Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cattle market

When I look out over the meadows from my windows, I see some beautiful white Charollais cows (bred for meat, with AOC, and not for milk) wondering through the field. That is less strange than it seems; although we do not live in the Charollais region (Charolles is approx. 60 km from here) these sort of cows can be found throughout Saône-et-Loire. In the département there are two markets where this cattle is sold. The most important, biggest and oldest is the one in Saint-Christophe-en-Brionnais, a village even further from here than Charolles.
The market possibly dates back to the X-th century; in 1488 Charles VIII declared the market to be “perpetual”, and ever since there have been cattle markets here. We arrived at about 12h30, and the streets were completely deserted. All we saw were a few market stalls along the main street selling rubber boots. A bit disappointed we walked into a restaurant, it being lunch time. Here it was the same thing; a tiny room, with a few empty tables. We waited a few minutes, until a waitress walked in. We told her that we would like to have lunch, and the moment that magic word was spoken we were whisked away to the back of the restaurant. All of a sudden it became clear. The actual restaurant on a Wednesday (market day) was a great big hall, with endlessly long tables and benches. The hall was completely filled up with noisy farmers, obviously already having started negotiations about cattle prices at the lunch tables. The waitress found us a place, and we joined a bunch of shouting farmers at their table. The restaurant was run like a factory; very efficient. There were lots of waitresses, whizzing around the tables; unlike some busy French lunchtime restaurants around here, there was plenty of choice (although not à la carte), and not just one set menu. Within half an hour one had finished his meal, and made place for yet another farmer. Around one o’clock the hall emptied, but for a handful of tourists, and obviously that was the time the market started. The market is held in an immensely big hall, where the farmers are negotiating the prices by writing offer and demand on little bloc notes. It appears, that prices are still in Francs, although by now I do not think they are still using old Francs.
Farmers here are, as they were in the Netherlands, easily recognisable. French farmers however are generally scrawny, wear blue or dark-blue dust-coats and green or brown rubber boots, unlike Dutch farmers; the common denominator is the walking stick they carry around to hit the cows when necessary. Even though the farmers are different, the whole atmosphere on the market, with its smell of cattle and dung, the shouting and the negotiating, brings back memories from when I was a child, when I wondered across the weekly cattle market in Delft, the place where I was born. Every so often we still go back to Saint-Christophe, to taste the atmosphere, but also for lunch. Those lunches are excellent; of course no restaurateur would dare to come up with a lousy piece of meat when you serve farmers who breed what they are eating….. Saint-Christophe has two restaurants, but we find that the one we tried during our first visit, La Tour d’Auvergne, has, although the same sort and quality of food as the other, the better atmosphere of the two.
Click here for part 2.

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

1 comment:

  1. One of my favourite places, we are going tomorrow for lunch!