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feb 19 2009

Paris: Food gifts that are light on everything but calories

(Meg Zimbeck)

When it comes time to buy food presents for the people back home, the City of Light can turn any suitcase heavy. But years of transatlantic gifting have taught me how to scale down both the size and the cost of these purchases. Here are some ideas that I found while shopping for a recent trip from Paris to New York. They brought great smiles without breaking either my back or my budget.

Luxe

Fauchon. The hot-pink diva of gourmandise, Fauchon is filled with pricey food treats. Looking for caviar, foie gras, or your very own truffle? You'll find them here, and they'll sometimes be more expensive than your hotel room. I like to come to this den of luxury for something decidedly more modest—the pretty little pots of confit de lait. This milk jam is very French, very delicious when spread on toast with salted butter, and very cheap—just over €2 ($2.50). Fauchon also sells its products at Charles de Gaulle airport if you want to leave your shopping until the very last minute. 30 place Madeleine, 8th arrondissement

Indie
Epicerie de Bruno. Around this corner from the market-heavy rue Montorgueil, this independent shop makes choosing a gift easy by stocking only a small selection of superb food treats. Bruno’s family has been in the business for three generations, and he'll be happy to impress you with his knowledge of spices, chocolate, and the English language. One of the things I picked up was a bar of chocolate made with cardamom, but that never made it out of Paris. A few doors down at #58 is G.Detou, a well-known foodie wonder-store. From here I scored some prestige vanilla en poudre, a pure powder of crushed vanilla pods that’s highly prized but hard to find in America. It costs less than €5 ($6.40) for 50 grams. I also loaded up on Valhrona chocolate, the premium (and practically only) French chocolate brand. Bars of the dark, rich stuff (70% cacao) were €2.50 ($3.25) 30 rue Tiquetonne, 2nd arrondissement

Bargain

Monoprix (more than 50 stores acros the city). Selling clothes, cosmetics, and food, Monoprix is the closest thing to Target that you'll find in France. Walk ten minutes in any direction and you're bound to see their red neon sign, or else head to 140 rue de Rennes (6th arrondissement) for a particularly good-sized store. My go-to gift at Monoprix is always fleur de sel. This superior salt is sold in cute cork-topped cylinders for €3.40 ($4.30)—that's half the price charged at many American gourmet stores. On a recent visit I also picked up a box with three tubes of crème de marron (chestnut cream) for €2.78 ($3.57). I'm a sucker for the haute Nutella taste and pretty packaging. In the wine aisle I grabbed a few bottles of moelleux for €8 ($10.25). The sweet wine (serve it with with dessert, foie gras, or cheese) comes in skinny bottles, making it easier to carry than your average Bordeaux. To top it all off, I bought a dried sausage for €4.29 ($5.50). Well-wrapped in plastic, it managed to make my editors very happy without making my suitcase smell like cured pork.

If you'd like to bring some fromage from Paris, consider this: the United States prohibits unpasteurized (lait cru) cheese that has been aged for less than 90 days. Honest travelers buy pasteurized versions of their favorite cheese to carry in their checked luggage. Lawbreakers favor the premium raw milk cheese from the Androuet case in a food shop at Charles de Gaulle airport. Buying your cheese in duty free helps it to stay colder longer, and packages are vacuum sealed for stinkless transport. At least that’s what we hear…

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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