Market Day in France

Every Tuesday morning, next to the big church in the center of town, there’s an open market. The market happens all year long, rain or shine.

It includes produce vendors, cheesemongers, seafood sellers, butchers, and bakers. There are also booths that sell hot and ready-to-eat food (like a food truck without the truck). And depending on the weather, there’s also a section that sells mattress and trinkets and household goods.

Our rental house is right in the center of town, so the market is only 50 yards or so from our house. I don’t know if our life will ever be more convenient than it is right now.

Would you like a little tour of our market day?

Our friend Sandy, who is from Texas, has lived in Argentan for about ten years, and she offered to take us to the market and introduce us to her favorites vendors. Sandy eats organic (it’s called “bio” here) whenever she can, and has sought out the best organic food producers in the area.

Her favorite cheese vendor sells fresh milk, eggs, butter (sweet or salty), different types of creme fraiche, and of course, a wide variety of cheeses.

There are lots of bakeries in every French town, and they all carry a similar menu of items — like baguettes, croissants, and pain au chocolat (like a croissant with chocolate in side).

But Sandy’s favorite bread maker at the market doesn’t bake the typical French bakery menu. He specializes in dense loaves, and unusual grains. All organic.

Sandy’s favorite fruit and veggie stall is also focused on organic produce and offer a wide variety of whatever is in season — and always as local as possible.

You’ll notice all the shoppers carry a market bag. We’ve concluded ours is not big enough. : ) Would you like to see what we bought?

Two liters of raw milk. And we happen to have an old school milk jug from the last time we lived here (we used buy milk from our neighbor). We found the milk jug in our storage at the cottage and have put it to good use.

You bring your own jar/jug/bottle and then they ladle the milk in from a big container.

Before we put the milk in the fridge, we heat it until it almost scalds.

Then we let it cool, and pour it in a two-liter glass jar for storing in the fridge.

We bought a slice of new-to-us cheese that came highly recommended and has a slight pear taste. It’s really good. Very mild and very delicious. I can’t remember the name.

We bought a walnut loaf. Oh man. It’s so good. Take a slice and warm it up and slather it with butter.

We bought a pumpkin/squash so that we can bake pumpkin cookies. We’ll bake this until it’s soft and then use it instead of the canned stuff (they don’t do canned pumpkin here).

We bought a big slice of Carrouges cheese. It’s made nearby and is excellent. You can get old or young versions — depending on how strong you like your cheese.

We bought a gorgeous cabbage that will be part of our dinner tonight.

We bought a liter of fresh buttermilk. We didn’t bring a container for this, so they ladled it into this bottle. This is actually the first time we’ve bought buttermilk in France! Betty was craving buttermilk pancakes with buttermilk syrup and we realized we had never seen (or maybe just not noticed) buttermilk the stores here.

But Ben Blair asked about it at the cheesemonger and he totally had some!

Hands down the most delicious thing we bought was these orange scones. I can’t even describe how delicious they are. (Though I’m biased — I’ve always loved orange breads and orange rolls.)

The last thing we bought was fresh butter. It’s made in a big loaf (see photo below):

And then they cut a chunk off for you and wrap it up in paper. They hold the knife above the butter loaf and then you indicate if you want a bigger slice or a smaller one.

We put the butter on the warm orange scones and just about fainted because it was too delicious.

And that completes our market day tour. Now it’s your turn. Do you have access to a farmer’s market or open market near you? Or maybe roadside produce stands? Do you go often enough that you’ve found favorite vendors?

Is the idea of a weekly market trip appealing to you? Or does this just seem like one more errand you wouldn’t have time for? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

26 thoughts on “Market Day in France”

  1. We have a market in our town (Rehovot, Israel) which is open 6 days a week and we try to get everything we need there. I love it dearly but only when my partner carries everything back home! Vegetables and fruits are quite heavy when you have to carry them to our third floor apartment..

  2. I love going to the Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. It’s nothing like yours though. The photos remind me of the ones we’d go to in Italy. You’re so lucky to have that right outside your home.

    1. When we lived in France, we went to our local market every week. One of our favourites was almond cookies. My husband was there one morning, bought a bag of cookies but left them at the stall by accident and continued on his way. I passed through the market later in the day, and the stall vendor came rushing over with the bag of cookies, apologizing profusely. The funny thing was that up to that point, my husband and I hadn’t been to the market together but had been one or the other with the kids. I miss the market so much. Best market we visited in France was in Sarlat – everything seemed extra delicious

  3. I buy almost all my food at the local farmers’ market–vegetables (lots of them; I’m vegetarian and need to eat low-carb) fruit, milk (in actual glass bottles), yogurt, eggs, fruit, coffee beans (sold at the cheese shop), and bread. It’s a weekly market, Saturdays from 8 to 1. They also have some craft items like soap and jewelry, but I don’t usually patronize them, not being into that sort of thing.
    The best is that you can get a CSA for the market–US$500 will get you a half-bushel basket and a card with 20 punches for fruit and veg. The CSA runs from May through December. The market is open through the winter, but the offerings contract to those vendors with greenhouses or storage for root vegetables or apples. I do have to switch over to getting more food at my local co-op, and some of it does come from California or Mexico in the wintertime–that’s the price of living in Northern Indiana.
    Sometimes the market feels like the aisle of old St. Paul’s in London–it seems like I see everyone I know. The bakery also has a sit-down restaurant, and lots of people come for breakfast.
    It’s really a highlight of my week–good food and good company.

