When I moved to France last year, I smoothly transitioned into my new, ready-made French family. It didn’t replace my own family back in the USA, but it made for a soft landing here in this new land. As with most family units, at the centre of the new family was the matriarch, Kate Hill. All others were spokes from her wheel hub: her sister, Steph, who was my primary source of info on all things french, my translator, my negotiator; Elaine, an artist in the Pyrenees,from Burma, by way of Harlem, who was my yiddisha connection here in France (go figure); my Canadian neighbours, Taffy and Bill, who are my almost constant companions and sit at the centre of my communal living here in Nérac; journeyman butchers passing through in search of training in the art of french butchery and charcuterie; and, the man below, Dominique Chapoulard, and his wife, Christiane.
Dominique and Christiane, along with Dom’s brothers, work the Chapolard farm where they raise the pigs they butcher along with all the food those pigs eat. They send the pigs out to a communal abattoir (slaughter house) and then bring them back to the farm where they are transformed into roasts and ribs and some of the most delicious traditional charcuterie in all of southwestern France. And, along with Kate, they are so good at what they do that aspiring butchers from all over the world have come to learn from them.
Dom and Chris are warm, welcoming and wonderful friends. From my first visit to their home, for a glorious home cooked meal that included the most heavenly artichoke hearts in a béchamel sauce that I still crave to this day, they have treated me like family, greeting me with kisses to each cheek at their market stall, encouraged my French skills.
This past weekend I was thrilled to be included in a celebration of Dominique’s birthday. A (small) gathering of 60+ family members and friends, happy to be together to share the day. When the rain started, they simply brought out the pop-up awnings and continued the party.
People arrived with flowers and food contributions, eager to share the afternoon. Many of these people are our local food producers- Marie and Matthieu make the goat cheese I buy at the market. Jeanne, the woman in charge of the tagine for lunch, was the goose and foie gras producer until she recently retired.
Our friend Gaël, with empty glass in hand, said “it’s a typical french party. Nothing to drink but wine…”
Christiane and her friends had been cooking for days, serving lunch to more than 60 and following it up with dinner for many later that night.
While the adults ate and talked (A lot of french spoken here, btw. Trial by fire for me…) and talked and ate, the kids played hard.
Bill and Taffy and I were excited to discover this loaf, called Pain des Amis (friend’s bread), at our favourite bolangerie several weeks ago. It seemed like the perfect bread to add to this fete, so we ordered one for Dom’s party. 10 kilos seemed like plenty to feed 60!
Christiane and Dominique’s daughter, Camille, is a patissiere, and she baked a series of cakes to celebrate her father’s birthday.
However, what’s a party without an entire dessert table? There were brownies and lemon tart and cheese cake and more!
There ever practical French parked ready to exit. No need to have to make a 3 point turn on a country lane after an afternoon of partying.
My North American counterparts and I left in the early evening, exhausted from the food and the excitement of the afternoon, ready for an early evening. The French? They were still at it when we left! When I first moved here, Dominique said they didn’t understand why we (ex-pats) would want to move to their little part of the world. This day was one good example of my reasons.