From Rocky Mountain Oysters to Real Oysters
Ever since the news that Emmanuel Macron spent 12.5 hours at the Salon d’Agriculture last weekend, did I think this was something not to miss. In all these years, I hadn’t taken the time to explore the world of French agriculture at this annual fair. It was sure to be “a zoo” at the height of attendance on Saturday, but that was the only day possible, so knowing this, we ventured there anyway.
Seeing the farm animals was at the top of the list. As you enter the Paris Expo — Porte de Versailles, the first pavilion you come to is #1, where the “Elevage and ses Filières, Bovin, Ovins, Porcins and Caprins” are housed as well as three rings for presentation of the animals. As an urbanite, these are terms of which I wasn’t very familiar — but even a novice like me can guess: “Breeding and its branches, bovine, ovine, porcine and caprine” — cows, sheep, pigs and goats. Chickens were represented, too, but they didn’t get any “billing.” Yes, it was a zoo — of both humanity and farm animals…a petting zoo for the thousands of children (and adults) who couldn’t get enough of stroking their hairy skins.
The show is largely for the professionals from the agricultural and agro-food sectors than just us “lookie-loos” with nearly 30,000 professional visitors who come from outside Paris (about 30%), from abroad (14%) of which 76% are men — a statistic that doesn’t surprise me, but doesn’t make me happy. (Where are the women in this industry?) In addition to the professionals, the public comes out in droves — with more than 700,000 visitors annually. First held in 1870 as the “Concours général agricole (CGA, “General Agricultural Show”), the name changed in 1964, but the competition still exists and is one of the fair’s main attractions…hence the numerous rings for presentation.
The scent of the animals in the pavilion wasn’t as overwhelming as expected to be. My guess is that the animals were particularly well groomed for being on display. Lined up and in their stalls, well tended with food and water, they didn’t seem to mind much and “hung out” doing their thing while we observers observed. The mascot of this year’s show was “Haute,” an Aubrac cow that is six years old and grew up in Laguiole on the volcanic highlands of Aveyron. Her breeder, Thibaut Dijols, is quite proud of her wheat-colored hide and impressive head, describing her as “curious, sociable and proud” — “a real lady” in the middle of the herd.
One thing that seriously impressed me more than Haute the Cow, were the “well-equipped bulls,” one of which needed a “soutien gorge” to keep them from hitting the ground. With so many food vendors, selling all sorts of “charcuterie,” I wondered if any “Rocky Mountain Oysters” were on sale at the fair, since so many live ones were on full display.
For those of you who don’t know this delicacy, this kind of “oyster”” doesn’t come from the sea, and are sometimes called “prairie oysters” (Canada), “calf fries” (Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle) or” “cowboy oysters.” In Spain, Argentina and many parts of Mexico they are referred to as “criadillas,” and they are colloquially referred to as “huevos de toro” (“bull’s eggs”). You have likely already guessed that the testicles of a good bull such as the one I saw, along with a coating of flour, salt and pepper, can be deep fried and delicious…although I’ve never had the pleasure. The really special twist to dining on these “oysters” is that they are considered to be an aphrodisiac…but that could be entirely mental.
As we ventured from one pavilion to another, nine in all, each with a different category of exhibitor or vendor, we found that Pavilion 3 was where most of the action was happening — the 13 regions of France and their products were on display and for sale. Food vendors were “de riguer” and the attendees were taking full advantage of the fare. Of prominence are dairy products (cheese, cheese and more cheese). The Corsicans are quite proud of their “brebis” (sheep) yogurt which won a “médaille d’or” and made the front page news in Corse Matin. There was also an abundance of “charcuterie” and sweet, sugary confections. In addition there was cuisine from all the regions at make-shift restaurants, including the other kind of oysters (from the sea) that were being shucked and served with lemon for a quick downing of the aphrodisiacal mollusks.
In 2005, these were found to really be aphrodisiacs, as proven by a team of American and Italian researchers that found them rich in amino acids that trigger increased levels of sex hormones (at least in lab rats). However, the study has been challenged as “no scientific studies have been conducted to show they can stimulate desire.” Read more about this.
I love the story about Casanova, the 18th century lover, who used to breakfast on 50 oysters for just this reason. I’ll take any excuse to down an oyster. Growing up in New Orleans with plump sweet Gulf of Mexico oysters, I learned how to eat one as early as two years-old, by biting once then swallowing it whole. We didn’t bother tasting them at the Salon d’Agriculture, because it is traditional with old friends from Ann Arbor who come to Paris for two months every year, to have them for Sunday lunch. This is when we get our aphrodisiacal fix on oysters along with a cornucopia of other tasty delicacies.
The synchronicity of all of this is found in a blog titled The Travel Oyster (what an appropriate name!), written by my Ann Arbor friend, the host of the Sunday lunches of which I wrote, Geraldine Kaylor. Geraldine ran a great article years ago on the Salon d’Agriculture. Be sure to read it, because it’s full of great information about it for next year when it rolls around again!
A la prochaine…
Adrian Leeds Group
(at the Salon d’Agriculture)
P.S. How, where, and why you should buy a home in Paris? That’s the subject of today’s podcast on Earful Tower with Oliver Gee’s guest…yep, me!
P.P.S. For all you Southern Californians, I’ll be in Los Angeles and open to meeting with clients for two-hour property consultations in person sometime between April 30th and May 4th. Special rate $350. To book your consultation, email me at [email protected]