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Photos courtesy of Sam Zucker.
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Photos courtesy of Sam Zucker.
If you live in Barcelona and have never been to Toulouse, do yourself a favour and add this nearby French neighbour to the top of your weekend travel list for 2016. My first experience with the ‘Capital of Cassoulet’ was this winter, and I fell instantly in love with the food-loving culture of this lively city in the Midi-Pyrénées region.
Though Toulouse is only a four-hour drive north of Barcelona, I now have a far easier local alternative when I’m yearning to fulfill my cravings for rich foie gras with rustic jams, stinky cheeses, and crusty French bread—Maison Puyvalin. This little shop, selling all things French and only items of pristine quality, quietly opened its doors on Carrer de Trafalgar in May 2015.
Vincent Thouvenin, who runs Maison Puyvalin along with his girlfriend, Marion Puyobro, hails from Toulouse, where he earned a master’s degree in Wine before moving to Barcelona three years ago. Thouvenin’s goal was to bring the incredible products of a typical French village to the Barcelona table, and though you can easily find French goods throughout the city, nowhere else in town (or the world, for that matter) will you find this particular selection of artisanal products. “We are importing from many producers who have never before sold outside of their local village markets,” Thouvenin explained with excitement. “We don’t stock any products that you would find in the ‘typical’ supermarket in France.”
I adore the foie gras, cassoulet (a traditional bean, pork, and duck casserole from the French Pyrenees similar to an Asturian fabada), powerful Rhône Valley Syrah, and elegant Alsacian Riesling, but my true guilty pleasure from across the border has always been le fromage. Thouvenin buys only Protected Designation of Origin cheeses (similar to the Spanish Denominación de Origen), mainly from purveyors in Paris. The pungent offering in his prominent display case changes frequently and nearly all regions of France are represented, from the Rhône-Alps with its oozy, raw cow’s milk cheese Saint-Marcellin (my favourite), to the ash-laden, Burgundian Morbier and the rich, luscious, and creamy Camembert of Normandy. Depending on the day, you may have your pick of up to 30 cheeses, ranging greatly in style and waiting eagerly to be spread on the fresh, crusty baguettes that Thouvenin bakes daily in-house (he buys uncooked bread and croissant dough from artisan bakers in Perpignan). Along with the cheese, multiple saucissons (dry-cured sausages) are typically on display, imported from the famous charcuterie region of L’Aubrac.
The cheese and charcuterie case isn’t the only impressive feature of Maison Puyvalin—they also boast wines from every major French region (and cider from Brittany), with bottles ranging from €5 to €160. A huge and dizzying variety of foie gras terrines, pâtés and whole lobes in Sauterne, line the shop walls, along with ready-to-eat cassoulet in large glass jars, Provençal oils, fancy chocolates, myriad fruit preserves, purées, spreads, and more.
Twice a month, Thouvenin and Puyobro organise public tasting events that typically cost around €7 and include a glass of wine of your choice, plus an assortment of French tapas, charcuterie, and cheeses (check their Facebook page or sign up to their newsletter for details). They sell prepared cheese boards in two sizes and will even host private wine and cheese tastings right in the store, upon request. I can’t pass this place without stopping in to buy a cheese or two, and although my refrigerator has now developed a perpetual, goaty stench, I have no regrets.
Maison Puyvalin. Carrer de Trafalgar 23.