Food markets are an essential part of French life, regardless of whether you live here or are a holidaymaker. Around here, the larger towns all have a market at least once a week, they are held on different days giving the perfect opportunity to visit at least a couple of them. From the small to the large, there is something quintessentially French about the care and attention to detail in setting up a stall of vegetables, charcuterie or cheeses – it really is a glorious assault on the senses.
Fresh fruit and vegetables
The nearest markets to us are Chaunay on a Monday, Lezay on a Tuesday and Melle which is held on Fridays.
All the markets offer a wide range of seasonal fruit and veg, beautifully laid out and labeled with hand-written signs. Each season brings a glut of salads, many types of tomatoes, bunches of garlic, not just the white garlic, but rose and violet varieties. Bunches of herbs are tucked in amongst spring onions. Autumn and winter see the appearance of pumpkins, spaghetti squash, and root vegetables. One stall will be selling only apples, but at least 10 varieties, and the choice and scent of melons in the summer is gorgeous.
Fish and shellfish
Our favourite fish stall can be found at Lezay market, running down the outside of the covered market and they are also at Melle market. The choice is impressive, oysters and mussels come from the Île de Ré and Île d’Oléron. Prawns, crab and lobster can be picked up, sardines for the bbq perhaps?
The stall holders will happily clean and filet your choice of fish, perhaps you’ll be inspired to create a classic fish stew, a bouillabaisse.
The butchers in the markets offer superb quality locally reared meat, steaks are cut to the size you want, likewise if you want a large rib joint, that will be cut as you want it.
From whole chickens, guinea fowl, lamb, pork, there’s a huge choice laid out in front of you. One of the butchers offers home made delicacies, one of which is similar to a Cornish pasty called a chaussure, a little beef pastry – perfect for a lunchtime picnic.
Rows of cured sausages and salamis hang from the stall tops, cured meats laid out below, and don’t be afraid to ask for a taste, the producers are very proud of their wares and very happy for you to try.
Many of these stalls also have huge vats, steaming with freshly made paella, stews and tartiflette, a ready made meal just needing to be re-heated back at home.
For the cheese fan, you could easily spend an hour sampling the incredible variety of cheeses. Deux-Sèvres is the number one producer of goats cheese in France. One cheese in particular, labeled the “King of Cheeses” by writer Rabelais, is the Chabichou, which earned the AOC label (appellation d’origine contrôlée) in 1990. You will find signs across the region directing you to the route du Chabichou. On these roads you will discover farmers and producers, taste local foods and also visit some of the landmarks of the Poitou’s protestant past. These routes offer you the combined pleasures of sightseeing, flavours, fragrances, and the discovery of delightful cultural and environmental spots.
Slightly further afield is the covered market in Poitiers set behind the cathedral. It’s open on Fridays and Saturdays and which is a pleasure to walk around, with it’s myriad of little shops and stalls, spreading outside to more stalls, including a number of bric a brac sellers.
The fresh fish section is massive and this alone makes a visit to Poitiers market a must.
The market at Chaunay is a small one with a simple selection of a fish stall, butcher/charcuterie and a few little local stalls selling home produce, fruit and vegetables. Depending on the time of year, there is a stall selling seedlings and flowers for the garden and vegetable patch.
Lezay and Melle markets are much larger and a leisurely couple of hours can be whiled away wandering amongst the stalls, have a coffee at one of the cafes or bars. The outer edges tend to be clothing, household items and livestock. Moving into the centre of town, are the many fruit and vegetable stalls – some as simple as the man who only sells eggs, up to the huge display in the church square of an enormous variety of fruit and vegetables. The covered market houses a number of butchers, with their own home made specialities, fresh fish stalls, tea and coffee stalls, herbs and spices and the lady from the bread shop who has an amazing variety of bread for sale.