 hours to bring pleasure to their clients. 

Even though it is Burgundy, you can find rascasse, essential for a bouillabaisse
What: Market
Where: Place Gambetta, Montbard, Côte d’Or, Burgundy
When: Friday mornings year-round
How Much: Your choice

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