As a teenager, my first ever trip to France introduced me to some of the highs – and lows – of the country’s food and drink. Champagne proved delicious. Horsemeat less so.
At the age of 16, I headed for Champagne-Ardenne to sample French life for the first time. Unlike my teenage trips to Germany, my break wasn’t part of a school exchange. Instead, it came about after my parents began taking in French guests each summer.
Odile was the first. We were the same age and got on well. We stayed in touch, swapping letters in mangled versions of each other’s language. Then, keen to gain extra practice in French – I had just opted to take it at A Level – I asked if I could visit her during the summer of 1983.
Odile’s father grew grapes for champagne in a village near Châlons-sur-Marne (since renamed Châlons-en-Champagne). They lived in what I perceived to be an upside-down farmhouse: the living areas were all upstairs, while bedrooms were on the ground floor.
“I remember being introduced to horse meat as a foodstuff. This was like a forbidden fruit, albeit a less appealing one”
During my stay, I was introduced to horse meat as a foodstuff. In fairness, I had asked for it. Back in Britain, I had tried frogs’ legs and snails in the local French restaurants. However, this was different: this was like a forbidden fruit, albeit a less appealing one.
What did I make of it? Well, it was like an inexpensive cut of beef. I’ve never bothered to seek it out again, but it did give me another tick on my list of French foods I had tried.
Now, 30 years later, tête de veau remains the one French delicacy unticked on that list. I have a feeling that situation is not going to change anytime soon.