UbiFrance try to help French businesses succeed. Their food and drink people are obsessive about the best of French produce. It's just what they do, and their passion is apparent, whoever you meet from their organisation. I was invited to their Taste Of France exhibition at The Roof Gardens, Kensington, showcasing both new and traditional French food products and found myself surrounded by quite simply wonderful food.
The products featured are largely unknown in the UK, or if sold, are only available in very select stores. This is a shame, since they were of very good quality, made generally by smaller companies who know their "oignons". Many of these products ought to be picked up by the supermarkets for premium ranges or by high quality delis.
I will focus on the products and producers which had the greatest impact on me or impressed me the most.
Chocogil are a small family chocolate producer who have been in business since 1957, using only pure cocoa butter in their products. The product they wanted to showcase is, to my mind, the perfect present for any wine and chocolate lover you might know. The Marc de Champagne Bouchon is their creation, dark chocolate moulded into the shape of a cute little champagne cork, and filled with Marc de Champagne brandy liqueur. During the making process, called the "Mogul" process (nothing to do with the Indian emperors from the time of the Taj Mahal's creator Shah Jahan), the people at Chocogil manage to crystallise sugar on the inside of the chocolate shell, meaning that the brandy is encased and does not come into direct contact with the chocolate. From a practical viewpoint, this means the transportation and storage potential is much increased. But from my point of view as a food lover, you get a lovely slight crunch as you chomp through the chocolate into the thin sugar shell to the brandy beneath. This product is, amazingly, not yet readily available in the UK. I can see myself buying these as presents for food and wine loving friends and relatives. They taste great and look special. Chocogil make 9 varieties of the Bouchon, flavoured with all manner of wonderfulness such as praline, noisette, calvados, and raspberry.
Based in the Lorraine area, Berni have been producing dried and cured meat products since 1954. Their chorizos and saucissons seches are sold all over France, and they are seen as one of the best producers in France. The product Berni were seeking to find suppliers and retailers for are, in my opinion, possibly the ultimate 'meaty treaty', "Les French Stickss", little packets of mini dried meat sausages of roughly the same dimensions as a liquorice stick. The product was lauched in 2010 and is available in 4 flavours; chorizo, saucisson sec, Danish salami and cherry plum flavoured saucisson sec. Les French Stickss won the 2010 Innoval Competition.
This is a cracking little product; the packets are small enough to be a pleasant snack, the sticks themselves are a tactile and pleasant size, they are skinless for convenient eating and they taste great; meaty and full of flavour. They are chewy in a satisfying way, rather like beef jerky, but without the fibres to get stuck in your teeth! I think this is a product which generally, men will love. It would be perfectly marketed as a treat for a Saturday afternoon of sport and beer. Not that I won't be enjoying some myself!
The Provencal city of Aix-En-Provence has long been famed for its gastronomy, clear light and beautiful scenery. Its local countryside was the inspiration for a certain Mr Van Gogh. La Confiserie du Roy Rene have, for 3 generations, been making little sweets called "Calissons". Legend has it that King Rene's Queen, some time in the 15th Century, was offered these sweets and loving their taste, asked what their name was. The reply, in the Provencal dialect was "Di Calins souns" (little hugs), from which they then gained their name.
The Calisson is made from almonds grown in Provence, candied melon and orange peel. These are pressed into a diamond shaped chewy lozenge and topped with royal icing. They are a sophisticated little treat either made in full size, which is a decent bite size and the mini version, which is a tiny but sweet treat.
Another Provencal company was Jean Martin, a family run business which since 1920 has made typically Provencal food products; bottled soups such as the classic Pistou, Ratatouille, black and green olive Tapenade, tomato and basil sauces and aubergine caviar. All the produce is cultivated in Provence and harvested when in season, to assure the quality of the vegetables used. The products are all free from artificial colours, preservatives, flavouring and starch. In 2011 they started an organic range, which combines the best produce of the Provencal sunshine (famously Provence is the sunniest part of France) with the Martin family's cooking knowhow.
This is an adorable little crostini we made from the aubergine caviar. Can you imagine this as a cute little canape, topped with a little cube of feta cheese and a basil leaf with a drizzle of olive oil?
Foie Gras is a classic French food product, but one which is controversial in the UK. Many love its taste and texture, but object to the forcefeeding process. In fairness, the forcefeeding of the geese which make the Foie Gras only happens for the last 12 days of the geese's life, the geese having a free range outdoor life for four months prior to that. However, this is something many food fans cannot get past. I was very interested to find that Sarlat based producer Rougie have a cruelty free, non-forcefed product Duck Foie Fin. It is made from unfattened ducks only. Connoisseurs of Foie Gras may taste it and note the texture is not quite as delicately smooth as the 'real thing'. I would challenge the majority of people, foodies included, to tell the difference. It is smooth with subtle creaminess. It was very good on the fresh French bread I tried. This is a product which I think the UK market will embrace, particularly if its cruelty free status is made clear on the packet.
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Choc'Fleurs, based in Morogues, is an inspiring small producer of quite the most inventive and lovely chocolates. When I say 'small producer' I mean it, it's a husband and wife team! I was able to meet Christian Guilleminot, but not his wife as she was back in France, running the business!
The chocolates are 100% organic, made wholly from pure cocoa butter. in the couple's 18th Century house among the trees and flowers. It was not until 2008 that Monsieur Guilleminot had the idea of using the nature around him. Now, these high quality chocolates are hand decorated or flavoured with organic flowers, herbs or spices. Beautifully presented, with quality of taste to match, these chocolates are only available at selected shops in France and online in France. They are truly excellent, particularly the hibiscus and the star anise flavours. There has to be a supplier or retailer out there who wants to sell superb stuff like this!
If you are interested in these companies, here are their contact details:
Confiseur du Roy Rene (Calissons): firstname.lastname@example.org
Jean Martin: email@example.com
I would like to thank UbiFrance for inviting me to the show, I had an illuminating and enjoyable time.