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FOOD & DRINK

Nine delicious seasonal French dishes to try this autumn

The fall is one of the best times for food-lovers in France, as the markets blossom with fresh and flavourful produce. Here's a look at some of the tastiest dishes you should try during the autumn.

Autumn in France means hearty seasonal cooking
Autumn in France is mushroom picking season. Photo: AFP

Mushrooms and truffles

Autumn is the perfect time to head out into the French countryside, where you can forage for mushrooms and – if you’re lucky and know where to look – truffles. Many French pharmacies even offer mushroom-checking services so you can make sure your bounty is all safe to eat.

READ ALSO What you need to know for safe and enjoyable mushroom foraging in France

But if that still sounds like too much hard work, you don’t need to get on your hands and knees to enjoy the autumnal fungi. Head to the market or look for good local restaurants serving seasonal specials. 


A basket of truffles at a French market. Photo: Remy Gabalda/AFP

Venison stew (civet de chevreuil)

Autumn is also hunting season, and the perfect time to try out game. This rural French stew is perfect for cosy autumn evenings and best of all, venison is naturally low in fat making it a healthy choice. Typical recipes will call for a bottle of red wine, root vegetables, and mushrooms.

Truffade

What this dish from the Auvergne region lacks in Instagram appeal, it makes up for with its hearty taste. The truffade is a kind of thick potato pancake made with goose fat and Tome fraiche cheese. Meat-lovers can add bacon while vegetarians can swap out the goose fat for vegetable oil and serve it with a green salad.

Photo: StudioM/Depositphotos

Herring

Head to the northwest coast of France around November to experience festivals dedicated to the humble herring.

You’ll discover more ways to prepare the fish than you ever thought possible, as well as have the chance to join in the celebratory spirit in these fishing towns. The largest herring festival is held in late November in Dieppe.

READ ALSO The 9 best festivals in France in autumn 2021

Fricassée

Nothing says autumnal comfort food better than a succulent stew, and fricassee is one of the quintessential recipes. Chicken is the meat most commonly used, but you can make the dish your own, cutting up and braising the meat before making a white sauce to cook it in.

Photo: monkeybusiness/Depositphotos

Chestnuts

When October comes, the distinctive smell of roasting chestnuts fills the streets in France. It’s been a staple in the French diet for centuries, thanks to the abundance of forests which meant there was a good supply of chestnuts even for the poorest families.

If you want to try the best of the best, look out for either Châtaigne, Périgord, Limousin, Midi-Pyrénées or Châtaigne d’Ardèche for assured quality. As well as eating them straight from the bag you can buy from street sellers, you’ll also see them on menus in soups, sauces, desserts, and liqueurs.

Pumpkin pie

Americans in particular might be pleased to learn that pumpkin pie (tarte à la citrouille) is a specialty in France. It’s often served around All Saint’s Day (November 1st) and is particularly common in the centre of the country.

If you plan to make your own, be warned that canned pumpkin purée is often excruciatingly expensive in France, so why not do as the French do and buy the real deal fresh from your local market?

Photo: elenathewise/Depositphotos

Galettes

A galette in France usually refers to a round, flat pastry cake, and in autumn you can indulge in a range of flavours such as apples, pears, or plums, all of which are in season. 

In Brittany, however, it has a different meaning – the Breton galette is a kind of crepe, and equally delicious. Try them topped with salted caramel – the sauce has been a favourite in the region for centuries, ever since it was excluded from France’s tax on salt in the 16th century, and it complements autumnal flavours perfectly.
 
Cider

Autumn isn’t all about the wine harvest – it’s also cider season, with apple and cider festivals across the country and particularly in Brittany and Normandy.

A great way to travel around the best spots is to follow the 40km circular Cider Route, through villages, meadows, farms, and of course, orchards aplenty. And many other towns and villages have their own apple and cider festivals, where you might be surprised to discover the variety of tastes on offer. As an alternative, try Normandy’s Calvados, a delicious apple-flavoured brandy.

Photo: foto-pixel.web.de/Depositphotos

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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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