Farmers Markets

How to Ace a Farmers Market in France

June 20, 2017

Marchés (marketplaces) are part of the French way of life, an all-season commodity. In Lyon, the Marché de la Croix-Rousse is a local institution. It is open all mornings except Mondays and has an organic extension every Saturday. Merchants and locals often take breaks and chat, so it's a great place to learn more about the neighborhood.

"I’ve been here for twenty years!" exclaims Ginette, as she prepares platters of sliced cauliflower. She works at a stall belonging to Les Quatre Saisons, a farm located about 3 miles north in Caluire; it has been part of the marché since the 1920s. She works with Kevin, who has been helping the farm for two years. "I have a BA in literature. I went to London for music and worked in a bookshop. I taught, too. Then I worked in a luxury hotel in Paris. And now here I am!" Ginette doesn't know, but at home, we refer to their stall as les dames ("the ladies"), because the first time we went, it was only ladies in their fifties, including Ginette, tending to the stall and shouting deals at the top of their lungs.

Photo by Carrie Speaking

When I was a kid in southern Provence, shopping for groceries at the market was a weekly ritual; when I moved to Lyon fifteen years ago as a student, it became a financial necessity. Bless the cheap vegetables and the discarded boxes of ripe fruits with which I could make free jam! I moved to the Croix-Rousse neighborhood six years ago, and its famous marché still feels like a treat. It is located just a flight of stairs away from my home. Every single time, upon reaching the top, I turn around and marvel at the view.

The view from the top of my stairs. Photo by Carrie Speaking

What to Do When You Get There

I cheese. Photo by Carrie Speaking

Today, I'm making cervelle de canut (“silkweaver’s brains”). It is a very easy-to-prepare Lyonnaise specialty, and it isn’t really brains. It is based on fresh local cheeses and named after the canuts, the 19th-century silkweavers who made the fame of the Croix-Rousse neighborhood and of Lyon’s silk industry. It makes for a convenient appetizer that still gives us a strong sense of local identity—a local alternative to hummus or tzatziki, especially when we have guests from out of town. Here are a few tips for you to experience the Marché de la Croix-Rousse at its best—and that includes shopping for ingredients you can turn into a lovely snack.

  • Exit the subway at Croix-Rousse; you’ll be right there at the market. The market is liveliest after 10am, on Tuesdays, Fridays, and weekends. Shoulder your way down the boulevard and spot the local farmers (petits producteurs). They generally only sell seasonal products from their own farm and have shabbier stalls. Their signs won't say Spain, Poland, or even just France, but obscure toponyms like Rillieux, Chassieux, Loire, Mornant. If you really need a wider choice of goods, head for the bigger stalls, with merchants selling products from a selection of farms all over France—or even merchants selling products from all over the world, at a much cheaper rate than in the supermarket.
  • Look for the farmers' “by-the-platter” deals (plateaux). If the vegetables or fruits inside look too ripe or bruised, then it is silently agreed that the fruits are meant for compote and that the assortment of vegetables is meant for ratatouille.
  • By all means, taste the cheeses, the baked and fried goods. My heart goes to criques, potato-based pancakes. If you eat pork, try the rosette Lyonnaise, an iconic and excellent kind of saucisson (dried pork sausage).
Photo by Carrie Speaking
  • You will find excellent bread at the stalls, but make sure you try L’Atelier du Boulanger, a local favorite. It is right there on the boulevard—on weekends, people typically queue outside. The bakery makes great croissants, and bakes fresh bread several times a day, up until 5 p.m. A well-baked flute (a large kind of baguette) will taste great with our cervelle de canut.
Photo by Carrie Speaking
  • If you plan to buy extremely perishable goods, like fish or tripe, remember Lyon is nowhere near the sea, and tripe has to be cleanly cut and fresh. Sanitary controls are extremely frequent and the merchants take their job very seriously, making this marché very safe. But use your common sense, and don’t make your purchase if it is a very hot summer day and that fish looks blind.
Photo by Carrie Speaking
  • However, if you can't quit that seafood craving, just stop en-route in another local institution, Bistrot Jutard, a few steps away from L’Atelier du Boulanger. Treat yourself with a platter of fresh oysters with buttered bread and lemon, and a pitcher of local white wine. L'Ecailler du Jutard is Bistrot Jutard's partner. They bring their super-fresh oysters from Charentes-Maritimes and Normandy right to Croix-Rousse every week, and serve them on weekends, starting Thursday evening, from September to May. Customers may take their oysters home, eat them on Bistrot Jutard's terrace, or next door in Paddy's Corner, which also serves their oysters.

