From the hearths of peasants to the kitchens of kings, France’s culinary tradition is steeped in the constant pursuit of perfection. And, throughout history, the French have come closer than any to achieving it. From Carême to Robuchon (and some guy named Escoffier) France’s place among fine living and dining is second to none. To visit even a fraction of the places that have contributed to its culinary culture could take years; to visit merely a dozen could make a vacation of a lifetime.
Or, you could just make a trip to Central Market.
From May 9-22, Central Market celebrates Passport France, an event that extols the virtues of the French culinary scene. Hand-selected artisan cheeses, scratch-made breads (including 20 new varieties)- even cooking classes – will be featured during the celebration. With more than 200 French wines from which to choose, they’re making sure nobody gets too thirsty during all the fun. From Burgundy to Champagne, Central Market has a hand-picked selection of wines, cheeses, breads and more that illustrate the entire spectrum of what the French terrior has to offer.
“We want to create an experience for somebody,” says Jason Charles, the wine and beer manager at Central Market on Lovers Lane and Greenville in Dallas. “And with what we’ve got here, there really is something for everybody.”
To say something for everybody might seem like a blanket statement, but there doesn’t seem to be much from the French culinary world that Central Market has overlooked. Crêpe stations and pétanque tournaments will all make their way to the Central Market stores, and Franco-centric classes will abound in their educational kitchens. Even Anne Willan – she of the legendary cooking school La Varenne in Burgundy – will share some of her extensive knowledge with those fortunate enough to attend.
And while Central Market has always carried the baguette – ubiquitous in the streets of Paris – their bakery might be confused for a boulangerie after May 9, with beacoup traditional French breads and pastries gracing the stores, such as the pull-apart pain marguerite, crusty loaves of miche, and buttery kouign amann. And of course, there are specially chosen cheeses to go with all of it – among which one will find the Morbier AOC by Rodolphe Le Meunier (a rich, semi-soft cow’s milk cheese) and Raclette Savoyard, an excellent eating cheese popular in France for melting over potatoes and vegetables or for being scooped up by crusty breads as fondue.
And then there’s the wine – the jewel in France’s epicurean crown.
Central Market’s wine selection abounds, with options from all over the world, but from May 22, the world’s largest – and most legendary – wine-producing country takes center stage, with options for every preference. There’s the sweet, white Sauternes and the much-celebrated Burgundy – which also has a white-wine component. Every French wine is different, and every sunrise and sunset, every angle of every hill and each gust of wind plays a part in the final result. From big and luscious to sweet and buttery, each region of France has a unique identity to impart to its wine, almost all of which were developed over centuries, if not millenia.
“A lot of the grapes brought in to France were brought in the Roman times, and over the centuries, most of the grape growing and cultivating was done by monks,” Charles says. “They didn’t have a whole lot to do other than produce beer and grow grapes, so they were really meticulous in finding what particular varietal was going to work on what hillside. So these Romans were bringing grapes in, but it was the monks that then started to move them around. So over hundreds of years, they were able to say ‘This grape works exceptionally well in this spot.’ And that’s why you see such extremely high-quality vineyards throughout France, because of the time and the patience that these monks had to find the best possible grape for every vineyard.”
In fact, as if to illustrate how deeply wine runs in France’s history, Anne Trimbauch – representing the 13th generation of Trimbauch vineyards in Alsace – is hosting a tasting and sharing notes, as will several other French winemakers through the various Central Markets around the state.
But even if you don’t get to mingle with the producers and owners themselves, at Central Market you’ll always have someone guide you through more than 200 different French wines. Among the options, you’ll find the expected pricey stars – Dom Pérignon Champagne and Mouton-Rothschild Bordeaux among them – but you’ll also find options perhaps more suitable for a Wednesday night dinner or an after-work sip. Just because the French have mastered the art of wine, Charles says, doesn’t mean you need to pay a king’s ransom for it. Not to mention, the entire event features a sale of French wines. A purchase of six to seventeen French wines will receive 20 percent off, and purchases of 18 or more bottles will receive a discount of 25 percent.
“The perception that good French wine is necessarily expensive is absolutely not true,” he notes. “France is the largest producer of wine in the world – Bordeaux, specifically, has over 10,000 different producers – so it’s impossible for everyone to be at a high price point. I’ve had wine in the $100 range that outdrank some thousand-dollar wines, and I’ve had $15-20 bottles that outdrank some of the $100 bottles. What we’ve done here is try to bring in the best of all values – we’ve tried to find the best wine at the best price point for all of our customers, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that.”
What Central Market has done is make the best wine making country in the world accessible to anyone within driving distance, which is no small feat – even if that vacation of a lifetime may still be years away.
Until then, though, Passport France may be all you need.