Indisputably, one of modern France's greatest treasures is its rich cuisine. The French have an ongoing love affair with food, 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. If we speak about French food service we should say about the regions of France and their traditions and styles.
Every region of France has its own distinctive traditions in terms of ingredients, preparation and French food service. On top of this, there are three general approaches which compete with each other:
Classical French cuisine (also known in France as cuisine bourgeoise). This French food service offers all the classical French dishes which were at one time regional, but are no longer specifically regional. Food is rich and filling, with many dishes using cream-based sauces.
Haute cuisine. This French food service offers classical French cuisine taken to its most sophisticated and extreme. Food is elegant, elaborate and generally rich. Meals tend to be heavy, especially due to the use of cream and either large portions or many smaller portions. There is a strong emphasis on presentation (in particular, vegetables tend to be cut with compulsive precision and uniformity). The finest ingredients are used, and the meal is correspondingly expensive.
Cuisine Nouvelle. This style developed in the 1970s, as a reaction against the classical school of cooking. The food is simpler and lighter. Portions are smaller and less rich; the heavy cream sauces of the classical approach are particularly avoided. Cooking is less elaborate and quicker, with more emphasis on local and seasonal ingredients.
Cuisine du terroir. This focuses on regional specialities and is somewhat more rustic in nature. The local produce and food traditions are the main focus
Each of these three traditions is strongly represented in France, with each having its supporters and specialist restaurants. At the moment, Cuisine Nouvelle is less popular than it was, while Cuisine du terroir has grown in popularity in recent years.
Aside from French bread and water, the most common accompaniments to a French food service are wine and cheese. Unlike other countries, in France wine is considered a standard part of everyday meals, and is neither expensive nor reserved for special occasions. With everyday meals, ordinary wines are served, although it is expected that the style of wine match the style of food.
In addition to its use in cooking, cheese is often served as a course in itself. In this case, it is served after the main meal but before dessert. This typically consists of a platter with three or four different cheeses, from which guests can slice pieces according to their preferences. Sliced bread (e.g. slices of a baguette) are typically provided at the same time.