26 February 2011

An excursion to Valençay

Yesterday we drove over to Valençay to go shopping. It was as much an excuse to get out of the house as anything else; I'm still trying to remember the last time I went out in the car. It might have been more than a week earlier.

But the other reasons to go to the supermarket in Valençay were that I wanted to go buy some Valençay AOC wine from the co-op over there and I wanted to see if the market hall on the main square in town was open for business on a Friday. Otherwise, we could have gone shopping in one of our Saint-Aignan supermarkets.

Valençay is a 30-minute drive from our house — 25 kilometers, or 15 miles. You can see from the time and distance figures that you don't go at breakneck speed to get there. You drive east through Saint-Aignan, Seigy, and Couffy along the road that parallels the Cher River on the south side (left bank). Then you turn off toward the south and drive through Lye and Villentrois, not to mention the little Forêt de Gâtine, before sliding on into Valençay.

The sun came out and we had a nice ride in the Peugeot. One nice thing is that there's no traffic around here. And there's always a nice old farmhouse, a château, or some beautiful green fields to enjoy along the way.

Valençay is a famous town for several reasons. One is of course its château. One part of the château dates back to the Renaissance (16th century). Construction started in 1540, after a much older château on the site was torn down, and right after the big château at Chambord was completed.

The west wing at Valençay was built in the 17th century and modified in the 18th, so it's in a completely different style. Valençay was owned and occupied by Napoleon's foreign minister Talleyrand in the early 19th century, and his chef was the famous Carême, who more or less invented la cuisine française.

Anyway, we didn't go to Valençay to be tourists. We've seen the château many times, and if you use search this blog and Walt's you'll find a lot of topics about and photos taken in Valençay.

The other thing Valençay is famous for is its particular goat's milk cheese. Valençay is the one that's in the shape of a pyramid with the top lopped off. It's coated in black wood ash and a little salt. The cheese itself is pure white and tasty.

One point of yesterday's trip was to see if there was any activity at the market hall on the main square on a Friday morning, and I can report that there was none. The weekly market in Valençay, which occupied the market hall and the surrounding streets, is held on Tuesday mornings.

Valençay is a little down on its luck these days. A big factory that employed a lot of the local people shut down a few years ago. The town is not exactly a beehive of activity on a Friday morning, but it's not a ghost town either. It's of course busier on Tuesday mornings, and in tourist season.

One thing we noticed was that the postal employees were on strike. There were 10 or 12 of them, in uniform, outside the post office building on a street not far from the square. They had set up a table with coffee and refreshments out on the sidewalk, and they were gathered in small groups smoking and talking amongst themselves.

Our destinations were Intermarché and the wine cooperative. Intermarché is on the north side of town, and when we got there the parking lot was far from full. That's always a good sign. We got a shopping cart and went in. We were surprised how packed full of stock the store was, and how orderly it all seemed.

Intermarché is the only supermarket in Valençay. The next closest ones would be the Champion and SuperU stores in Selles-sur-Cher, a good 10 miles north. So Intermarché has a quasi-monopoly in this area, with its population of three or four thousand souls.

As we went through the front door, there was a large, well-stocked clothing and shoe department to the right. A little farther in there was a big area stocked with books, CDs, DVDs, maps, and newspapers. The hardware, pet food, and cleaning products aisles were bursting with merchandise too. All of it was very well lit and fairly spacious, despite the copious goods for sale.

It was the same in the actual supermarket sections. Nice produce. Nice butcher and charcuterie/deli counters. Good specials on meats — I bought two fresh pork shoulder roasts, a total of three kilos, for less than nine euros. We got potatoes, lettuce, milk, a pack of pre-cut smoked pork lardons, a couple of tins of sardines (there was no cod liver to be found), a couple of avocados, six turnips, a bag of coarse sea salt, a saucisson sec, and a bottle of Tabasco sauce — among other things.

