10 Groceries I Buy to Feel Like I’m Back in France

published Jul 25, 2022
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Credit: Patty Catalano

This summer I was extremely fortunate to travel to France and, of course, experience some of the country’s culinary wonders. Certain gastronomic pleasures remain fresh in my mind: a still-warm, crisp-crusted baguette with cool butter sinking into its tender crevices; sharp and spicy Dijon swished across earthy, salty slices of saucisson; a fragrant, heavy melon with skin thin enough to be pierced with a paring knife. 

Since I’ve been back, I’ve scoured the shelves (both in stores and online) for items that remind me of the land where Julia Child, James Beard, and Ina Garten found their greatest inspiration. These are the 10 groceries I’m buying to recreate my French holiday right here at home.

Credit: Amanda Marikar

1. Fresh Bread

It’s no secret that the French subsist on abundant fresh-from-the-oven bread, available in every corner boulangerie and gracing the table at every meal. Although we can’t always find the perfect baguette outside of France, we can warm a bakery-bought version in the oven while we channel sitting along the Seine with a café au lait. And if we want a taste of true Parisian flavor, Ina Garten’s favorite boulangerie, Poilâne, actually ships its famed sourdough Stateside.

Buy: Sourdough Loaf, $12.14 (plus shipping) for 1.9 kilograms at Poilâne  

Credit: Amanda Marikar

2. French Butter 

In my opinion, French butter is better. The certified (by appellation, like fine wine, cheese, etc.) truth is that in France, butter has a higher fat content (82% to our on-average 80%), creating a creamier, more luxurious mouthfeel. Not only that, but French butter also benefits from an aging and culturing process, giving it distinct depth and subtle sourness that plays beautifully in and on pastry, in dishes like sole meunière and côte de boeuf — or even straight off a spoon. Although it’s spendier than other options, I will splurge on the imported beurre de baratte (French for “churned butter”) for special occasions and dinner parties.

Buy: Isigny Ste Mère Unsalted Butter, $7.99 for 8.8 ounces at Instacart

Credit: Amanda Marikar

3. Confiture

As I wandered one of the famous food markets of Aix en Provence, a savvy purveyor of confiture (fruit preserves) lured me to his table by asking me to sample his wares, presented on little squares of white bread: “Try them all. You’d be doing me a favor. If you stand here and talk to me, more people will come.” How could I refuse this innocent offer? At first I thought that I’d just politely try the apricot-lavender and the rhubarb-vanilla. Then came strawberry-basil, followed by the best-selling artichoke confit, and before I knew it, I had tasted practically all of the jams and spreads before me. I couldn’t fit the whole line in my suitcase (although I did spring for a jar of the fig and black olive), so I’m grateful I can find some of the country’s favorite jams in my local grocery store. Bonne Maman, with its classic glass jar and red-checked lid, is available all over France and, lucky for us, here in the U.S., too. Add it to the aforementioned bread-and-butter situation for a little slice of heaven.      

Buy: Bonne Maman Strawberry Preserves, $5.19 for 13 ounces at Instacart

Credit: Amanda Marikar

4. Fromage

At a fromagerie in Paris, our wise and witty instructor, chef Fred, handed me a fresh baguette, asked me to tear off a hunk, and continued his cheese tutorial. This was the beginning of my French cooking class, and so far Fred had bantered his way through the origin of grassy, fresh goat cheeses, the history of nutty Comté, the regions of Brie, and the flavor profiles of various tommes. Now the moment had finally arrived to taste his favorite cheese: the dreamy triple-cream Brillat Savarin. Our group fell silent as we spread a wedge on our baguettes and took a bite. It was more buttery than butter; had a lingering, subtly farmy flavor; and was warm and cool all at once. Cheese has always been one of my favorite foods, but French cheese is an experience for the soul. When I got home I was thrilled to discover just how many imported and French-style cheeses can be found in grocery stores and specialty markets. If possible, in French fashion, I plan to eat some after every meal from now on.

Buy: Brillat Savarin, $34.10 for 1.1 pounds at Murray’s Cheese 

Credit: Amanda Marikar

5. Charcuterie

The French can make a meal of bread, cheese, and charcuterie. And my friend Annie and I often did just that during our evenings in Marseille, accompanied by a crisp glass of chilled Provençal rosé, overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean from our Airbnb. France’s vast array of charcuterie — made in-house in charcuterie shops across the country with varying techniques, farming methods, seasonings, and aging processes — offers an endless opportunity to explore different textures, flavors, and meats. We arranged platters of rich paté de campagne, dried duck sausage, thin slices of jambon, and decadent foie gras, with cheeses, cornichons, confiture, truffles, fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, mustard, nuts, breads, crackers, and anything else at the market that struck our fancy. Equally good as an evening spread to fuel an afternoon of people-watching from a Parisian terrasse, French charcuterie also makes an impressive display at any party. U.S.-based D’Artagnan ships some of the France’s finest meats and charcuteries nationwide.

