Following my grandmother on her errands on Marché day was always a treat. I was about eight years old and I tagged along watching as she strolled and chatted with all the familiar vendors. "What do you have today?" she would ask, and then tell them what she was looking for. She never purchased an item just because she had planned to use it. Instead she listened to their suggestions and then decided what she was going to buy—in the end, what she served was always a collaboration.
If there was something special, a fish that was unusual and caught in the morning or vegetables that were at their best, that is what we ate.
Shopping was an exploration into the land and the people who brought us the food. Buying their ingredients was to experience and share a part of them. For me, that was sheer joy.
But when it came to visiting Monsieur Casu le fromager, the cheese man, I was always a little bewildered.
After our greetings, Mémé (my grandmother) would tell him what she wanted.
“Mais oui bien sur, Madame Maréchal,” he would reply as he pulled out cheeses for us to taste.
Mémé would select four or five different categories—typically a blue cheese, one made from goat’s milk, one from cow’s milk, as well as a soft cheese and a hard cheese. Then she and Monsieur Casu would set about choosing the flavors and types that were just right within those categories.
Once that was done, he would look at her and say, “When are you going to serve them?"
“Ca sera pour le déjeuner demain,” for lunch tomorrow, she replied.
“What time, à quelle heure exactement?” he asked.
She would give him the time, “Aux allentour de quartorze heur,” around 2 p,m., she replied.
He then set about going through all his selections, examining the colors, gently touching and turning each piece, until he found the exact piece that would be at its best exactly at the time she was planning to serve it.
She would walk out delighted, but I was baffled. “How could he possibly know, comment peut-il savoir?” I asked. She would look at me lovingly and explain, “Il connait son métier.” That is his job and he is good at it.
But selecting the food was only half the adventure. The other half occurred when we sat down to eat. Every bite was anticipated and savored as everyone acknowledged the perfection of the ingredients that made up the meal.
What gives me the greatest joy is that now when I’m in France, I am still asked the same question. “What time are you planning to eat this?”
Thanks to farmers markets and the slow food movements, we can easily find food to nourish our bodies and souls that has been grown and nurtured by people who are passionate about what they do and gift us with the result of their love—and it is a gift.
P.S. Coming up . . .
A country that is so precise about cheese and has so many to choose from and rules about how to eat them. Next week's blog is about the rules of eating cheese. Don’t miss it.
What about you?
Do you have memories of buying food with a grandparent as a child? Was it fun or a chore?
Let us know, I'd love to hear.
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