Haute Alps Food Market

The Cookery Teacher visits Veynes a village in the Haute Alpes de Provence

A visit to the French Alps always involves a trip round the local market.  In the High Alps market day is a social event and not to be missed.  Join me as I take in the sights and sounds of Veynes market day.

Situated at over 800 metres high in the Alps, Veynes proudly announces market days on the tourist information boards. Markets are important in enabling local inhabitants the opportunity to purchase of a wide range of ingredients sometimes not available during the rest of the week. It also acts as a social event where villagers can meet to share news and enjoy shopping. Such is the draw of a local market the village shops also get in the mood and display their produce outside the shop fronts to attract customers.  Cafes and hotels serve coffee and drinks to add to the atmosphere and entice a good ‘turn out’ each week.  The market is a way of life and an important reason for social interaction. The meeting and greeting of friends and family takes some considerable time as each person is required to give up to three kisses on the cheek to all members of the group.

The market squeezes itself into the spaces available, the village square and depending on the season out along side streets.  There are a wide range of stalls from fresh fish, transported from the Mediterranean, fresh meats and dried sausages to bio-products made locally and regional produce such as vegetables, honey, olives and breads.  Market day is Thursday morning from early to lunchtime.  During July and August there are Marché nocturne (night markets) that attract huge crowds and sell goods well into the night. 

Some of the uniqueness of French markets come from the sheer profusion of fruits and vegetables that are frequently ‘uneven and irregular’ in size and shape. Picking your own products therefore resembles picking from the orchard or vegetable patch, selecting the produce you believe will offer optimum value for money, flavour, texture and colour in your cooking. Veynes is a village in the centre of fruit growing region.  There are acres of apple trees, pear trees and soft fruits.  Depending on the time of year the regional and seasonal fruits or vegetables take centre stage, in July to August the melon stalls pervading the air with a sweet, ripe perfume. Similarly, apricots, plums and greengages are displayed alongside fresh purple garlic, huge chard and leeks.
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Food stalls on Veynes market include the Charcuterie Traitur selling pork produce ready for cooking and ready cooked. The Rotisserie, for spit-roast whole chickens and sausages, that delivers a smell of roast chicken that is mouth-wateringly potent and invokes an instantaneous desire to eat roast chicken.  A close contender to that comes from the Tourton stall.  These specialities from the High Alps are deep fried pastry parcels, filled with either Pomme de terre (savoury creamy mash), Reblouchon (cheese), Epinard (spinach) or Pomme, (sweet purees of apple) or mountain fruits known as Myrtilles (like windberries). They are all delicious, especially when eaten freshly cooked out of the bag.

Cakes sold on the market are Pain d’Epices (gingerbreads), huge cakes cut into portions  and sold by weight.  Pain d’Epice contains ground ginger, cinnamon, mixed spice and is sweetened with honey.  Cakes can be bought plain spice or with added ingredients such as chocolate chip and raisins. Miel de Montagne honey is used as an ingredient in the gingerbreads but is also sold in jars from the mountain hives.  Sometimes the honey bees feed on a range of flowers (Toutes de fleurs) and sometimes from specific sources such as Acacia blossom trees (Miel d’Acacia) or clover that are common in the high Alps. 

The wet fish stall sells crustaceans such as langoustines, prawns and crevettes, crabs, mussels, and scallops.  It also presents a wide range of white fish such as loup (sea perch), salmon, fresh tuna and other oily fish such as sardines and anchovies. Squid and eel also sell particularly well and are good value. In the main the fish is dearer than in the UK apart from sardines and moule (mussels).

Cheeses are always a focus of attention. The cheese stalls have great stature and frequently take centre stage on the market place. They offer hundreds of cheeses ranging from hard cheeses from neighboring Italy such as parmesan and pecorino, to medium hard cheeses such as Tomme, as big as mill stones, and a good substitute for cheddar.  Bunched together are the blue cheeses of ever increasing strength and soft unpastuerised cheeses like Camembert and Brie.  Additionally there are the stalls of goats cheeses sourced from local cheese makers. Looking at the local food is not always satisfying, take mountain goats cheeses for instance where a tiny portion of produce shows a frightening amount of grey-green mould that is no doubt responsible for an exquisite flavour.

Nudging up to the market is the Cremerie, a unique shop that is squeaky clean and where fresh milk can be purchased from the vat and the fromage blanc is the best I have ever tasted.

Veynes market makes you want to cook, to grab the produce and dash home.  I made fresh salmon poached in white wine with fresh lemon and butter.  Simple tomato salad with basil, olive oil and garlic, tourtons with green salad, sliced fresh bread flute, fromage frais with slices of fresh juicy peach and so on.  Perhaps cooking is NOT the word, it conjures up slaving over a hot stove and that is not required when you have such lovely ingredients and a market like that in Veynes.