Two years ago, I accompanied a sheep farmer and his family to the Paris Salon de l'Agriculture. I was not excited to go. I reasoned that if I wanted to experience livestock and their attendant aromas, I could have stayed in Kansas.
In truth, this annual salon is nothing like I'd experienced back in the American Midwest. For starters, there is no accompanying rodeo. In its place, the Paris version allows you to taste some of the best food and wine in France. I almost fainted, upon entering the food hall on that first visit and seeing the bounty of France spread out before me.
Food and beverage producers—more than 1,000 of them—are brought in to sell and share their wares, and almost all offer samples. I staggered through stalls in a daze, accepting a slice of Basque brebis (sheep's milk cheese from the Pyrenees), tasting a sliver of sausage from the Auvergne region, and washing that down with a shot of artisanal pear cider from Normandy. In addition to these nibbles, there's a food court of sorts, with 38 restaurants selling more substantial portions of food from all corners of France. You'll find everything from crêpes to coq au vin, plus artisanal beers from the North of France that will restore your faith in French breweries. Those who prefer wine can drink themselves silly at the hand of hundreds of vignerons (winemakers). In short, this is an amazing food and wine festival smack dab on top of a livestock fair.
And speaking of livestock, I found this part to be surprisingly compelling. France's AOC system ensures that certain animal breeds can be raised only in specific regions and according to time-honored methods. This results in real differences between cows from, say, Limousin and Charolles—differences that are accentuated by what I like to call "regional styling." The animals are accessorized according to breed, with variations including "shaved butt," "braided tail with ribbon," and so on. These tricked-out specimens have competed earlier in the week in a sort of agricultral beauty pageant, and the resulting ribbons are on display for all to see. My favorite grand prize winner, who preened inside his cage like a true champion, was the Dragon Bleu Barré…a pigeon.
Practical information: Admission is $13.50 for adults and $8 for students and children aged 6–12. Entry is not permitted for children younger than six. The salon runs February 27 to March 7, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. It stays open late on Friday March 5 and offers half-price admission from 7 p.m.–11 p.m.
Getting there: The Paris Expo center at Porte de Versailles is located in city's southern 15th arrondissement. Getting there is easy by subway: take the line 12 to the Porte de Versailles stop and you'll emerge directly in front of the center, or take the line 8 to the Balard stop and walk for five minutes. Salon de l'Agriculture.
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