How wonderful to hear, “We’re out of milk” and know there is no panic. Wonder,“What’s for dinner?”, and I know there is a recipe suggestion waiting to be shared. Or Tom suddenly has a craving for perfectly ripe pears with stinky roquefort cheese, and there they will be at the cheese counter just up the street. What a luxury to have all of my shopping needs met without ever having to get in the car. (And with gas being the equivalent of $8 a gallon that’s a big plus.)
All thanks to MidiPrix-- Bourdeilles’ little big store. Let’s say it would be about 1/5th the size of your basic Seven Eleven store, but scanning the shelves one sees there is very little need to ever head off to the big mega stores popping up in the fields way on down the road. Because after years of catering to exacting cooks, these shelves are stocked with an amazing variety of quality, esoteric choices. From canned green beans to jars of steamed chestnuts. From Nuttella to locally produced foie gras. There is Heinz ketchup for the likes of Tom and Branson’s Picadilly for the local British contingent. There is an excellent range of regional wines and drawers full of Haribo candies. One time I needed vanilla and was offered fresh vanilla beans.
All this and I haven’t even taken you to the meat and cheese counters. Because before this was a two room store there were actually two stores right next to each other. One stocked all the items I have just mentioned and one was a butcher shop. The grocery side was run by the women of the family and the butcher shop was run by the men. When the current owner, Madame Verneuil, inherited both shops she and her husband reorganized and opened up the two spaces. Here the cheese counter is always stocked with a delicious variety of wonderfully aged cheeses. When consulted Madame Verneuil will make recommendations on which cheeses are ripe for today or which ones will last until the weekend. Her knowledge of her stock is essential. Same goes for the vegetable and fruit section. It’s always a great treat to find a seasonal specialty displayed. Summer strawberries picked that morning, oysters for the big holidays, clementines for Christmas stockings. And even though we do not eat much meat it is great to be able to order a special cut or have fresh ground beef as needed.
But, the best thing about MidiPrix is Madame Verneuil.
She is the 3rd generation to run the shop. It was started by her great grandmother, then run by her grandmother. Then 40 or so years ago the reigns of the shop went into the hands of Madame Verneuil. You can call her Annick if you have proven to be a regular, relaxed enough customer. She tirelessly keeps the shelves stocked, hand cuts fresh meats and cheeses, takes special orders, runs the bar and coffee counter, checks us out on the grocery side, reminds us if we have forgotten items that we frequently buy, and takes time to visit and help with hapless cooks like me. Who needs an expensive French cooking school when Annick will share the simplest most delicious way to cook endives, leeks or the cut of veal that I am hesitant to experiment with - One time a recipe called for a chicken breast, there was no chicken to be had, and as I stared helplessly at the very french selection of meats I was told I would have to have veal instead (make do with what was available and fresh!, but thankfully I could avoid the blood sausage).... I had to confess to never having cooked veal - To this day I think Annick is a bit taken aback by my lack of understanding of some very basic french products and maybe even more taken aback by the concoctions I describe I am cooking up for dinner.
No cooking school could be as accessible as the open door at MidiPrix. The hours are crazy. 5 days a week the store is open from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm, 50 weeks a year. Closing for two hours at lunch time. The other 2 days a week Madame Verneuil is open in the morning but closes for the afternoon. On one of these afternoons she shops to restock the shelves and the other is Sunday, a time to visit with her family.
In France one always says “good bye, have a good afternoon”, to the shopkeeper. I say this with great sincerity every time I leave our little MidiPrix. Because in a world where many use their phone to order groceries or look for cooking tips, I am awfully glad to have a short stroll across the bridge to Annick’s. She has what I need or what I didn’t know that I needed. Some would say that this is where you find the heart of the village.