Great food is like great sex. The more you have, the more you want. — Gael Greene
A toast was made to friendship; glasses full of sparkling gold clinked, and our smiles reflected the warmth of the kitchen in which we stood. “Can you believe it’s been three years?” said Bérengère. We met Berry (the nickname I gave her when I proved incapable of pronouncing her name correctly) three years ago, after her father had given us a tour of his vineyard at Château Beaulieu, located in Rognes, a small Provençal village in the South of France.
I’m terrible at keeping in touch with long-distance friends. Fortunately, a good number of them pick up my slack. Last year, Berry sent a Christmas card, prompting me to find her on Facebook. When we first met, Berry was visiting her father at the vineyard while living full-time in Paris. Since then, she’s moved to the vineyard to oversee the renovation and conversion of the 16th Century castle into a high-class bed-and-breakfast. When I mentioned in a message that David and I were going to be in D.C. and couldn’t help but notice it was a third of the way to France, Berry insisted we visit her at the château. So it was that a few days after Bucko’s 90th birthday, David and I were sipping champagne with a tall, dark, and handsome couple — Berry and her boyfriend Paulo.
Paulo, who is Portuguese, was cooking cataplana, a traditional Portuguese seafood dish using a cataplana, which is a small metal pressure cooker/serving vessel. Swimming in a white-wine broth were red peppers, garlic, monkfish, perch, shrimp, and scallops. Always smiling, Paulo hummed a different tune for each ingredient he added to the pot.
Once seated at the table, Paulo lifted the lid with a “Voilà!” But David’s eyes didn’t entirely light up until Berry began slicing fougasse into a basket. If there’s one thing my man likes more than bread, it’s French bread. While in Paris a few years ago, David took as many photographs of what he considered “the perfect baguette” as he did of me.
“I’ve never seen you enjoy seafood that much,” David said as we readied ourselves for bed.
“I don’t think I ever had seafood that tasted so fresh,” I said. “But as awesome as that was, I’d like to have a meal of just French cheese, bread, olives, and wine while we’re here.” David agreed. How could we go all the way to France without sampling some of the best cheese and bread the world has to offer?
The following afternoon, Berry drove us to visit Paulo at his wine shop, which was adjacent to a fromagerie. “Do you want to get any cheese?” she asked. Paulo was preparing something for lunch (another fantastic meal, comprising pasta and two kinds of prime bacon), and that evening he and Berry were taking us to a birthday party at another winemaker’s home.
After thinking about it for a moment, I shook my head. “We can come back tomorrow on our way out,” I said to David as we returned to the car.
After so much fun (wonderful meals, a fabulous party, a tour of the castle grounds), we were loath to bid our friends farewell. But they were off to Barcelona for their own vacation, and though they implored us to go with them to Spain, David and I had paid-for reservations at another bed-and-breakfast an hour and a half to the north.
Berry and Paulo walked us to our car and waited on the driver’s side as we fumbled with the GPS. “You don’t have to stay here,” I said. “This may take a while.”
“Oh, but I want to hear the song of your car,” Berry said. Earlier that morning, David had asked to hear the “song” of Berry’s new Lotus Elise, which I learned is a vroomy sports car capable of cruising at 150 mph.
“You mean you want to hear the song of the Twingo?” I said, remembering the decal on the back of our rental. Laughing, David started up the Renault’s diesel engine and revved it. Compared to the Lotus’s lionlike roar, the Twingo sounded like an asthmatic mouse. Still laughing, we pulled away; Berry and Paulo stood waving until they vanished in our rearview mirror. Because we didn’t want cheese to go bad on the long drive, David and I skipped the fromagerie, figuring we’d find one closer to our new digs that evening.
Our room at Le Clos Saint Saourde was cavelike, as it had been carved out of the rocky hillside. We had been looking forward to sharing the table d’hôte — a communal meal prepared by our hosts — but upon arriving we were informed that none of the other guests had expressed interest, so it had been canceled. Instead, Jérôme, the proprietor and our chef-not-to-be, proffered a list of restaurant recommendations. When the first place we tried gave us gastronomic orgasms, we were eager to eat our way through the rest of the list. After three days and nights of marveling at rows of red and yellow grapevines and meandering around ancient cobblestoned towns between sensational, multicourse meals, it occurred to me that we had yet to enjoy a meal of fresh bread, perfectly aged cheese, and Provençal olives.
On our last day, we hit up the famous market at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a larger town with many canals known as the Venice of Provence. Displays of antiques, clothing, and food lined every walkway. I’d never seen so many olives or so much cheese, charcuterie, and bread in one place. “Should we get some now?” David asked.
“And carry it around all day?” I answered. He agreed we should first have lunch at a place he had read about and then collect all the components for a simple meal we could have for dinner that night.
But when we emerged from our leisurely lunch, the only remnants of the market were a handful of vans into which vendors were packing their wares. “Are you kidding me?” I said. Even the grocery stores were closed. “Is it too much to ask for cheese and bread to be available in the middle of the day in France?”
“There must be something open somewhere,” David said. For the next two hours, we followed ambiguous signs back and forth, taking almost every exit at every roundabout, until we alighted upon the French version of Walmart — only this clothing/home decor/toy/food store also contained a cheese-and-meat counter.
“It’s not what I was hoping for,” I said, once we were back in our room. I opened a plastic package of olives while David laid out two kinds of sliced meat and small packets of Boursin cheese beside a triangle of Brillat-Savarin. “But with enough wine and that view out the window, I don’t think I’ll notice the difference.”
David didn’t hide his disappointment in the bread. “If we get up extra early,” he said, “we can grab a baguette on the way to the airport.”