The Inventory of French Regional Foods

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Mary and Philip Hyman

Mary and Philip Hyman
Photo by www.DiscoverParis.net

On Sunday, we blogged about the reception that American Ambassador Charles Rivkin held in honor of Nathan Myhrvold. At that reception we also met Philip and Mary Hyman, both of whom have been extensively involved for the past twenty years in the publication of a twenty-two volume encyclopedia entitled L’Inventaire du Patrimoine Culinaire de la France. The Hymans are members of the steering committee which oversees the research and publication of this important work. What makes it important is that it is an extensive inventory of traditional French foods region by region—the collection is an historical record of regional foods that may someday no longer exist.

A government-sponsored undertaking, the project was started in 1990. Each French region finances the effort to research and write the material for the specific volume devoted to the food of that region.

The Hymans told us that there are two teams that research and write the texts. The first is composed of field workers who interview producers; the second, of historians who document the history of the foods being described. For practical purposes, traditional foods are defined as those in existence for at least two generations and firmly anchored in the local culture. The inventory is not a survey of regional recipes but of produce found in local markets that reflects specific regional tastes and savoir-faire. The research casts a wide net, including raw ingredients (local plant varieties or breeds of animals), cheeses, breads, pastries, etc.

The penultimate two volumes in the series are due to be published by the end of the year, one on the region Centre, the other on Auvergne. The collection will then have covered all the regions of metropolitan France as well as Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guyana. A final volume, devoted to the foods of the Island of Reunion, is currently under consideration.

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