What would possess a person to drive five hours across the south of France to visit a ham festival? I kept asking myself this question as we approached Bayonne in the foothills of the Pyrenees on France’s Atlantic coast. What on earth was I thinking when I booked a room more than a month ago at the Grand Hotel Bayonne for our first weekend in France? Carried away by images of happy, carefree pigs frolicking in the French country side on an episode of Guy Martin’s Epicerie Fine, and with the mere mention of a ham festival just when we would be arriving in France, I had to be there.
So what do they have at the ham festival? Ham of course, as evidenced by the giant inflatable ham hovering over the entrance.
About 25 regional vendors displaying a variety of ham and related charcuterie pig products – boudin noir (blood sausage), chorizo and pâté compagne (country-style pâté).
This truly is the finest of French ham. A ham that is best savored thinly sliced with a good bread, something like Italy’s Prosciutto or Spain’s Serrano.
Also, like their cousins, Bayonne ham has a geographic protected status meaning producers must follow strict controls from the raising of the pigs to the actually curing of the ham to be labeled a Bayonne ham.
Held every year over Easter weekend since 1462, this is the festival for ham lovers who want to dive into the local French culture.
It does not attract many foreigners other than a few Spaniards from just across the border a mere 30 miles from Bayonne. Vendors are très sympathique, offering samples of their fine charcuterie. (One even offered to run up the street to his shop in order to tape our torn 20 Euro note back together.) There are of course plenty of pork products for sale to be eaten sur place or taken home, along with the local Pyrenees brebis (sheep) cheese, a hard sharp cheese with a smooth rich texture. Or try them together on a crispy French baguette for the quintessential gourmet sandwich.
April 6, 2012
For links to all the posts in this series see the Other Destinations page.