My parents live in Challans in the Vendée region in France. So, quite obviously, this is where I go when I visit France.
You might have heard about Challans before if you are very keen about your poultry as le canard de Challans (Challans duck) is very famous in the gastronomic world. I feel very lucky that every time I go back to France, I get to eat a lot of Challans duck in many forms: magrets, fillets, confit legs, whole roasted duck, aiguillettes de canard (mini fillets of duck), steaks and various pates and terrines.
Another thing I love doing when I go to Challans for a holiday is visit the beautiful covered food market. It is opened on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday mornings. On Tuesdays, it is extended outside so you can also buy clothes, jewellery and various kitchen utensils and contraptions (yes, I am still dumbfounded by some of the items I see on display there every time).
It is with great delight that I woke up early on Tuesday last week to take a walk and visit the Challans market. Going there early is quite important if you are not keen on queuing for ages to buy a piece of cheese, some meat, fruit and vegetables.
The visit of the market was followed by a little stop at the local salon de thé (pastry shop) for a relaxing moment over tea, coffee and sweet treats.
Having made my way to the covered market, and avoided all the people trying to sell me weird machines that apparently would help me cut my vegetables faster, I entered the large hall that contains many food stalls: fishmongers, fruit and vegetable farmers, butchers, bakers, cheesemongers, specialty products and pastries artisans, duck meat butchers, horse meat butcher (yes, I know!), etc.
All the colours, sounds and smells... It can be really overwhelming but so fantastic at the same time!
I decided to let E. have a look around while I kept snapping photos of all the amazing products. If my mother had not already packed the fridge full for our visit, I guess I would have bought a lot of things at the market.
After a few shots, I met with E. after he had looked for me around the market. This place is quite vast but he eventually found me glued to one of the fishmongers' stalls. I really love fish and seafood and could be quite happy only eating that every day.
My all time favourites are crabs, crevettes (prawns), langoustines (the exact translation is Dublin Bay prawns, should I have seen a sign years ago?) and my beloved noix de Saint Jacques (scallops).
We chatted a bit with one of the fishmongers, who was really proud to have his seafood photographed, and then moved on to my favourite place in the market: the Beillevaire cheesemonger.
La fromagerie Beillevaire became so popular over the years (as well as selling cheeses from all around France, their homemade products are truly fantastic... and I admit I have a special crush on their fresh and moist gingerbread) that they even opened shops in Paris and London.
Now, my main preoccupation when I visit the market is to arrive early and avoid the huge queue at la fromagerie. Every time I go there I discover a new kind of cheese. This time, rather than buying my usual (very big) slice of Saint Nectaire, I decided to try different cheeses to let E. enjoy the variety we have in France.
The delicious Beaufort cheese was on special so I went straight for it. It is not always very affordable but if you find some, please do try it! It is one of the three cheeses that has to be included in a cheese fondue. Beaufort cheese comes from the Savoie region (in the French Alps). It is a firm cheese made with raw cow's milk. If you thought that Comté is already a wonderful cheese, well taste some Beaufort cheese! It is quite a magical cheese to me, close your eyes and you will be transported in a field full of beautiful wild flowers in the Alps.
The two other cheeses were chosen for us by the lady cheesemonger as we were both starting to find it hard to make a decision.
She recommended a cheese called Fumaison. It comes from the Auvergne region and is a firm, smoked raw sheep's milk cheese. This was absolutely delicious and a big success back at my parents' house for lunch. The flavours of smoke, wood and hazelnuts were beautifully complex. I could have easily eaten the whole piece by myself (but I had to share...).
The second cheese she recommended was a piece of Brillat Savarin cheese (I was originally on the lookout for a piece of Délice de Bourgogne but they did not have it). It is a triple cream brie made with cow's milk (and yes, you did read 'triple cream'). This type of cheese is produced in Normandie and the Bourgogne region too. It just melts in your mouth. It is creamy, rich, so delicious... and definitely a bit addictive!
After getting our cheese, we left the market and moved on to my favourite pastry shop in Challans.
I have always known my favourite pastry shop in Challans as named Pâtisserie Billet. From a very young age, my mother would take me there after a visit to the market so we could buy a couple of pastries* for dessert and a few petits fours (little sweet treats) to enjoy on the way back home.
It has now changed owners and is called Adèlice. But from what I can see, this is the only thing that has changed: the fantastic cakes, les petits fours aux amandes, the beautiful selection of chocolates, the lovely pale green paint inside and outside, the adorable salon de thé area... it is all still there and intact!
So I just stood in the middle of the shop with a huge smile on my face and a lot of childhood memories flowing back to me until E. reminded me we had to choose a few pastries to bring back to my parents, and select a couple of sweet treats to enjoy in the salon de thé.
We chose a little blueberry macaron and a little chocolate square with nuts incrusted in it. We enjoyed our little treats while sitting on the vintage chairs in the salon de thé corner (even the furniture has not changed!) and sipping an espresso for E. and a delicious Damman Frères tea with a delicate toffee apple flavour for me.
After this relaxing moment, we grabbed our box of pastries that had been carefully wrapped and made our way home. Upon discovery of the pastry box, my whole family was ecstatic. It was ohlala time for dessert!
* I was not allowed to photograph the pastries and cakes in the shop itself so the only ones you see here are the ones we purchased to bring back for dessert. They were very lovely and were eaten really fast, so two are missing (I nearly feared for my fingers!).
Notes: Both the Challans market and the Adèlice Pâtisserie (the pastry shop is closed) are located on Place Aristide Briand in Challans (France).