Allyson Gofton in France: The traiteur
Transhumance has been in full swing in the valleys of the Pyrenees. The annual walking of the cattle and sheep from winter covered shelters on family farms to the high, lush alpine pastures is age-old.
The walks begin early, around 3 or 4am while the air is cool and before the heat of the late afternoon. Villages en-route join in the celebrations, decorating their towns and putting on lunch menus. The valleys are awe-inspiring; words fail me to describe their size and vistas, and one can only marvel at the talent of the men who, hundreds of years ago, built the Cols — passes — to access the pastures for their animals.
Last century these routes became roads to harness water for generating electricity and now host a number of hors categorie rides for the Tour du France and many campervan tourists.
Wandering the Col d’Aubisque in the Basque Valley (famed for its brebis cheese and piment d’espelette spiced cured meats) last weekend I did not clock watch and at 1700ft, hungry and thirsty, we stopped to eat — only to find we had missed France’s designated lunch hour. Our choice was coffee, beer or lemonade, not even an assiette de frites for a petit enfant to be had.
The set rhythm for lunch in France assumes that tourists will fall into line regardless of location; lunch was over and there was no fast food takeaway shop in sight. Fast food here is the realm of the traiteur, whose boutique may be like a delicatessen, or an adjunct to a cafe du the, or charcuterie.
The traiteur’s selection is very personal and designed for his loyal clients. Behind bench-long, glass-fronted chiller cabinets, the traiteur will present foods for aperos, dinner and dessert. There are no over-stuffed, bain-marie dishes with over-heated, dried out noodles or sweet ‘n’ sour.
Food choices are presented in a manner to inspire diners to savour and enjoy. The word traiteur comes from the word traiter meaning “to treat”, usually with food. Sitting like jewels will be aspic-glazed loaves of pate ormini terrines, dishes with rillettes of duck, goose or pork.
The bread or croustade that accompanies comes gratis. Main course selections will vary with the seasons, though all choices are presented cold and garnished. Arranged on long, individual platters will be poached or roasted fish fillets, roasted pork or beef medallions, chicken or duck breasts blanketed with sauce and garnished, with herbs, tomato roses or slices of truffle.
Vegetables too will be available but not as we might expect. Braised whitloof (chicory) in stock and pommes duchesse (piped and baked mashed potato), beetroot or carrots diced and cooked are winter favourites. Your selection will be placed into a sturdy takeaway dish, garnished, covered with wrap and packaged in the proprietor’s handled box for you to carry home.
Once home and reheated, this glamorous TV dinner will not be eaten from the container, or with your hands on the couch in front of the TV! Rather you will plate the meal, sit, eat and savour, maybe with a wine; a treat for sure.
Quick to prepare, ideal for cooking in the crock pot (on low for 5-6 hours. Cooking on high is not recommended), and perfect for cool nights. Using chorizo avoids the need for too many spices. Get the recipe
Here you can buy long, sweet, thin-skinned green capsciums called peppers verte, which are much nicer to use as they add flavour without the heat of chillies. If you can find them, use 3-4 in place of the green capsicum or chilli.