The signs are posted all over Paris: a wide-angle photo of an enormous brown cow. The annual International Agriculture Salon—where France celebrates its culinary heritage—closes this Sunday, March 7.
Here’s what you need to know if you spend the day at the Ag Salon: Go hungry. Everywhere you turn, someone’s offering a taste of artisanal cheese, creamy yogurt, new flavors of ice cream, foie gras, honey, olive oil, sausage, bread, wine, beer—just about anything made in France.
Two of the five enormous pavilions at Porte de Versailles are devoted to eating. At the Régions de France pavilion, you can feast on oysters from Brittany, aligot (mashed potatoes with tomme cheese) from the Auvergne, foie gras from Périgord and snails and beef from Burgundy. There are also temporary restaurants, each featuring the specialties of an agricultural area. Before you know it, your shopping bag is heavy with treats to take home.
The Régions de France pavilion also includes Madagascar, Martinique, Guadeloupe and the other overseas areas considered part of France. Spices from Africa and the Caribbean scent the stalls, and Calypso music plays under the crowd noise. Another entire pavilion is devoted to foods from other countries: Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and many more. Overall, there are 38 restaurants to choose from, plus hundreds of booths selling artisanal products to eat, wear, supply your kitchen or delight your dog back home.
Enticing as all the eating is, for me the highlight of the salon was Pavilion 1, where all day long you can watch competitions for the most perfect specimens of different cow breeds. You might have to step aside as a handler walks his bull through the aisles. The deep clang of cowbells echoes through the hall. We wandered through row after row of stalls to pet the cows, sheep and rabbits. (No touching allowed for the new litters of piglets suckling their moms, and signs warn you that the donkeys bite.)
Outside, between the pavilions, my friend Donna Morris of Best Friend in Paris climbed into a huge green tractor and took it for a spin.
At the end of the day, we left well-fed and smiling, with just the lightest whiff of manure on our boots.
Hours: 9 a.m.–7 p.m. (Friday, March 5, until 11 p.m.)
Admission: 12 euros.
Metro: Porte de Versailles.