The highlight of my week is the farmers’ market at Place Carnot, in the heart of Carcassonne.
Besides amazing produce, there are live chickens. And snails.
Mostly, the marché aux herbes is devoted to fruits and vegetables. It isn’t a farmers’ market, because some vendors buy wholesale and resell at the market. While I don’t buy only organic, I do look for local maraîchers, who sell produce from their gardens. When I first moved here, a friend told me the maraichers were nearly as good as organic—that like most locals, they were such cheapskates that they wouldn’t use so much as one extra drop of fertilizer or pesticides.
Get in line early for Bernard’s strawberries from Ariège, or they might be sold out. The berries are displayed by variety: mara de bois, charlotte, garriguette and my favorite, ciflorette. You eat one, and think, “this is the most strawberry strawberry I’ve ever tasted!” Then you eat a different variety and think, “wait, this is the essence of strawberry!” They taste so different, yet so strawberry.
Bernard has one-liners for everybody: “What a cute baby! No resemblance at all to the parents!” “Five euros for two baskets….for the regulars, six euros.” “I didn’t see you last week. I was worried you were being unfaithful with other strawberries.” For a long time, he teased me about my accent and called me Miss America.
There’s the lady with awesome tomatoes. The flesh is solid, not like the empty watery shells you get at the supermarket. They are full of flavor, too. She always asks about my week and thanks me profusely when I give her exact change.
There’s the doyenne, who’s had a stand since 1962, and his daughter, who introduced me to small, wild leeks, wild asparagus and other delights. She takes great pleasure in explaining the different vegetables that I’m not familiar with, including how to cook them. She also often has lovely flowers from her garden.
There’s the cheese guy, who introduced me to morbier, explaining that the dark line in the middle of it comes from cinders. Another cheese vendor, with goods from the Pyrennees, explains how this one is from milk of sheep that are one year old, and that one from sheep that are two years old, and this one is aged so many months, and that one is a mix of sheep’s milk and cow’s milk, and on and on until your head spins just from fromage de brebis.
When my wheeled caddy is full of fresh, healthy food, I head to one of the cafés on the square for a coffee. I’m sure to see someone I know, and even when I don’t, the people-watching is great fun.
At noon, the vendors pack up and it’s time to head home to cook a scrumptious meal on the grill with the market purchases. More on that later.