After two and a half weeks here, I finally went to the big supermarket down the hill (I didn't intend to write another food post so soon after the other one, but, well, really if you know me at all, what did you expect from this blog?). It's a big chain here called Carrefour, which means "crossroads" or "intersection"—I discovered this fact when translating the French directions to our AirBNB, the host kept saying "when you get to the carrefour, go straight" and I was thinking "how many goddamn supermarkets does this little town have?!" But no, after doing Google streetview to check and finding zero supermarkets, I learned that it means intersection.
The Walk There
(In what I'm sure is getting tiresome to read, it's the most delightful walk to a supermarket that I've ever had!) The Carrefour is a 10 minute walk straight down the side of the hill of Sancerre (and a 15 minute walk back up.) The first road down is very, very steep. One thing that I can't quite believe but that I also find hilarious is that this tiny, gravelly, extremely steep road is designated as part of the Loire à Velo—the bike path that runs throughout the Loire valley.
The sign above says that it's the "hard" route, and to the right is the longer but easier route. The blue wedge indicating the grade is being generous, it feels much steeper than that. Here's another shot from futher up:
If I were some bicycling tourist that already had biked up 2/3 of the hill, I'd be pissed that this was the designated route.
After that leg, I cross a bigger road and go down a not-quite-as-steep unpaved road (on Google maps, this is just depicted as another road—I guess you could drive down it?)
That then hits another major road, which I cross to go down another lovely dirt path. At the bottom, I'm on flat land and take a right to walk two blocks to the grocery store.
I didn't take any photos from inside the grocery store, because that seemed disrespectful to me and I was already trying not to draw attention to myself. But I did furiously scribble down many notes in my little notepad—kind of like a reverse grocery list, adding things as I go.
The Fruit Section
I started in the fruit section, it was a fairly standard affair, but things are generally better quality, and so cheap! I got a set of four tiny pears for 1 euro. Here is one next to an actual human hand for scale:
One thing I really like about the produce here is that most of the time it's smaller than in the US, or at least there are a variety of sizes to choose from. What is it with America and everything needing to be as big as possible all the time? In France you can get a set of three little lettuce heads that are the perfect size for one or two people. And you can buy small cabbages, instead of the gargantuan bowling-ball types that you must buy in the US that yield about 8 quarts of cole slaw (all or nothing, truly.) Wasn't the US supposed to be the land of opportunity? Why don't I have the opportunity to buy normal-sized cabbage? But I digress.
I also got these intriguing grapes that are dark as night. They have a tiny little pit the center that adds a wonderful crunch, but is bitter as hell if it lands on the wrong part of your tongue.
I only wanted to buy things that I can't get stateside or at the farmers market or in the tiny grocery up on the hill here. I saw a few different brands of the lettuce mache, which I absolutely love and almost never am able to find in the US (you were wrong, NPR) so I picked up a bag, along with some beautiful green beans that I'd never seen before. One thing that seems pretty standard here is that beets are precooked and pre-skinned and then vacuum sealed; as you can imagine, they look totally vile (like large livers—are you imagining it?), but as someone that likes beets but hates preparing them, I feel like these were made for me. Also—you can get beets in a variety of sizes!
The Wall(s) of Cheese
There was obviously a wall of cheese, and then later on I discovered a totally different wall of cheese with the more "gourmet" cheeses—here you can buy whole wheels of cheese, if you so desire (and I do (but didn't.)) I'm still panicking over what to do with the goat cheese, brie, and triple creme cheeses I bought last week, so I didn't linger here for very long.
The butter section nearly made me weep—so many different kinds!!! There was store brand butter from Bretagne, which is the part of France that makes the best butter. And you could buy a huge brick of it, which I appreciate (who wants to mess around with those individually wrapped sticks anyway?)
Tucked away in the corner like it was no big deal was a stall with all manner of salami, nothing shrink wrapped or anything, just free salami.
Right next to it was the fresh seafood section, and this is one of those "ah, this is not the US" sort of things, because there is no glass case between the shoppers and the various sea fruits ("fruits de mer" is the French phrase for seafood), so the entire back half of the produce section just smells like fish (Ande—you would love it! I mean hate, you would hate it.) The fish and squid and whatnot is all spread out on top of finely crushed ice, and they had also made a kind of igloo by packing the ice into a mound and then hollowing out the center—a little house for your dead fish, how cute!
Dairy Products (other than cheese)
The yogurt and like-products are in the center aisles in what would look like a freezer here in the US, and I was astounded at the variety—so many brands and flavors, and a whole sign designated for the plain yogurt. Then, the yogurts give way to the fromage frais, which you can buy in 1 kg tubs (or smaller amounts, but why even bother at that point, you know?)
After that is the creme fraiche section, which exceeded even my very high expectations. In the US, you're lucky if the store carries the one brand that we have (Vermont Butter and Cheese Company.) But here, you can get creme fraiche in a variety fat percentages! Then, there was this whole other thing called "thick cream" that is apparently a different product, perhaps some further investigation is warranted...
Then, I truly felt I'd seen the holy grail: Creme Anglaise in a pourable pouch.
Some of you may know that my life is basically divided into Life Before Creme Anglaise and Life After Creme Anglaise. If you're not familiar, it's a sweet dessert sauce made with cream, milk, egg yolks, and vanilla, and it's on my short list of Favorite Semi-Drinkable Substances (Semi-Drinkable, since a lot of people ask, means that you can physically drink it but it's not condoned by high society, or even low society)—the others are maple syrup, sweetened condensed milk and some others that I'm probably forgetting. It's a little bit of a pain to make, it curdles easily and then you always have extra egg whites after and for someone that doesn't like meringue, that means that the only thing I'm making with it are financiers, which actually isn't that bad now that it think about it. But here...here you can just buy it and drink it straight from the pouch whenenver you want.
The Rest of It
Then there was stuff like store-brand nutella, a whole aisle devoted to canned pates and whatnot. The stores are quite big and also had a bunch of aisles for totally not-food related stuff (lawn chairs, etc.) But there is a lot of the same stuff like in the US, aisles of fruit juice and pre-packaged cookies and the like.
I did actually have to find two products: tea and trash bags. The trash bags here don't come in a carton, they are just rolled up like they are inside the cartons, but then fastened with paper—another thing I think is great! Cuts down on the waste of cardboord and those stupid boxes that are more of a hindrance than a help. I ended up buying the wrong size because their capacity is measured in liters and I'm not so good at sizing things up in metric (yet).
There is a "local product" section in the back, and a small organic aisle that's similar to in the US. I walked down the easily-recognizable laundry detergent aisle, not because I needed anything but just because I love the smell.
The clerks at the checkout counter are sitting instead of standing, in what look like comfortable, padded chairs, which I think is nice, it would be tough to stand for hours on end.
Then I walked back home, straight up the hill! I was huffing and puffing by the end. I'm glad I have lots of vegetables for the next few days, to round out my meals here. Tomorrow I'll make a big salad to go with the rabbit terrine that I bought this afternoon at the Charcuterie (it was an impulse purchase).