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Paris's Salon de l'Agriculture
February 27, 2012  | 

Cows, sheep, pigs, horses, donkeys, dogs, and geese have come to Paris for the 49th Salon de l’Agriculture through March 4th. This mammoth agricultural fair showcases the treasures of French terroir.

Two football-field-size stories of exhibition space celebrate the gastronomic glories of the French regions. Visitors can sample everything from the oysters of Normandy to the olive oil of Provence and bananas from Martinique.

Even the most stalwart epicure could not possibly sample more than a fraction of the staggering array of cheeses and charcuterie on offer. Those who wish to sit down for a full-blown meal can select from numerous regional restaurants lining the perimeter of the exhibition hall. However, this narrows the scope for grazing from the myriad treats available from the stands.

My personal favorite is the seared duck foie gras sandwiches found in Southwestern France’s area. My ten-year-old friend prefers the sandwiches of terrine of goose foie gras sold in the Alsatian section.

The salon has long been a favorite haunt of oenophiles, who in one venue can taste, discuss, and order a broad selection of quality wines directly from producers.

Throughout the fair the prestigious Concours Générale d’Agricole judges and awards gold, silver and bronze prizes to France’s best wines and foods, which can then be purchased in the Concours’ on-site boutique. Another large hall features foods, wines and beers from other countries.

If the Salon offers an edible crash-course on French culinary traditions, its main thrust remains the agricultural processes that underlie them. One entire pavilion exhibits thousands of cows, sheep, and pigs, including examples of many rarely seen heritage breeds. Stadium-style show rings not only present champion specimens but also competitions for such rural skills as the best hoof-trimming technique. Interactive displays and demonstrations showcase just what, for example, makes the beef and veal of Limousin so famous, or the latest in milking technology. Those in search of souvenirs will find sweaters and socks knit from the famed wool of Auvergne or miniature-sized tractors and farm trucks.

Another pavilion devotes itself to horses, donkeys and dogs. Here, one can watch rare feats of horseback bravura or demonstrations of about how the police train dogs to sniff out drugs. One can purchase a gleaming hunting horn or the ass’s soap favored as a Renaissance beauty treatment.

Farming equipment and techniques get displayed throughout the fair. One can even, free of charge, drive a tractor.
A final pavilion focuses on fruits and vegetables. Children can play interactive games that teach them how crops are grown and processes. Adults can learn how beer is made or peruse the latest ecological gardening techniques.

The crowds can be fierce so it is best advised to go early in the day, or for the late-night viewing on Thursday. Nevertheless, a visit to this microcosm of France’s rich, agricultural heritage well merits a visit. The Salon de l’Agriculture rolls the best of the French countryside into a single venue, which is accessible by metro. If you can’t make it this year, it’s not too soon to start planning a trip to the fair’s golden anniversary edition in 2013.

The Salon de l’Agriculture
Through March 4th
Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles, Paris
metro: Porte de Versailles