I was in Paris last week expressly so I could attend the International Agriculture Salon. It’s like the biggest state fair you’ve ever seen – except that it’s way better…indoors, in Paris, and all about French food and wine.
What particularly lured me was the cows. Of the five enormous pavilions at the show, one is devoted to cows, sheep, pigs, rabbits, chickens and pigeons (the kind you eat, of course). All through the day you can sit in an arena and watch judges choose the best in class among Charolais or Holsteins or many other breeds. When they declare the winner, rock music plays loudly and colored lights flash. It didn’t look like the cows were much moved by the hoopla, but it made their handlers happy. Having a winning cow is big stuff in the ag world.
My friend Donna Morris and I walked through the stalls touching every cow we could. (They are very large close up.) Many clanked with huge decorative bells strapped around their necks. Calves nuzzled up to their moms – even in the competition rings. In the pig section, litters of little ones cavorted around the sleeping sows.
This is a serious trade show as well as fun for ordinary people. Men sit hunched together over tables – with a glass of wine, of course – negotiating the best prices for artificial insemination from the very finest bulls.
As we made our way through the animals, booths offered free tastings of yogurt and cheese and fresh milk – way more flavorful than the very pasteurized stuff we get in the US. Almost any food made in France was represented: artisanal ice creams, foie gras, bread, milk, honey, olive oil, sausage, bread, wine, beer. You could buy products to eat, to wear, to supply your kitchen or just to delight your dog back home.
I suspect that most of the people surging through the salon were really there for the food. In the Régions of France pavilion, booths offered up oysters from Brittany, aligot — mashed potatoes with tomme cheese — from the Auvergne, foie gras from Périgord, snails and beef from Burgundy. Throngs of people crowded the 38 temporary sit-down restaurants, each featuring the specialties of an agricultural area. The pavilion also includes Madagascar, Martinique, Guadeloupe and the other overseas areas considered part of France. There the spices of the Caribbean and Africa scented the stalls, and Calypso music played under the crowd noise. Another entire pavilion is devoted to foods from other countries: Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and many more. No wonder everyone was walking out with shopping bags.
Unlike a typical US state fair, there weren’t any carnival rides, although Donna took a huge green tractor out for a spin around the parking lot. Mostly, everyone was intent on food and where it came from.
At the same time as the Ag Salon was Fashion Week in Paris. Long white tents were lined up in the Tuileries gardens, and there was a plethora of tall thin people sighted in the cool restaurants. But really…skinny models or fat cows? For me, it’s the cows all the way.