Making Le Dip

How to put l'amour into your food. Photo by Carrie Speaking

In a bowl, mix some cow milk faisselles and fresh (very white and soft) goat cheese. Pepper and salt to taste. Faisselle is made of unpasteurized raw milk. If you are unsure about this, or ill, or pregnant, you may find faisselles made of pasteurized milk in local supermarkets. In any case and for better results, carefully drain the faisselles (which come in little individual molds, typically in a six-pack) before mixing. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of finely cut shallots, 1/2 tablespoon of parsley, and 1/2 tablespoon of chive. Then add 1/2 tablespoon of strong olive oil, 1 tablespoon of sour cream, 1/2 tablespoon of dry white wine, and a drizzle of vinegar. You may add a pinch of red chili pepper and a pinch of paprika if you have it. Cover and let it rest for at least 2 hours, ideally for 1 or 2 days in your fridge. Eat it chilled, not icy, with well-baked or toasted bread. This serves two people, or one very hungry mademoiselle.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • cosmiccook
  • MarieGlobetrotter
  • Eleftheria
  • Risottogirl
  • ChefJune
Two-languaged, freelance travel writer and photographer.


cosmiccook August 12, 2018
Thanks, Carrie, I wish I'd seen this article in May BEFORE we visited France! Our first visit to Lyon, second to Paris 10 years prior. I will take Lyon over Paris ANY DAY! As Nouvelle Orlean residents, we just loved Lyon! Our two biggest issues were the awful Airbnb we rented and the TGV train strike. We'd went to Lyon to visit a dear friend and she was a bit disappointed we didn't rent closer to her (Tolsti/Lafayette)! My friend contended the Quai St. Antoine was the better Marché. There were more flower varieties but walking ONE block every morning to the market was a dream come true! Yes, we visited the Boulangerie several times--well we did have to try the others in the area!
MarieGlobetrotter June 23, 2017
My father lives in La Croix-Rousse. He wouldn't live anywhere else in Lyon. It's one of the best if not the best neighborhood for food in the city. The market is not too big and to small, and offers a real village atmosphere because people who live there don't use their cars because the streets are small. After they have done their shopping, people sit at a terrasse and eat oysters, cheese or enjoy a croissant and coffee. I don't miss France at all but it's indeed a great market. I do miss Faisselle though (type of yoghurt-fromage blanc). Oh and that green cheese pictures above is AMAZING
MarieGlobetrotter June 23, 2017
Also, eat faisselle as desert too: with red fruit coulis !
Carrie S. June 23, 2017
Yes, Croix-Rousse does have that effect on you! I have lived in Villeurbanne (close suburb, almost part of Lyon), and then in the Guillotière neighborhood... But when we moved to Croix-Rousse, I didn't expect to become so fond of it, to get such a strong sense of... "belonging". We are lucky, yes we are! And yes: sweet faisselle for dessert, yum! Thank you for reading, Marie!
Eleftheria June 20, 2017
This is for me one of the most fascinating differences in our cultures. In Greece theres an opwn farmera market right in the street in every neigborhood every week. It takes place on a standartd dau every week all year long and they actually close the street for the market to take place. Its open 7 to 3 and you cant NOT go because the produce is fresh seasonal and cheap.
Risottogirl June 20, 2017
I love that market! Lyon is a great walkable and cookable city!
Carrie S. June 20, 2017
It is! That city adopted me when I moved, and when I spend weeks or months at a time abroad, it is the part of France that I miss the most. As I said in another piece, it is my very own French San Francisco, my European Montréal, my urban Golden B.C! Thank you for reading Risottogirl :)
ChefJune June 20, 2017
Carrie Speaking, the Marché de Croix-Rousse is my favorite market in all of France! I learned to make Cervelle de Canut from my French "brother," Jean-Paul Lacombe, and I always use Fromage Blanc - which we can get here in the States now. My recipe has been here on Food52 for several years.
Carrie S. June 20, 2017
I'm so glad you spread the word June! Cervelle de canut is such a great appetizer (or meal-closer, as you aptly put it)! Fromage blanc is indeed perfect, as faisselle is just a fresh, raw-milk fromage blanc in a mold. And "la cervelle" leaves room for creativity! Cervelle de canut is for the French what Tabbouleh is for the Lebanese: every neighborhood, every family, every individual have their very own recipe, with their very own mix of herbs and variety of white wine / vinegar! :)