How to Picnic Like the French
Since learning that April 23rd is National Picnic Day, I have been reminiscing about picnics I've enjoyed over the years.
Neighborhood potlucks, sand-enriched sandwiches on the beach, and boating excursions all count, but my favorite picnic memories are those I've enjoyed on trips throughout France. In fact, my favorite travel food memories were made on French picnics - or pique-niques, rather than in any fancy restaurant!
My husband and I have been fortunate enough to enjoy several road trips through various regions of France. Picnic locations never seem to be a problem as small parks and roadside settings abound along secondary roads. Many small hotels are accommodating, offering their facilities and tableware.
My most memorable picnic was in an area near the entrance to Mont Saint Michel where a long, gradual tide leaves the marshy land with a high salt content. As a result, sheep and lambs that graze on the grass and herbs there develop a unique and delicious taste that is called agneau de pré-salé (salt marsh lamb). The setting is lovely, and there are several picnic tables available to the public. We had assembled a special feast from a nearby charcuterie--a whole roasted chicken that the proprietor had cut up for us, bread, pâte, a selection of cheeses, and a sweet Cavaillon melon for dessert. We opened our wine and sat down with prideful anticipation. Just then, a family arrived in a beat-up old van and pulled up to a table near us. Feeling very smug, we waited for them to be awed by our spread. Instead, they opened the tailgate and slid out a roasting pan holding a perfectly glazed roast suckling pig, complete with an apple in its mouth! I think we actually stood up and applauded them!
The French have a particular gift for enjoying picnics. Almost any small village in France will include a charcuterie (delicatessen), boulangerie (bakery), and patisserie (pastry shop). Charcuteries contain everything from various pâtes (usually made onsite), dried sausages, and "cold cuts", to wonderful cheeses, roasted chicken, and assorted pickles, salads, and condiments. Even something as basic as sliced ham tastes special. Boulangeries are the source of wonderful – and always fresh – French breads from baguettes to croissants. And if dessert is on your menu, the local patisserie is sure to satisfy!
Then, there is Paris, in a class by itself for picnic lovers! Parks like the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Tuileries seem to have been designed for picnics, with benches everywhere amid flowers, trees, and walkways. A stop at a charcuterie, a bottle of wine or Perrier, some disposable plates and napkins, and voilà! A 5-star meal is ready for your enjoyment!
Luckily, we are fortunate to have access to a wonderful variety of picnic items at home, too! LHD carries several books with ideas for picnics, such as the Paris Picnic Club. We’ve also seen a trend toward the indoor or backyard equivalent of a picnic with boards – anything from a simple platter of cheese and crackers to the elaborate versions as seen in Beautiful Boards and the Cheese Board Deck. Complete your picnic prep with one of our wooden serving boards, a few Lagioule cheese knives, and some paper napkins, and you will be all set for a picnic to rival any in a Parisian park!