Buy: The French Pâté Sampler, $29.99 for 26 ounces at D’Artagnan

Credit: Amanda Marikar

5. Dijon Mustard

Dijon mustard hails from the French town of the same name, and acts as an essential accompaniment to steak tartare and jambon beurre, a key ingredient in vinaigrettes, and a staple item in any French pantry. A recent mustard shortage has France scrambling for possible substitutes, but at the moment, my (and France’s) favorite Maille Dijon is still readily available in U.S. stores — in original, whole grain, and honey flavors. With a delicious sharpness that lights up your sinuses, this mustard cuts through rich dishes and elevates any recipe that calls for mustard. It just might make you cry — in a good way.

Buy: Maille Dijon Original Mustard, $3.99 for 8.9 ounces at Target

Credit: Amanda Marikar

6. In-Season Fruit and Vegetables 

I’m still dreaming of the outdoor corridors of tables piled high with vibrant in-season fruits and vegetables, filling town squares in Aix en Provence and Marseille. These weekly and sometimes daily produce and food markets offer amazing delights like deep red tomatoes and burgundy cherries, bright-green lettuces, pink and white and purple beans, and pale yellow Menton lemons with the leaves still attached. Where I live in New York City, I’m fortunate to be walking distance from a greenmarket, where I’m working on becoming a regular. But if it’s harder to find locally grown goods in your area, subscription services offer varieties that supermarkets sometimes don’t carry and provide fresh inspiration to cook whatever’s at its peak, just like you would with your daily market haul in your French kitchen.

Buy: Misfits Market Starter Box, $30 for 8 to 12 of the best-selling items at Misfits Market

Credit: Amanda Marikar

7. Seafood Conservas 

Following the European tradition of conservas (artisanally preserved seafood), France celebrates its catch in the form of jarred and tinned sardines, mussels, cockles, and other delights. As I traveled along the Mediterranean coast, I couldn’t get enough of the bright, briny flavors of pan bagnat, with its combination of tender tuna, salty anchovies and olives, tangy tomatoes, crisp beans, soft sliced egg, and unctuous garlicky olive oil. To recreate this masterpiece at home, I will seek out some fine preserved fish, pour a pastis, and pretend I’m back sitting on the beach in Nice. 

Buy: Tonnino Yellowfin Tuna Fillets in Olive Oil $6.58 for 6.7 ounces at Walmart

Credit: Amanda Marikar

8. Flaky Sea Salt 

When I arrived in Marseille, a city filled with incredibly diverse cuisine, I took a fascinating food tour, where all of the destinations had the same thing in common: quality, local ingredients. Among many stops, we visited an Armenian grocery, an Egyptian cultural center, a Senegalese pastels shop, and the amazing La Bôite á Sardine, where we had incredible fresh-from-the-sea fare. Our tour guide, Sévérine, an expert in Marseille food and culture, passed a tub of Le Saunier de Camargue Fleur de Sel around the table and encouraged us to pinch a few flakes of the sea salt onto the fried anchovies. Its subtle salinity and crunchy texture highlighted the freshness of the fish. But don’t take my word for it: Part-time Parisian Ina Garten is also a fan of this special salt. Naturally, I had to bring some back, and I can’t wait to serve it alongside my next crackly skinned French-style roast chicken

Buy: Le Saunier de Camargue Fleur de Sel, $9.99 for 4.41 ounces at Amazon

Credit: Amanda Marikar

9. Pâtisserie

I really thought I wasn’t a dessert person. But one bite of Maison Bechard’s mini chocolate-filled éclair changed my mind. French pâtisserie (and its cousin, viennoiserie, which includes croissants and other buttery pastries) has a way of making you fall in love with sweets again. As I sat in Café Angelina’s magnificent Belle Époque tea room, the light-as-a-feather Paris-Brest (choux pastry with praline cream) somehow disappeared from my plate. I went to Le Bac à Glaces for chocolate ice cream and Jacques Genin for chocolates on the SAME day. My fabulous Airbnb host made me a crème brûlée and I ate it for breakfast. I brought two boxes of Laudurée’s famous macarons home on the airplane; I intended to give them both as gifts, but I think we can all guess what happened to the second box. France unlocked my inner sweet tooth, and there’s no going back. Until my next visit!

Buy: Laudurée Macarons $45.50 for Box of 12 at Goldbelly

What Stateside grocery item takes you back to your trip abroad? Tell us in the comments!