Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre
by Lisa Michaux, Tastemaker in Residence
Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre
I love Paris in the autumn—crisp fall days, sunny café terraces, great art exhibitions opening all over the city, and amazing creations of mushroom dishes, on all the menus. One of my favorite things to do is visit the Vendanges de Montmartre—the amazing food and wine fair surrounding the Basilica of Sacré-Couer that celebrates the harvesting of the few remaining vines that grow on the butte Montmartre. This year was the 83rd year of the festival and the fourth time my fall trip to Paris has coordinated with this unique event.
For one weekend in early October, white tents are set up in the narrow streets around the basilica of Sacré-Couer and food and beverage producers from all over France come to offer their specialties. Each region tries to outdo their neighbors with displays of wine, cheese, cured meat, and foie gras. While taking pictures meant I had to set down my food and drink, but I did my best for the Spirited Table®!
Vin de Montmartre
One of the prime spots went to the tourism office of the Village of Montmartre. In addition to offering tastings of wine produced from the local grapes, there was a charming guitarist singing and providing local color.
Stirring the Aligot
Aligot is a French country specialty made from mashed potatoes blended with butter, cream, garlic and cheese. Here we see the dish being mixed by hand with a large wooden paddle. When the aligot reaches an elastic-like consistency, it is ready to be served.
Another French specialty served at the event is Raclette. I love the ingenuity of this melted cheese invention! While the half wheel of cheese is heated, the baguette gets toasty and warm on the upper shelf. When all is the perfect consistency, the wheel is shifted down and warm cheesy goodness is spread over the baguette and ham for a perfect sandwich. I’m wondering when this will show up in America!
La Boite a Fromage
And if you don’t want your melted cheese on a baguette, you can always find it neatly packaged in a little wooden box with some potatoes.
Display of Cheeses from Corsica
With nearly 400 different types of cheese produced in France, each region is extremely proud of their varieties. In this display of Corsican cheeses is their colorful green basil and red tomato versions.
Never a Line for the Nougat
According to the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, for a sparkling wine to be labeled Champagne, it has to be from the Champagne region of France and produced using the méthode champenoise. But America never signed the Treaty and that is why our sparkling wines made in California bear the name champagne. The white tents of the Vendanges boasted many different true champagne houses and for about 5 euros you can try a wide selection of bubbly that you will never find in the United States.
Champagne and Homemade Chips
The perfect combination of salty and sweet!
There is a wide variety of wines to try, our favorites were from Burgundy
At the end of the 19th century, the drink of choice for many artists and residents of Montrmartre was absinthe. Made of wormwood, the drink was a powerful hallucinogen and nicknamed the Green Fairy. The recipe was changed to be a bit safer in the early 20th century and is still sold in Paris. There wasn’t much demand for tastings of absinthe, but the decorative packaging could make a fun souvenir.
Now That’s a Grill
There is no shortage of cured meats to be enjoyed at the event or brought home for later.
De la tête à la queue, je suis delicious
The name of this booth that served a fabulous pork sandwich was “From the head to the tail, I am delicious.” Talk about tip to tail cuisine!
To counteract all the meat, cheese, and potatoes, one could also enjoy oysters from Brittany for 10 euros a plate.
La Grappe Yerroise
Confrerie de l’Ordre des bières de Jenlain
In addition to the food and drink, the sport of people watching was amazing at the festival. People were still in costume from the parade held earlier that day and they happily posed for photos.
A Modern Day Aristide Bruant
One of the most famous performers in the cabarets of Montmartre at the end of the 19th century was Aristide Bruant. Known for his wide-brimmed black hat, cape, and red scarf flung over his shoulder; he was famously captured by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Since the Vendanges is all about Montmartre, this modern day Aristide enjoyed all the attention he received wandering the festival.
La Maison Créole
This celebration is not just about the food from France. There was some serious interest in La Maison Créole and their rum drinks topped with beautiful Bird of Paradise flowers. By the time I left, all the flowers were sold, but the Rum Punch was still in great demand.
In addition to Créole cocktails, Japanese sake, and Spanish tapas, there was a large booth selling American specialties including fries, burgers, and hot dogs. Despite the cowhide “Western” decorations, the food all had a decidedly French accent as evidenced by the photo of the French fry sandwich in a baguette!
The festival includes several different events over the weekend, one of the most popular being the parade through the streets on Saturday morning. Different contingents of wine and beer makers march in their ceremonial outfits. And just like local American parades with the various princesses elected from different societies, a local young woman is chosen to model a hairstyle based on the topography of Montmartre. Located on a steep hill, her hair has been shaped to resemble the famous incline—so fabulous!!