French culture and cuisine are intimately related. Modern French foods can be traced through the influence of social change over centuries. Most of the unique flavors and influences came from the development of basic ingredients that were available from the peasant farms in the French countryside. These basic staples were then developed to please the demanding palates of the French aristocracy.
The earliest record of French cuisine is from a recipe collection created by Taillevent, a medieval court chef. During the time of Napoleon, famed chef Marie-Antoine Carême began creating foods using more cream bases with more subtle spices that developed into modern French cuisine. Escoffier formalized haute cuisine during the late 1800’s. He published Le Guide Culinaire in 1903. In the mid twentieth century, an influx of Portuguese immigrants altered the national palate and techniques producing “nouvelle cuisine”.
Today, cheese, wine and pastries dominate the concepts of French cooking. Many recipes are derived from regional influences, each geographic local contributing their unique flavors, history and local delicacies.
In the north of France, the coast provides a variety of fish and crustaceans. Fine produce grows well here as does wheat and chicory; so that thick stews are common. Buckwheat is a predominate crop that makes the regions galettes (buckwheat flat bread or pancakes) called jalet. Apple orchards thrive lending apple or cider as an ingredient in regional dishes.
In central France, the fruits produced are noteworthy. The cherries are used to make a local liqueur called Guignolet and prepared in wonderful dessert pasteries. The local mushrooms, champignons de Paris, are frequent ingredients. Goat milk and cheese provides an identifiable flavor from the area and the local meats are often served with a beurre blanc (white butter) sauce.
In the southwest, which includes Basque country, the palate appears to be more derived from the farming culture with heavier, starchier menus. Farm fed cattle, lamb and poultry are featured delicacies. Foie gras (fattened duck or goose liver) is exported all over the globe from here.
The Cote d’Azure and Provence supply all of France with the herbs and citrus they grow. Garlic and anchovies are used in many of the sauces. Camargue red rice is grown locally. Truffles from Provence are a delicacy found during the winter months.
These few examples are just a sampling of the many recognized French national cuisine diversities. Each locale supplies their unique regional contributions to what we view as French cooking. Although altered over time, many flavors and techniques persist and combine with the regional wines to create the cuisine and culture of France.