Going to the Markets

Saumur Market

Saumur market on Saturday monring

The outdoor markets are one of the joys of living in France.  There is a market every day a short drive from Le Puy Notre Dame.  The two big markets nearby are weekly in Saumur and Thouars.

The Saumur market fills the streets every Saturday morning.  After a little shopping we have a coffee and croissant at one of the cafés in Place St. Pierre.

0027 le grand blue mussels

Mussels after the Saumur market at Le Grand Bleu

We smile at some who enjoy fresh oysters with a bottle of Saumur white at 10 am, something we never have been able to do at that hour with or without the oysters. Away from the main square, the Butterfly has a friendly atmosphere.

We fill our baskets with food for the week.  We might stop at the farm stall by Auberge St. Pierre where there is a large offering of freshly dressed local chicken, pintade, and rabbit, often sold out later in the morning. We are partial to pintade and rabbit, which are quite difficult to buy fresh in the States.  We buy a loaf of pain complet organic bread from the Richelieu baker.  There are several organic vegetable stalls.  The large one is in the center of Place St. Pierre. The small one is on the northwest corner of rue du Marché and rue du Puits Neuf.  We might buy cows milk cheese or organic apples direct from the local farm.

Lunch with Beth after the Saumur market at Le Pot de Lapin

Lunch with Beth after the Saumur market at Le Pot de Lapin

Then it’s time for lunch.  There are many good restaurants in Saumur. We might go Le Grand Bleu for mussels and seafood.  Or Le Pot de Lapin where the menu changes frequently and daily wines are featured on the chalkboard.  We always like to eat outdoors in good weather.  The best place to watch the scene with good food is Bistrot de la Place on the north side of Place St. Pierre, but are several other places on the square.

The Thouars market is different.  While Saumur is bourgeois with elegant white limestone architecture, Thouars is old world, attended primarily by local French.  Held every Friday morning, Thouars has a larger food hall than Saumur, and is perhaps the best market in the department of Deux-Sèvres.  We find that some produce is available only in Thouars, like one of our favorites, fresh watercress (“cresson”), which is more intense than in the States.  Thouars is best for seafood.  We enjoy buying variety including tiny clams, coquille St. Jacque, fresh sardines, and live crab and many others.

Some of the seafood stalls at the Thouars Market on Friday morning

Some of the seafood stalls at the Thouars Market on Friday morning

Lately there has been a new shop with exceptional quality artisan cheese.  The restaurant selection in Thouars is limited, but there is a good little one with an outdoor terrace behind l’Eglise St. Médard, a short walk from the Thouars market, Le Trait d’Union, 8 Place St. Médard.

Doué la Fontaine has a smaller market on Monday mornings.  There are several organic vegetable stalls. Have coffee outside on Place Jean Begault up buy the vegetable stalls.

Explore the other markets nearby in Montrueil-Bellay, Chinon, Angers, Cholet and many others.

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Wine in the French Countryside

Wine in France is a life-long adventure.  It is, of course, a central part of the food culture.  An immense diversity of wines can be tasted at very reasonable prices.  It takes some work and an honest assessment of your tastes to accomplish the best experience.  It is quite possible to find very good wine for 10 euros ($13.50), something that I have a very hard time doing in the States.  And the variety here is incredible compared with the formulaic approach of many New World wines.  Wine in the French countryside is especially enjoyable because it can be tasted and purchase directly from the vigneron.  The Loire region is unique because it offers the most diverse selection wine styles in all of France.

There is an etiquette at the vigneron.  They are usually quite happy to give you a taste of their wine.  An appointment is usually recommended unless the operation has a full-time reception or retail store designed for walk-ins.  This is unusual but it does happen.

The expectation for a tasting with most vignerons when you meet them at their cave is that you will buy a minimum of one carton (6 bottles).  Some vignerons are willing to take a small payment if you do not want to buy any wine.  I usually just buy a carton regardless.  This rule can be relaxed at a “porte ouvert”, where casual tastings are already set up, or it is a type of retail outlet.  It is acceptable to buy just one bottle in a retail setting, but not at a special tasting appointment.

In Le Puy Notre Dame Domaine de la Paliene on the north side of the village as you enter from Doué la Fontaine is accustomed to receiving guests, and it is organic.  Their wine is a little more expensive, but worth the money.  They also have a retail space in Montsoreau.

Jackie Riphoch, vigneron of Les Noades, who has an excellent Le Puy Notre Dame bio wine.

Jackie Riphoch, vigneron of Les Noades, who has an excellent Le Puy Notre Dame bio red wine.

One of my favorite Le Puy Notre Dame wines at the moment for the money is from Jackie Ripoche at Les Noades.  Red wine from Le Puy has a distinctive minerality resulting from the limestone soil.  His red, a classic Le Puy style, sells for 8.50 euros, an excellent value for an organic wine. I also like his rosé for 5.50 euros.  It has a dry distinctive earthiness  I have not  tasted his whites or pétillants.  You can often taste Jackie’s wines at the Saumur market on Saturday mornings.  In this setting feel free to just buy a bottle or two to see how you like it.  He is usually set up on the north side of rue St. Jean past rue Conneille.  You can make an appointment too.  He is located just west of Le Puy Notre Dame in the village of Argentay.

Philippe Gourdon, award-winning organic vigneron of Château Tours Grise

Philippe Gourdon, award-winning organic vigneron of Château Tours Grise

One of my all-time favorite Le Puy wines producers is Françoise and Phillipe Gourdon’s Château Tour Grise.  We usually provide a bottle of their Crément de Loire to our guests arriving at our Petite Chateau.   There is a nice complexity to their crément, and always appropriately dry.  I love their 2003 Amandiers for an apéro, an off-dry white.  Their bin 253 is a wonderfully blanced and complex red. They offer an excellent selection of other styles including dry white, rosé brut, several other red’s, and their Zéro wines, creative artisanal wines without an official appellation.  See this short video including shots of their Guernsey cows in the vineyards, which organically fertilize the vines, and this video where Philippe passionately talks about their organic wines and best biodynamic growing conditions compared with chemically produced grapes. Even in French you understand the benefits of the bio wine environment for grape growing.

I have yet to visit many of the nearby vignerons. And of course there are countless wines to taste thorughout the Loire. When you don’t have the time, a good alternative is a local wine shop. I like Atout Vins in Doué la Fontaine, ten minutes away.  The proprietor Thierry Berson speaks English and he knows his wines from throughout France. Finally, supermarkets have reasonable offerings (don’t tell my wine friends here that I said that).  Leclerc in Saumur has the best selection. For most visitors, the wine selection at a supermarket is impressive.