Indisputably, one of modern France's greatest treasures is its rich cuisine. The French have an ongoing love affair with food and French restaurants, and their reverence for time spent eating is evident in any culinary establishment nationwide. It is also manifested in the traditional family gatherings around the home dinner table, particularly the Sunday mid-day feast which is prepared lovingly over many hours and consumed leisurely through a bevy of appetizers and main courses, usually accompanied by a number of wines and often lively discussion which tends to center on political topics.
Throughout the country, French cooking and recipes involves a large number of techniques, some extremely complicated, that serve as basics. Any cook will tell you that French food will not tolerate shortcuts in regard to these fundamentals.
France's reputation for fine food is not so much based on long-held traditions but on constant change. What is the most popular French meal, what are the main French products, what is the main meal in French restaurants?
Do you happen to taste foie gras which is served in French restaurants? Foie gras is the oversized liver of a force-fed goose or duck. Goose is preferred. A classic presentation for hot foie gras involves first studding the liver with brandy-soaked truffles, putting a bay leaf on top, wrapping the whole in bacon and then in a pig's caul -- the fatty membrane that lines the abdominal cavity. This can be baked in a terrine or sealed in a pastry shell, the purpose of which is to absorb the grease released during cooking. Foie gras is also used in pâtés and as garnish, often paired with truffles. The two are characteristic of the cooking of Périgord. In contemporary cuisine, fresh lobes of foie gras are sautéed, often with fruit.
Fondue au Fromage is also a kind of obligatory meal in French restaurants. This Swiss dish is also popular in the Alpine regions of France (never mind its cyclical comebacks in the States). It is made by melting a mixture of Gruyère or Comté cheese with white wine until smooth, and flavoring it with kirsch and garlic (often only by rubbing a clove against the inside of the pot before melting the cheese). The fondue is served with chunks of bread for dipping.
If you want to try another traditional French meal, order Civet de lièvre. A hare is cut up and marinated in brandy, red wine, and olive oil. It is then cooked in a roux made from cooked bacon and onion, to which is added an herb bunch (bouquet garni), and garlic. The hare's blood finishes the sauce.
And, certainly, cheese plate - traditional French dessert. The French eat more cheese than any other nation in the world - an amazing total of 20.4 kg (45 lbs.) per person per year. 400 different kinds of cheese are made in France. The golden rule for cutting cheese: each person should get his or her share of the center of the cheese...and of the rind. Since it is the least cold, the vegetable drawer in your refrigerator is the best place to store cheese. Keep cheese in its original wrapping or cover it with aluminum foil or plastic wrap. Some goats' milk cheeses are sprinkled with charcoal ash. This gives them an ash-grey color and is intended to absorb surface moisture, thus helping to preserve them.