Shops & Markets

Paris Butcher Shop How-To: 6 Tips to Buy Meat Like The French

Viande&Chef

The Paris butcher shop is among the most pivotal institutions of any neighborhood’s market street. This is where the savvy shopper goes for the highest-quality meat, freshest prepared foods, and best advice.

Whether it’s a traditional, mom-and-pop boucherie or one of the more sophisticated ones that have opened in recent years (see my top 5 below), the Paris butcher shop does require a little bit of gumption, as you simultaneously try to figure out what’s what, one-up the garçon boucher‘s playful banter, and ignore the little old lady pushing her shopping trolley and sniffly dog up against your ankles.

But I wouldn’t dream of trading this for the anonymous styrofoam trays of the supermarket: I’d rather eat less meat less often, but go for the good stuff with the artisan touch and the traceability.

On that subject, I am thrilled to announce there’s a new sustainable butcher in town. Benjamin Darnaud, a young French chef I’ve been friends with for years, has just opened Viande & Chef in Paris’ 10 arrondissement. He buys whole animals from a select few artisanal farmers, and his talented team comes up with innovative ways to use every last part, rather than supply a disproportionate amount of the more prized cuts. This nose-to-tail approach means they may not have the exact cut you’re looking for that particular day, but they’ll make it up to you tenfold with delicious and quirky stuff. (We thank them for allowing us to take pictures in the shop; photo credit: Anne Elder.)

Without further ado, here are my 6 tips to win at boucherie.

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Paris Chocolate Shops: Do’s and Don’ts of Buying French Chocolate

Henri Le Roux: Filled chocolates

You can’t spend time in Paris and overlook the chocolate side of the experience; I won’t let you!

The French have elevated the chocolate craft to an art form, and although there are spectacularly talented artisans all around the country, it is in Paris that you’ll find the highest concentration. This means it is the perfect opportunity to treat yourself to some of the most delicate, most intensely flavorful chocolates in the world… and buy a few gifts for others, too, if you’re feeling generous.

I must warn you there are lots of sub-average chocolate shops as well, so you have to know what to look for. And the good places are typically set up to look like luxurious jewelry boutiques, so the shopping experience can be a little intimidating. But I’m here to help! Here is my guide to artisanal chocolate in Paris.

You’ll find my Top 5 Paris chocolate shops at the bottom of this post, along with a few helpful phrases. The photos illustrating this post were taken by my intern extraordinaire Anne Elder; our thanks to the Henri Le Roux team for letting us shoot at their rue des Martyrs shop.

Chocolate bars from Henri Le Roux

Chocolate bars from Henri Le Roux

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Paris Cheese Shop How-To: 6 Tips to Buy Cheese Like The French

Paris cheese shop

Taka & Vermo, a Paris cheese shop in the 10th arrondissement.

Walking into a Paris cheese shop can be a daunting affair if you don’t know what you’re looking for, or how to ask. The great thing, though, is that most fromagers (cheesemongers) in the city are more than happy to help you select the perfect cheeses for your cheese plate.

Laure and Mathieu, creators of the artisanal cheese shop Taka & Vermo in the trendy 10th arrondissement of Paris, gave us* a tour of their shop and the aging cellar downstairs, where many of the cheeses are left to get nice and creamy in ninety-nine percent humidity.

Tips for a smooth Paris cheese shop experience

They allowed us to take the beautiful pictures that illustrate this post, and shared their passion for their craft. Visit them to taste their goods!**

Scenes from a Paris cheese shop

Raclette is traditionally eaten in the winter, melted and poured over boiled potatoes. It is also quite popular to host raclette parties with friends, similar to those for fondue.

1. Know your cheese families

In your French cheese adventures, you’ll come across three major types of milk: cow, goat, and sheep. But within each milk type, the choices are endless: among goat’s milk cheeses alone you will find many different shapes and aging stages, from chèvre très frais (very fresh), to frais (fresh), crémeux (creamy), or secs (aged).

Tommes, those large, quintessential rounds of mountain cheese, can be found made of cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk, but most cheeses with a flowery (or bloomy) rind, like Brie or Camembert, are made with cow’s milk (fromages de vache). Same for cheeses with a sticky orange rind (croûte lavée), which are often the most pungent, stinkiest cheeses of all — think Munster (the real French kind from Lorraine and Alsace) or Epoisses from Burgundy.

For a classic sheep’s milk cheese, or fromage de brebis, seek out Roquefort, a blue cheese from the south of France that is protected by a denomination of origin (AOC), and is a unique addition to any cheese plate. Our Paris cheese shop owner, Laure, lists it as one of her favorites.

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Where To Get Your Knives Sharpened in Paris

Coutellerie Courty & Fils

A few months ago I read an interview with Yves Charles, owner of Perceval knives, whose handsome 9.47 I have often coveted while dining out at some of the nicer Parisian tables.

In the interview he talked about knife sharpening, and how important it is to have a real pro do it, lest your blades be shot in the process. I could only agree, having had limited success with the different sharpening tools I tried over the years.

I got the same message at the knife store I visited in California last fall: if you take good care of your knives, wash them by hand and put them away mindfully — slipped in a knife block, stashed in the box they came in, or sheathed in a blade guard if you need to put them in a drawer — you can keep a sharp edge on them for months and months, and bring them in for sharpening once a year. It isn’t very costly, and heightens the longevity of your knives.

The truth is, I had been wanting to get mine professionally sharpened for a while, but I wasn’t sure where to go. So when I read Yves Charles saying, “In Paris, there are no more than three good places to get your knives sharpened,” I had to find out what they were.

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Alain Ducasse Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Paris

Mendiant chocolate bar with candied pistachios (Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse).

Mendiant chocolate bar with candied pistachios (Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse).

When I get into the details of the chocolate craft with people who may not have given it much thought before, one thing that always disillusions them is this: the overwhelming majority of chocolate artisans don’t actually make their own chocolate.

Indeed, making chocolate from scratch is an elaborate process that involves a whole set of specialized machines that roast, crush, sort, grind, blend, and conch, turning the fermented and dried cacao beans into what we think of as chocolate.

When you think about it, it is therefore unrealistic — and wouldn’t make either economical or environmental sense — for every single chocolatier to acquire those machines, the workshop to install them, and the know-how to operate them, and then to source his own beans and process his own chocolate.

This is why a few companies — big ones like Barry Callebaut, smaller ones like Valrhona or La Chocolaterie de l’Opéra — have devoted themselves to this first part of the process. They’re usually refered to as couverturiers: they provide couverture chocolate of varying flavor profiles, origins, cacao content, and format to chocolate artisans, who in turn melt it and use it to create their bonbons de chocolat (chocolate bites garnished with ganache or other fillings), chocolate bars, and miscellaneous chocolate confections.

I’ve always sensed that this wasn’t something chocolatiers rushed to clarify. When you discuss this aspect of their work, some get hazy on the details, not wanting to reveal which couverturiers they work with (although they’re proud to tell you where their hazelnuts and citrus come from), or get defensive, saying, “Well, you don’t expect the baker to mill his own flour, do you?”

Chocolate
“Découverte” chocolate box (Le Chocolat Alain Ducasse).

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