  4. The market looks lovely and idyllic but I’m giggling at your description of it as “convenient.” In the U.S., cooking meals starting with raw whole vegetables is not considered convenient at all. It’s so common now to grocery shop online and have the food delivered to your door (even with options to put it all away in your kitchen!). Instacart is not nearly so charming, though!

    1. I’m thinking the same thing — idyllic is a good word! I enjoy frequenting our local farmers markets, but to use them for regular shopping is not really practical. Going grocery shopping several times a week does not fit into my work/life balance and even when I do make it to the farmer’s market, I still have to go to the regular store for other household needs.

  5. We have several farmers markets here in NYC and I love going to them. But nothing beats the markets in France. The town we were in this summer has a wonderful weekly market, and the towns around it have their markets on different days, so it is possible to do all your shopping without stepping into the grocery store once during the week! I loved the guy who sold goats cheese in different stages of freshness, who explained the difference to me and suggested that I try one of each. When I saw him the next week he asked me which one I had preferred. Loved them ALL!

  6. We have a fantastic summer farmer’s market on Saturdays in the big city. Unfortunately, that’s 40 minutes away from us and is only open from 8am until noon so we don’t make it there as often as I’d like. If I had a market 50 yards out the front door – I’d be there as much as possible! Particularly for that bread! (yummmmmm) Instead, we grow a lot of our own veggies (including enough to can/freeze for the winter), buy our meat from local organic/grass fed producers, and make as much as we can from scratch.

      1. Hi Rebecca,
        I’m Sandy, the grey-haired friend in the photos. I understand Gabby’s concern but must add that I have been buying milk from this same farmer for 10 years and never thought to heat it. And I’m still alive!

  7. Oh how lucky to be so close to the market! We have two year-round markets near where I live which is in a very productive area of Canada, so a lot is local or local-ish. Our local pastries sadly don’t come close to the quality we found in France, oh they were sublime!

  8. I live in Taiwan and am literally a block away from an open-air (but roofed, since it rains frequently here) market. It’s open every day in the afternoon until early evening. The style of food is different, of course, but we can get vegetables, fruit, bread, fresh noodles, tofu, and eggs there. I’ve even started buying fish and meat there, taking it home in metal tupperware instead of buying stuff in styrofoam trays at the grocery.

    There’s also ready-to-eat food such as sausages, tofu, kimchi, Thai noodles, fried fish, roasted duck, and a couple of sushi counters! I let my 3-year-old daughter lead me through the market yesterday and she stopped at a vendor that is currently selling rice dishes, but used to sell steamed buns. I hope they start again once the weather gets colder–my daughter got one shaped like a pig once, filled with sweet beans.

    I love farmer’s markets in the US though, and we definitely don’t get the same selection of bread and cheeses in Taiwan that you would in France! Your posts make me want to visit or live in France even more than I already do!

    1. Taiwan serves the most delicious street foods. I’m jealous you get to eat them on the regular, especially the steamed buns shaped like pigs and stuffed with custard. Or any dim-sum like steamed bun actually!!

  9. Omg French salted butter…to die for. I remember my friend waxing poetic saying American butter was no comparison. I thought she was being overdramatic until I visited Paris. She most definitely wasn’t.

    On your gorgeous cabbage: Have you seen this incredible video series from photographer Jamie Beck who lives in Provence? At a chef’s dinner she was served American stuffing stuffed inside a whole French cabbage. It is a beautifully unique dish. When I saw your cabbage I thought your family would enjoy it.

  10. Très contente que vous reveniez en France, je ne parle pas l’anglais, j’ai reçu souvent des étudiantes étrangères avec moi elles progressaient en français sinon on ne se comprenait pas !! Ma petite fille va régulièrement aux USA, cet été à fait un stage professionnel à Atlanta, Elle a été à l’école primaire à Londres il y a 10ans et quand je dis un mot en anglais elle rit beaucoup de mon pauvre accent français !!
    En effet nous sommes très forts en pain et fromage – on peux même faire un repas avec juste ces produits, il y en a tellement de différents.
    Très bon séjour chez nous j’espère que mes compatriotes seront aimables avec votre famille.

  11. I love this! It does sound idyllic and I know from experience it is such an awesome ritual. It looks like you are really slowing down and savoring life in France. I love it!

    1. Bonjour

      Vous aimez vraiment beaucoup notre pays. C’est vrai que la Normandie – même ou surtout sous la pluie – est une belle région.
      Venez faire un tour en Bretagne: vous verrez,c’est pas mal aussi.
      Thanks a lot for your blog.
      Jacques (Larmor Plage, near Lorient)

  12. Just FYI- if you’re ever in a pinch and need buttermilk for baking but can’t find it, you can use milk (the fresh milk here or whole milk is best, but not necessary) and add a teaspoon or so of either vinegar or lemon juice (fresh or bottled) to the milk. Let sit 5 minutes or so before using it (it’ll look like it’s curdling and smell a bit sour). Works really well for pancakes (I couldn’t get buttermilk in my village when I was in the Peace Corps- I made buttermilk pancakes all the time!).

  13. Oh my goodness, just heavenly. I about fainted just looking at the beautiful pictures and imagining eating that warm orange scone and butter! What a wonderful way of life. Love reading your posts!

  14. Do you have a Picard near you? You can buy frozen puréed pumpkin in little cubes which works exactly like the canned stuff. Another taste of home that we have recently discovered is buying ‘baps’ at Marks and Spencer’s when we want soft hamburger buns (they are almost identical to the Hawaiian king brand buns). There aren’t many things I miss but it’s nice to have a few comfort foods handy

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