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Paris Food Tour: Baguettes, Cheese & Chocolate

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Pâtisserie des Rêves
As I mentioned, living in Italy for three years made me captain of Team Olive Oil, not Team Butter, so I wanted to seek out some experts to give me a crash course on Parisian food 101. Enter Context Travel, a collection of specialists in food, architecture, history, and culture who lead groups on walking tours throughout Europe (and a few U.S. cities, too). We were paired up with local food writer Barbra Austin, who had cooked at NYC’s Prune, among other places, and made the move to Paris to pursue pastry studies. From the Seine, we traveled south on the posh Rue du Bac toward edible temptation.

Boulangerie Eric Kayser

Our first stop was Boulangerie Eric Kayser, where we learned the difference between commercial and artisan (or de tradition) baguettes.

Baguettes

Barbra’s tips for spotting an artisan (de tradition) baguette versus a commercial baguette:

  • Commercial bread will have a bumpy pattern on the bottom; this indicates it was baked on industrial trays. Kayser breads are “baked on a linen cloth in an open hearth” (swoon) and have a flat bottom.
  • Artisan bread is made with liquid leaven, not chemical yeast.
  • The shape of artisan bread will not be symmetrical; it will be irregular because it is handmade.
  • The inside of the bread will have holes; it will not have a uniform solid texture.
  • If you hold an artisan baguette on one end and extend it horizontally it should not bend.

I began to think about all the commercial bread I’ve bought and consumed in my life. Luckily, there was cheese to distract me.

Fromagerie Androuet

Barbra (with bread) surveys the goods at Fromagerie Androuet.

Some options at Fromagerie Androuet

Options to consider (like what’s the best cheese to get past a U.S. customs dog?) as we eventually try a chevre, a Comté, and a Munster, and chat with the affable store owners, who clearly love what they do (as do we).

Butcher

Walking toward our next stop, we peer into the window of the local butcher. Shortly afterward, one of them starts burning the hairs off of a duck over an open flame.

Poissonerie

I couldn’t get over how adorable these shops were, with the lighting of high-end fashion dressing rooms, no less. The poissonnerie, or fish shop, had chandeliers hanging from its awnings! I half-expected it to smell of perfume over there.

Chocolat Chapon

But wait, we see chocolate.

Chocolate trays

Barbra said she likes Chocolat Chapon because many chocolate shops have become exclusive and cold, and Chapon is still warm and inviting with customers. While the dessert lovers (not I) palpitated, I waited out the visit… and then someone handed me two types of chocolate mousse that they dollop out like ice cream. Holy mother of… yah, you need to visit and try this.

Novelty store

Yet another adorable store as we walk to sample some Armagnac.

Ryst-Dupeyron wine/armagnac shop

A nook of the Ryst-Dupeyron shop, known for its variety of Armagnac, or a type of brandy made in the region of the same name. They say they have 80 different vintages dating back to 1868. Yes, we should definitely make sure that it’s good.

Pouring cognac

Pouring an Armagnac blend. Armagnac is very similar to Cognac (which is made in a town of the same name north of Armagnac), though Armagnac is distilled only once while Cognac is distilled twice. It’s a little raw for my taste, and has the bite of Italian grappa (not that I’m complaining), but I see the appeal.

Window shopping

I just had to get a shot of these two. Furs, scarves, hats, and cigarettes: welcome to Europe.

Pâtisserie des Rêves "bed"

Final stop: La Pâtisserie des Rêves (also pictured at top). What a presentation of riches. By now, we can’t eat another thing but we split a piece of shortbread for good measure.

We end up at La Grand Epicerie, an international collection of food items on the ground level of the famous department store, Le Bon Marché. Barbra puts it well when she says it’s like all the food we just saw put together under one roof, but without the care and attention that each shop owner we met gives his/her product (she was right; I stopped by later to buy some cheese and bread).

Of course, I had to take a look at the USA section, and I thought you’d like to see what I found:

Marshmallow Fluff

God bless the U-S-of-A.

Related posts:

The Top 10 Things I Learned About Paris
Joël Robuchon’s 3-week-old L’Atelier Etoile
Frederic Simonin: An Excellent Secret

Nomiya: Art Installation or Lunch?

Christmas Eve dinner at Taillevent

Christmas dinner at Le Cinq

Casual Paris: Le 404 (Moroccan) and Café de l’Alma

Passage 53: We’re going out with a bang
Bonus Paris post: Le Chateaubriand, Darling or Dud?
Paris: The Last Bits (Photos)

Jan. 19 2011 |
  1. Abby

    Swoon…cheese…swoon!

  2. ap

    The Rue de Bac area in St. Germain des Pres is wonderful, I agree!

    fun fact:
    Rue du Bac owes its name to a ferry (bac) established toward 1550 on what is now the quai Voltaire, to transport stone blocks for the construction of the Palais des Tuileries. (thanks wikipedia)

  3. edie high sanchez

    Hi Jane, this is a wonderful page, I loved the photos and the comments! makes me hungry! Learned a lot, and the term context travel will be useful! edie

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