One of the more challenging courses that I took this past semester was French Gastronomy. Like many, I initially registered for the class intrigued by the free food. However, I soon found myself academically challenged and fascinated by the art of free-food-tasting. Throughout the semester, we tried different types of wine, cheese, and classic French dishes. Each day, I walked into the class not knowing what to expect, which made the overall experience enjoyable and exciting.
I have a vivid memory of going up to a cheese booth in the Marché Talensac. Hypnotized by French cheese, I approached immediately after seeing the display case of dozens of different types of cheese. The overseer of cheese (fromager) was nice enough to let us sample 5 different kinds. Each chunk of cheese that she gave to us progressively got stronger until the last piece of cheese resembled a pile of mold. I was a little skeptical trying this cheese but thought, “why not?” and plopped the entire thing into my mouth. That is something that I will truly never forget.
Brin du Maquis, a type of French cheese
After trying the cheese, we washed it all down with different wines at a degustation near Beaujoire. There were many different booths with different assortments of wine, and I walked around with a few friends as we each took turns walking up to a booth and asking to taste the wine en français. While a couple vendors automatically switched to English, we also had the opportunity to hold conversations in French with dozens of other vendors as we learned more about the process of winemaking: foulage, fermintation, pressurage, etc. My favorite was a white wine called Savignon. We also tried an assortment of red wines and a chocolate-flavored wine which was completely clear.
Wine dégustation at Beaujoire
Another day we found ourselves inside of a classic Nantes dessert shop, Les rigolettes Nantaises, speaking with the owner who manufactures the classic Nantes candy called rigolettes. We all got to try the classic flavors, which included traditional lemon, mandarin, raspberry, blackcurrant and pineapple flavors. You could tell that the owner takes great pride in what he does, and the overall vibe of the establishment was immaculate.
One morning, we rolled out dough into dozens of croissants and put them into the oven. Another morning, I strolled into the classroom and laid my eyes upon some bottles of wine lined up. We tried different bottles and attempted to guess each one’s flavors and ingredients using a flavor chart. I was called over to open the first wine bottle, which just so happened to be my first time opening a bottle ever. It was a surreal experience opening a wine bottle in a classroom, especially since I am not even 21 yet!
The average day in a French class
One of our class projects required each student to prepare a classic French dish at home. Naturally I chose to prepare a crêpe, intentionally choosing the most cost-efficient and time-efficient plate I could. I made this dish with my host mom, and we had fun tossing the crepe into the air when it came time to flip it. This ended up being one of my favorite memories from Nantes! I took some photos of the process, dumped Nutella onto the finished crepe, then made sure to get photos of me eating it. I factored these photos into a 10-page paper for the devoir maison; this is basically a lengthy paper that’s due before the midterm. This paper was challenging to write, because of the length and the fact that it had to be written in French. I can say confidently that my French improved tremendously after writing this paper.
However, the class wasn’t just all fun and games. Halfway through the course, it was time to tackle a difficult unit; the Michelin star. After studying the characteristics of the Michelin star restaurant, we found ourselves seated around the white tablecloth of Lulu Rouge, a Nantaise restaurant that holds one Michelin star. We were all served a 5-course meal, experiencing the different colors, textures and flavors that each dish had to offer. We experienced first-hand the art of oenology, or the way in which different dishes and wines are paired together to produce the most extraordinary flavor combination imaginable.
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I became inspired to travel abroad after reading the book "Banner in the Sky" by James Ullman. Since then, I've dreamed of visiting Switzerland and climbing the Matterhorn during the day and snowboarding down the Swiss mountains at night!