I have twice ventured out on a walk from Balleure to nearby Étrigny. A small town in itself, it serves as the local administrative center for the commune, which includes four hameaus (hamlets) in the surrounding countryside. The total population of the commune of Étrigny is around 300. The commune’s Mairie (City Hall) and post office, which is open parts of three days per week, are in Étrigny. The only commerce I have found there is a bakery which offers a variety excellent fresh breads each day, plus a limited selection of food and drink. My reward for the walk despite threatening rain is a croissant. I rarely eat croissants, but they are exceptional here, fresh and crusty, light and yeasty.
These beauties are pure Charolais cattle, a breed which originated near here. Charolais are prized for meat all over Europe, and are also found in the United States, England, Australia, New Zealand and South America, often crossed with other breeds. In Italy, they’re hard to find, because they are sequestered in barns for safety. Do they have cattle rustlers in Italy??
You can see the old church at Étrigny from afar. In front is a lavoir, a restored old community laundry where the town’s women used to gather to scrub their clothes and linens by hand and catch up on the doings of their neighbors. This one has a raised rectangular pool of water edged with slanted stone rubbing surfaces. The one I remember from my childhood in Verdun was a bit more primitive. Located at the edge of a flowing stream, it was made of wood instead of stone, and the women worked on their knees scrubbing against sturdy wood boards which slanted into the stream.
A pipe supplies water from a stream to a trough outside, below the half-sun window. Another pipe punches through the wall to fill the pool inside.
In the center of Étrigny, I reach my goal, the Boulangerie-Épicerie. Besides bread, it carries a few other essentials, which is where the Épicerie (small grocery) part comes in. A boulangerie sells bread. Unfortunately, I neglected to snap a photo of the exterior, except for the posted hours (for future reference!). What’s up with the English on the sign? This is not exactly American or English tourist country, and I never heard English spoken there at the shop.
Bread and pastries are the main event; the canned goods and a small case of dairy items are strictly for when you don’t have time to get to a marché (Farmers’ Market) or a super-marché (large grocery store) in one of the surrounding larger towns.
Notice how many different kinds of bread they offer. I always stick to my favorite, a baguette called le tradition, made the slow traditional way and costing just a bit more than regular baguettes, which to me are not worth the carbs. Les traditions are in the basket with the black sign next to the modern computer cash-register. Notice the large basket of luscious golden croissants front and center behind the glass screen.
To the right of the cash register is the pastry case. You need to get there early for a full selection. They put their energy into the more important breads here, though the pastries are of excellent quality. Bread is a daily essential in France. If you are a purist, you stop by a boulangerie to get it fresh every day–sometimes twice a day. Usually the places with the best bread don’t have the best pastries, and vice versa. Fortunately, that is not true here.
The essentials include bread, wine and bottled water and juices. No beer. Canned goods are pretty much for when you don’t have shelves at home full of fruit and veggies you’ve canned — “put up” as my grandmother used to say, and no time to drive to a supermarket. There’s also a small refrigerated case of dairy items, including a couple of cheeses. In a country which produces over 400 kinds of cheese, how do they choose which ones to carry??
Compare this, the only store in a very small town, with an American 7-11 convenience store. I don’t patronize convenience stores in the USA, but am grateful for the French version in Étrigny, and towns like it. To be fair, I must admit I have seen plenty of actual 7-11s and their French cousins in all the larger cities.
Au revoir. It’s time to walk back to Balleure, munching my croissant.
À la prochaine!