What I Love Most in Paris: Neighborhood Meats, Cheeses, Breads, and Sweets

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One of my absolute favorite things in Paris are the specialty shops. In their own way I love the mega-stores in the U.S. I like that I can get pretty much everything I need grocery shopping in a single place, whether at Whole Foods or a less expensive chain. But I also like that in Paris you’re much more likely to stop at a cheese shop, a meat shop, and another place still for your bread.

There are tradeoffs with convenience (and there are some larger chains there too of course) but the specialization likely corresponds to quality products – they do cheese, and nothing else — and especially where a given cheese shop is going to be competing with others for your business.

What’s more, Parisians are some of the best-educated consumers in the world. They’re some of the most frugal, though there’s certainly luxury and excess in the city. They live in small spaces. There’s so little left, the way their labor markets work and the taxes, that they celebrate the simple things, like a perfect cheese.

A food blog that I much enjoy is Paris By Mouth and they’ve expanded into food tours, so we got together with another couple and walked around several shops one day and wound up with a truly fantastic lunch.

We began picking up baguettes and croissants, at a bakery with two locations but without a name or website — it can be found at 134 rue de Turenne and 59 rue de Saintonge.

They’ve won prizes for both their baguette tradition and their croissants, and it’s incredible the difference between ordinary versions of those and better ones. I will never eat a crescent-shaped croissant again, the juice ain’t worth the squeeze as they say having tried the oval-shaped ones with their tightly-wound insides and golden brown exterior.

We made a brief stop at Goumanyat spice shop at 3 rue Charles-Francois Dupuis.

They actually have a sniffing bar!

We walked down the street to the Ramella Charcutier Traiteur at 38 rue de Bretagne, past a waiting fleet of cars preparing for a wedding to conclude. There with picked up duck rillettes, capon, and an orange and rosemary terrine.

Next stop was the Jouannault cheese shop at 39 rue de Bretagne.

Truly, cheeses in Paris are magnificent. Even within cheese itself, there’s specialization. A shop may simply sell cheeses, but while few will make the cheeses themselves this one handles the aging. Thus they have a cellar for it, and they must be expert at knowing the right time that the cheese will be at its best.

We tried their Epoisses, which is excellent. I think I’ve only eaten this cheese a handful of times in the States. Ray’s Hell Burger used to include it as an offering on its burgers, before the restaurant jumped the shark (after President Obama brought Joe Biden and then Dmitry Medvedev there in succession) and they ran into problems with their landlord. It melts easily, and has a strong odor, but this cow’s cheese from Burgundy has a meaty, salty, egg-like taste that lingers in your mouth.

The absolute best cheese, that truly blew me away, was their Comté — aged 45 months. This one wore a green band for having received a top (15-20 on a 20 point scale) score — it amazes me that there’s an actual job in France to taste and grade cheeses in order to provide uniform consumer information. It’s a cow’s milk cheese, firm yet melts in your mouth, it had solid flavor crystals that had formed and tasted of melted butter yet was toasty, salty, and nutty as well.

We tasted others, like their roquefort, and some goat cheeses, but these two were truly standouts that I have the flavor memory for still today.

Final stop before eating was Caractère de Cochon at 42 rue Charlot, a shop devoted entirely to ham.

After we ate the bounty of our shopping, we walked to a chocolatier. Walking through Paris has so many sites, things you just don’t see in the States that here are part of every day life.

Our last stop was the Jacques Genin chocolate shop at 133 rue de Turenne.

The chocolates and caramel were both exquisitely delicious.. and pretty to look at.. inside a shop that, like Pierre Herme, was as much like a high-end jeweler in presentation as a food shop.

We were told that this was no accident, that the shop’s owner had grown up poor and one of his eccentricities is presenting the items that were out of rich to him as a child in the most beautiful way possible.

With the busy holiday season, they weren’t doing a sit down service, just taking orders to go.

What’s most special to me about Paris is the way that Parisians shop, their care in purchases and the passion for quality on the part of many of the purveyors. The specialization is something that isn’t duplicated in the same way in the U.S. (although isn’t uncommon in other parts of the world, I grew up going from shop to shop like this on my visits to Sydney). And I wouldn’t want the same government-grading of foods in the U.S., having external standards judged reasonably uniformly can be useful indeed no matter what entity is providing it.

And certainly being permitted unpasteurized cheese – the U.S is truly backward, as even Australia which has long required pasteurization has made exceptions for certain cheese such as Emmental and Roquefort. Though we cannot import such cheeses, I do hope that some states allowing the sale of raw milk bodes well for a future when the quality cheeses of France could find a home here. After all, the French do eat their unpasteurized cheeses and clearly aren’t falling ill.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. There is nothing less French than stay at the Park Hyatt in Paris. It is amazing how America bloggers have a fascination for this place.

  2. The next time you’re in Paris outside of holiday rush periods do treat yourself to a sit-down at Jacques Genin. Their filled pastries are prepared to order, with extraordinary results. The mille feuille (napoleon) is to die for!

    And if you’re in the neighborhood at lunch time stop into the Marché des Enfants Rouges. There are some good lunch spots, and there’s vendor who banters in multiple languages as he prepares generous sandwiches of wonderful ingredients. I can’t tell you exactly where he is but you’ll know him when you see him.

  3. @Ranjit I don’t know what the Park Hyatt has to do with a post on meats and cheeses and breads…? Nonetheless you have your idea of French, I don’t think it’s reasonable to say the Park Hyatt isn’t French, what are your reasons for that? Regardless, it’s about the nicest place I can stay reasonably for points which was my goal. No need for you to stay there of course!

  4. Last I checked, our local Whole Foods carries Epoisses. Expensive, but my husband swears it’s worth it. It’s not sold by the pound/wedge, but by the self-contained 8-oz (I think) container.

  5. I did a food tour with them when I was there in October and it was wonderful! My mouth is watering just looking at your photos and remembering all the great food we tried.

  6. Yesterday, we did the Paris by Mouth tour (Food Tour of the Marais) that Gary describes here. I’m searching for the words to describe how fabulous it was. Claire, our guide was Irish, fluent in French, etc.; personality ++, full of fascinating tidbits about each shop and a charm that made you feel totally welcome; she seemed to personally know each of the “owners” described above and shared that friendship w/us. One of unique facts from Caractere De Cochon was the loving treatment (right to their demise) of the hogs: to lessen stress, they’re transported no more 70 km and just before slaughter, they are gently put to sleep w/some type of spray. I am a very seasoned traveler and am recommending this tour to everyone I know. Since I’m in Paris for a month, I will probably at least 2 more tours w/Paris by Mouth.

  7. Oh France, we pray with you. I just visited Paris in April with my family. It was my wife and I’s second trip (1998 World Cup was the first). This trip included our children. We loved it all and were grateful to have made it there (in respect to the Charlie H victims – I had to go) .There was a French gentlemen who spoke French to the subway ticket agent for me, as my family awaited. I was flustered, as the ticket machines failed, after arriving on the Chunnel Train from London and the ticket agent (my only neg encounter- “did not speak” English, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Portuguese) did not help me. This gentlemen, popped out go no where and stated ” I speak French” and completed my transaction with the agent. I offered to buy him a train ticket, and he so politely refused.

    This young man, will forever be in my heart (I am tearing writing this). These are the gestures that people do that go unspoken (I had already said this over and over to many who questioned my trip to France).

    #PrayforParis #peaceonEarth

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