Aside from wine sales, the French agricultural sector is struggling to compete with cheaper, more intensively-farmed goods from overseas—are French people finding it difficult to buy French food?
France is incredibly protective of its agricultural sector—it has been the sticking point between France and the U.S. in the negotiation of their new trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). President Donald Trump has been threatening to increase tariffs on French food as a result of France not agreeing to include the agricultural sector in the trading agreements (France wants only non-auto “industrial goods” included and specifically not meat, fruit or wine).
Part of the problem is that France is resistant to allowing food to be mass-produced or intensively farmed; it wants to preserve the traditional ways of farming, of which it is proud. This means though, that food is much cheaper when it is produced by farmers in other European countries who don’t adhere to as strict agricultural standards as the French.
Christiane Lambert, chairwoman of the French Farmers’ Union reported in The Times, that President Emmanuel Macron’s approach to agriculture was pricing French food out of the market. “He told us to go upmarket but in the first six months of this year we imported a lot more poultry from Poland and Germany because it is cheaper,” she said. It has come to the point when French people cannot afford to buy their own food.
The deficit to the French economy is about €300 million, but many believe it’s a worrying sign and a marker of the health of the agricultural sector in general—even French cheese is suffering as consumers are increasingly turning to cheese from Ireland or the Netherlands (the growth appears to be in more “industrially-produced” cheeses for pizza toppings).
The only part of the food and drinks sector which is buoyant is the alcohol industry, where sales of wine and cognac are still far outselling imports, notably due to a huge increase of sales in the U.S and China of French wine. The French government reported in May that this success might be masking a more dire warning for the French agricultural sector in general.
La Poule au Pot is a looker. It’s wonderful to walk in and witness the vintage wallpaper, the globe lighting, and the silver-plated serving chariot wheeling between Pepto-Bismol colored tables. It is at once a little elegant and also a touch cheesy. One can almost picture the 80s pop stars who used to slouch into these red banquettes, the mirrored pillars reflecting their manliner and sprayed hair. [ . . . ]
I am, by nature, suspicious of food cliches. I don’t think Grandma’s cooking was always better. Certainly, my grandmother’s wasn’t. She hadn’t met a packet she couldn’t open and regarded the notion that she should cook from scratch as a calculated insult. Likewise, the good old days were nowhere near as good as now: choice was limited, quality was poor and “abundance” was a word for spelling competitions, not a descriptive term to be applied to food stocks.
I have long bridled at the insistence that the food cultures of our European neighbours are so much better than ours. It ignores the realities of history. Yes, trying to find a good meal in Britain outside the home (and inside it, for that matter) immediately after the second world war was as tricky as finding an honest banker in London’s Square Mile. Then again, during that war we industrialised food production to help fight a war of national survival, losing purchase on both cookery traditions and kitchen skills.
It seems all it takes to soothe me is a good selection of cheeses and a recently picked fig
And what’s so good about those robust food cultures anyway? They tend to be inward-looking and small-minded. Two weeks in Tuscany sounds like a fabulous idea. Then the reality slides in, like ink seeping slowly across blotting paper: day after day of the same bloody pasta dishes, the same rustic salads and anything for dessert as long as it’s tira-sodding-misu or something “inventive” involving pears and almonds. By day five, what you wouldn’t do for a bit of Thai food doesn’t bear thinking about. We eat more widely and thrillingly in Britain specifically because of the weakness of our indigenous food culture [ . . . ]
Domaine Félines-Jourdan Picpoul de Pinet, Languedoc, France 2017 (£8.50, The Wine Society) Picpoul de Pinet is never going to come off well in a comparison with some of the bigger French wine hitters. The dry, unoaked white wine from the western end of the Languedoc isn’t the kind of thing anyone would buy to put in a cellar, or make a flashy fuss of ordering at a restaurant. The gap between the best and the worst examples isn’t especially wide: a friend in the trade likes to say it all comes from one big tank. And yet, all of the above is somehow part of its attraction. It’s there to do a job – match the seafood from the nearby Med and the Thau lagoon – without too much fuss. The picpoul grape variety’s natural acid nip and breeziness combining with lemon, touches of leafy herb and, in the impeccable production from Félines-Jourdan, a swell of stone-fruity richness.
Pierre Luneau-Papin Folle Blanche, Pays Nantais, France 2017 (£9.95, Joseph Barnes) The affinity with seafood has meant Picpoul de Pinet has inevitably drawn comparisons with the original French fruits de mer favourite made further north around the Loire estuary: Muscadet. For the most part, wines in this area are made from melon de bourgogne, and it is to the whites made from chardonnay in Burgundy’s Chablis that the locals prefer their wines to be compared. Certainly that’s a relevant point of departure with the family domaine Pierre Luneau Papin’s classically steely Domaine de Verger Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2016 (£12.99, Buon Vino). Curiously, however, the folle blanche takes us back to picpoul, the titular grape variety being a relation of the southern variety, although here making a much sharper but equally oyster-compatible dry white.
Château Lestrille Entre Deux Mers Blanc, Bordeaux, France 2017 (£12.12, Corking Wines) There’s a touch of the 1970s bistro wine list about muscadet. If you set that retro charm alongside its ability to stand in for chablis when smaller vintages in burgundy have led to shortages in supply, then you can begin to understand why muscadet has become a firm favourite for sommeliers working in some of the country’s trendier restaurants. The same hasn’t quite come to pass for another dry white favourite of yesteryear, Entre-Deux-Mers, although I have begun to see a few merchants giving this Bordeaux region’s brisk spin on the sauvignon blanc-led blend another chance. Château Lestrille’s version is super-clean and cleansing; Château Sainte-Marie Entre Deux Mers 2017 (£10.95, Great Western Wine) has a touch of custard-richness and tropical fruit to go with the zinginess.