Fall means many things in France - leaves changing color, roasted chestnuts instead of roasted maize (thankfully, since roasted maize really smells awful), scarves as permanent outfit fixtures, and the harvest of new wines. This last one is my favorite; it results in tastings and fairs popping up all throughout Paris, including one just fifteen minutes from our apartment that featured over 50 producers of wine and artisanal food products (foie gras, sausage, cheese, chocolate, oysters, etc) and endless free tastings.
Growing up in Marin County, I'm no stranger to farmer's markets and food festivals. But the variety of markets and fairs we have there is distinctly elitist and yuppie, a specific statement about a facet of society that values farm-to-table as a trend and a social movement. In France, the celebration of agricultural products and wines is just a way of life, historically ingrained in the culture. It feels authentic, especially when you realize some of these vineyards date back to a time before America even existed. The distinct nature of the products at the fair was local, artisanal, and handmade. The producers wanted to talk to us, even across a difficult language barrier, about their products - how they were made, why they tasted in a certain way, where they were located. We were invited to help with next year's harvest, offered to taste as much as we wanted, given advice on what to pair with what. And as a result, we came away with considerably lighter wallets and considerably heavier bags - six bottles of wine, a wedge of Brebis cheese, nine sausages, a handful of macarons, and five meat hand pies. It's not just food. It's a celebration of life, and ways of life, that are distinctly French.