In France, love and food are as magically intertwined as two hands clasped together. And as sensual as the experience of enjoying French food can be – with little moans of delight as the cream of a St. Marcellin cheese drips off a baguette onto one’s chin, or the aroma of a steaming pot au feu caresses the skin like an embrace – it is love, not sex, that I am referring to, especially when it is of the « true » variety.
They were giddy times when I dropped my life in Manhattan in the dustbin in order to rejoin my companion, Remi, in France. As we were both starting over from zero in a tiny duplex on the outskirts of Paris, we had nothing but each other and a stereo for company. So we cooked. Remi took delight in introducing me to the food of his country. Hours would pass between the first apéro and the moment that the dish was served. And then we would sit cross-legged on the floor with our plates delicately balanced on a rickety wooden coffee table, and we savored. Our dinners would last late into the evening and they still do.
Flash forward to twelve years later, for last autumn’s Toussaint or All Saint‘s Day. We had borrowed the house of a family member for an extended stay outside of Auxerre, in Burgundy, where the maternal side of Remi’s family is from. La Toussaint is a complex holiday and emotions were running high. And so we fled for a drive into the countryside to breathe. By the time that we reached the village of Chablis, Remi’s face had settled into peace. We continued on and drove up into the vines.
« My family had a vignoble of Chablis until the Second World War, » he began. I knew the story as I had heard it many times before and yet never in the actual setting. And suddenly, I felt his understanding, his appreciation for his history, and they passed through me with more certainty than they had when we visited the tombs of his ancestors that morning. The roots of my love for him, already profound, dug deeper down. We were quiet in our togetherness, standing close, feet solid on the land. Love in the terroir.
We decided to stop in the village on our way back. Chablis wears her charms on her sleeve and it is impossible for two foodies like us to resist such a siren call. At the vegetable stand, we bought an entire case of trompettes de la mort – the tender black mushrooms whose name oddly translates as the trumpets of death – for 10 Euros just because we could. Remi indulged in tripe sausage at La Maison d’Andouillet and extra-large escargots were bought for Noël. The fromagerie yielded Chaource and Soumaintrain, just two of the aromatic cheeses of the region. And, of course, a bottle of Petit Chablis, one made from grapes harvested near where we had been standing an hour earlier, was tucked carefully amongst the rest of our edible treasures.
Back at the house, the cork was popped and Remi set about preparing our meal. I sipped the liquid gold wine and watched him work. How gently he brushed off and trimmed each champignon. I thought about the old times and how similar it was, being in this unknown kitchen, to the sparseness of our past. And yet, how rich I felt in the warmth of that space, solid in the knowledge that what was shared on our plates was just an extension, albeit a delicious one, of the love that we are so fortunate to have. It keeps growing. How I dearly hope that there will be many more such meals and such moments to come.
®Heather Robinson, all text and images
Heather Robinson is a travel writer and photographer who resides in the south of France. You may visit Heather at Lost in Arles.
*Terroir is a term that is difficult to translate from French into English. It suggests belonging to the local land, a notion of one’s sense of place, and a piece of home wherein quality of food and culture seems literally tied to the earth – “la terre.”
Part of a series of essays, recipes, and tidbits on food and love in celebration of Valentine’s week.
You May Also Enjoy