We are now stocked up for the weekend. We are also stocked up on wine. The Valençay wine producers' cooperative in on the road north of town, going toward Selles-sur-Cher. There, we had three of our plastic wine jugs filled — one with 10 liters of red, a second with 10 liters of white, and the third with 10 liters of rosé. That's the equivalent of 40 bottles, and price was about 50 euros. That's pretty reasonable, and it should hold us for a while.

The town closest to the wine co-op is called Fontguenand, just to the north. There we turned off to the left and took a little road toward the village of Meusnes (how would you pronounce that?), where I knew there was a bakery. We stopped and bought two loaves of bread, since we don't have bread delivery this week (it's winter vacation for the local baker). We got a sesame loaf and a whole wheat bread.

We were back at home by 11:15. We had taken a pan of lasagne and some little chipolata sausages out of the freezer for our lunch. All we had to do was pop all that into the oven and make a salad — plus fill a couple of wine bottles — before we could sit down to a nice meal.


  1. Ken, Do you know why the Valençay cheese has a blunt top? The story goes that Napoleon is to blame. When the farmers presented him with a pyramid shaped cheese after his unsuccesful campaign in Egypt, he considered it as an insult. He took out his sword and chopped the top off. Hence the 'pyramide tronquée' de Valençay!

  2. A nice little change in routine like this can be so enjoyable at this time of year; prevents us from becoming stir crazy.

    I wish we had access to wine like this. Good wine at a very good price. On second thoughts, maybe I'm safer with our three bottles for £12 deal. Keeps me disciplined!

  3. Wow...50 euros for 40 liters of wine, that's amazing.

    Meusnes = Moon in pronunciation?

  4. I love that cheese! Would love to see Valencay sometime...

  5. Valencay is such a nice town. Will I be able to buy their cheese in Paris?


    WV likes me again :)

  6. Ken, you do enjoy your life there, don't you:) I know that no one's life is idyllic in every way, but, my goodness, today's post was yet another that just made your everyday life sound so.... just, NICE! The idea of having some château or lush green expanse of field, or old stone farmhouses to see out of your car window when you're on your way to run errands....well... does it get much better than that? And, on top of it, you come home after your errands with fresh bread, quality meats and cheeses, and great local wine. Amazing.

    Isn't Valençay the château where Amy Huntington has done some translation work? I remember her having done some for one around there, and it strikes me that it was Valençay.

    p.s. I know that Walt said that you didn't bring a camera, hence no photos related to yesterday's trip, but this must be one of the only posts I've ever read of yours with no photos! Still, I was mesmerized by your words :)


  7. One of the advantages of living in the French countryside Ken: inexpensive good wine and your favourite cheeses à la portée de la main :-)

  8. €50 is not reasonable, it's a downright bargain.

  9. Reading your words...I journeyed thru the intermache with you..... and was wishing you had your camera. But maybe the picture in my mind your words provided was enough.

    Wishing we had deals on wine and cheese like you do here in the Pacific Northwest.

    Love your blog....and look forward to reading it every day.

    Victoria, Bellingham, WA

  10. When are you going to offer a "field trip" to your blog participants, Ken? Just kidding, however, from today's comments as well as other days' it does seem like your readers truely appreciate your taking time from your "idyllic life" to share the details with us! Intermarché does have a good selection of items but it was your knowledge of the local bakery location for pain that was exciting for me. No purchase of pain au chocolat? I don't think I could have passed that up.

  11. Diogenes, yes, "moon" is it. The vowel isn't exactly that one, but it's the idea. There's no way to transcribe that vowel in English. It's the vowel of "peu" or "vieux" then with the N on the end.

    Martine, that's a legend, I know. One source I read said the shape of the cheese resembles the shape of the main tower of the church in Levroux, south of Valençay, where the cheese apparently originate. Who knows, really?

    Evelyn, maybe we can go to Valençay in Aug./Sept.

    BettyAnn, Valençay cheese shouldn't be hard to find in Paris at all. It's a famous cheese, and I bet they even have it in supermarkets.

    Judy, TB, Starman, Casey, Mary, :^)


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