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May 24, 2019

HOW VELLERON IN PROVENCE SHOWED ME THE REAL FARM TO TABLE

“Maybe they have not heard of global warming?”

This was what was going on in my head as I head to a nearby farmers’ market to shop for tonight’s dinner. These farmers from around 10 kilometers away drive over to Velleron at the same hours each day and join the Marche Agricole—a parking lot dedicated to farmers and their small vans, each one with their produce of the season. This is literally farm to table.

As I go from one table to another I feel the happiness of each farmer who shares with you his or her strawberries, fresh asparagus, beans, fresh truffle and a myriad of salad vegetables as well as different colors and varieties of tomatoes. “You must use it raw,” he tells me of the fresh truffle I chose. “Do not cook it,” he reminds me in French.

And every day at 6 pm, these farmers bring their produce and wait for the townspeople who are about to return home from work and will buy something for tonight’s dinner. Shoppers come with their country baskets and go from table to table. About twenty to thirty farmers—15 on each side of the parking lot—open the back of their panel vans and bring out their table for today’s produce. Come Friday in summer, some poissoniers or fishmongers come and join with their day’s catch or what they probably got from the ports of Marseilles, a two-hour drive to Velleron.

Everything is fresh and you meet the very farmer who toiled (with love) to share with you his or her produce. But such is the southern French kind of life (or life in Provence).

We were fortunate to have spent a week in Provence, enjoying the small town of St. Didier and living life as the French would have it in the countryside. Buying fresh ingredients and planning to cook depending on what was found in the market. To the Pinoy cooks in our group, it was a choice of making Sinigang or Adobo, and figuring out what to do with radish, truffle, and asparagus.

The cantaloupes for dessert were as sweet as I remember in my youth, and the strawberries tasting as berries should. I got a basket of organic apples for 2 euros, a bunch of radish for one euro and a big piece of truffle for 8 euros. Unthinkable. With 20 euros or less, you could have a meal made French style!

What we did to the truffle is amazing. Emilie, one of the friends we met, put it amongst raw eggs and covered the bowl. The porous eggshells will then absorb the scent of the fresh truffle. The next day, she offered to fry some eggs with a subtle flavor of the most sought after “mushroom”. Indeed, the eggs absorbed the smell and taste of the truffle. Neat trick.

Also, we bought different kinds of tomatoes and ate them on the spot as they were the sweetest since summer was setting in and the weather was perfect for these fruits. Yes, tomatoes are considered fruits, not vegetables.

This is a real farm-to-table experience which we hope we can adopt in Tagaytay or Baguio—the actual farmers selling their produce and shoppers looking for the same cheesemaker and making a queue to the artisan’s goods, or a farmer’s berries or vegetables.

Then I thought—are these people even concerned about global warming? They seem to not mind the weather, and everyone in town just goes about doing what we here in the Philippines are just starting to espouse. In this part of France, the trend is to eat less meat, go vegetarian and just eat what is in season. The town of Velleron and St Didier are both small—one café, one supermarket, no fast food joints. Maybe that’s why they do not need to even travel to other cities. People go on bikes, All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), and small cars and vans to bring their produce from their farms and vineyards then share them with their neighbors.

I am a happy camper. I got fresh truffle, organic apples, and lots of fresh vegetables like fennel, haricot vert (French beans), and asparagus. I did not even spend a fortune.

Maybe it’s not too late yet to introduce or re-introduce farm-to-table as part of Slow Food Travel or Sustainable Tourism. We can give it a shot in Benguet when we next visit our friends in Tublay or somewhere in Tagaytay where many of our chef-friends have already relocated.

It’s farm to table. It’s my dream and a reality here in France, and soon in Manila. This is Slow Food at its slowest and healthiest.

 

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