France is rightly proud of its regional French food and its local products. Keep your eyes open as you shop in markets and towns and you’ll come across treasures like jams and preserves made from trees in the orchards you might just have passed.
Seafood and Shellfish
All those regions that have a seaside produce great fish from the oceans.
Check out oysters in the Cotentin peninsular in Normandy in picturesque villages like Saint-Vaast-la-Hougue, or in the inland sea of the Bay of Arcachon on the Atlantic coast.
Sardines from around the island of Noirmoutier are prized.
In Brittany scallops are trawled in and around Saint-Brieuc bay.
Down in the south of France, the Côte Bleue near Marseille is known for its sea urchins.
Caviar is another French specialty. It’s produced in Aquitaine on fish farms, having started in the Gironde, Dordogne and Garonne estuaries.
Read more about the great Rivers of France
Regional French Vegetables
Onions are grown everywhere, but the Cevennes produces a wonderfully sweet onion that chefs all over France prize.
Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne is the center of AOC green lentils and in their pretty tins they make great gifts to take home.
Nord-Pas de Calais in the north produces delightful tender Tilques carrots. The marais around Saint-Omer is a large market garden, producing cauliflower, artichokes, leeks and endive.
Large Soissons white beans were first grown in the Aisne Department in the 18th century. Today its production area is around the valley of l’Ailette.
The potatoes of Noirmoutiers, an island in the Vendée, are a particular speciality – and the most expensive in the world. They’re known among chefs and potato freaks as ‘the caviar of the vegetable world’.
Regional french Food – Meat
Many regions produce beef: Burgundy is home to the Charolais variety; Aubrac in the Massif Central produces an eponymous variety.
Some of the most famous poultry in the world comes from Burgundy; poulets de bresse are wonderful white feathered chickens raised organically and about as far from factory-raised chickens that you can get.
Pork is produced all over France, particularly in Alsace where it’s used extensively in choucroute garnie: pork sausages or ribs served over sauerkraut.
Lamb from Provence is wonderfully tender and sweet.
Salt marsh lamb is particularly prized; try out those from the Normandy coast near Mont-Saint-Michel.
Duck, Goose and Foie Gras
The best known region for duck and good foie gras is Aquitaine, which includes the Dordogne (Périgord), the Landes and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques.
Look out for local salt. Perhaps the best known is salt from Guérande in Brittany but there are many thriving salt works along the French Atlantic coast and on islands like Ile de Ré.
Of all regional French food, olive oil is probably the most famous and best loved. Olive oil is produced extensively throughout the south, particularly in Provence.
It’s a good plan to visit the shops of olive oil producers. You’ll be hard pressed (apologies; that was not meant to be a pun) to find many top oils anywhere but locally. They are often sold in pretty tins or bottles, so make great gifts.
Mushrooms and Truffles
Mushrooms are found all over France. There are over 3,000 different varieties of mushrooms in France, but the most popular are girolles, chanterelles, cèpes, bolets and morilles. If you’re uncertain about what you’ve collected, take your basketful to the local pharmacie who can check them out for you. The best season for mushrooms is between mid-August and mid-September when the sun comes out after a rain shower.
Truffles are some of the most expensive ingredients, and you’ll come across dishes made with the black diamonds particularly in Périgord. Burgundy is also famous for its truffles. All regions sniff out the rare delicacy with dogs; pigs were used in the past.
As Charles de Gaulle famously remarked: “How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?” What more can I say? Just find out the local ones and you’ll be happy.
Fruit grows all over France. but if you’re in Lorraine make sure you try mirabelles. These are the small yellow colored plums that appear in desserts, as jams, preserves and liqueurs.
The best sweet melons come from Cavaillon in the Vaucluse which holds a special festival in July.
Agen in Lot-et-Garonne, is known for its prunes.
If you’re in the Loire valley, you’ll see wonderful spring blossoms on cherry trees.
60% of strawberries are grown in Limousin. If you’re in Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne in May enjoy the wonderfully succulent festival there.
Chestnuts are used extensively and imaginatively in France. The best known place for growing them is in Mourju in the Auvergne.
More to Discover about French Food
Surprisingly, the artist Toulouse-Lautrec was a great cook. He followed the seasons and local produce. More about this unexpected gourmet and the Art of Cuisine.