• Country style paté. (Brett Stevens)Source: Brett Stevens
In celebration of Bastille Day, here are seven ideas on how to host a chic picnic with French savoir-faire.
Samantha van Egmond

13 Jul 2016 - 9:00 AM  UPDATED 13 Jul 2016 - 3:09 PM

Parisians love their parks, and not just for exercise. Blame it on the weather or perhaps apartment living, but when the sun comes out, locals flock to the city’s green spaces to share food, socialise with friends and drink wine until the sun goes down. In celebration of Bastille Day, let’s pretend for a moment that it is Paris in the springtime with these tips on mastering the art of the French picnic. (And if it's winter where you are, a picnic on a sunny winter day can be wonderful). Bon appétit!

1. Pass the breadbasket

Anyone who has dined in France will be familiar with the confliction of delight and unease at seeing an overloaded breadbasket placed at the table. Baguettes are iconic of France and an essential at every French picnic. Why the unusual shape? Legend has it Napoleon Bonaparte asked that bread for his soldiers be made in long, slender loaves of precise measurements to fit into the pocket on their uniforms. Impress fellow picnic-goers by making one from scratch. Or grab a premade version from the nearest bakery and fill it with ham, cheese, fresh tomato and a smothering of Dijon mustard. In the unlikely event you find yourself with leftovers, there is nothing to do but make French onion soup.

2. Embrace the aperitif

A pre-dinner drink thought to stimulate the appetite, the aperitif – derived from the Latin word aperire, meaning ‘to open’ – has long been sipped almost ritually by the French at meal times. Who are we to argue with tradition? Une petite drop while lolling in the sun indeed offers the sentiment of being on a European vacation. A French favourite is Lillet, an aromatic tipple originating in Podensac, a small village south of Bordeaux, made from a blend of Bordeaux wines and handcrafted fruit liqueurs. Another is pastis (commonly known by brand names Pernod and Ricard), an anise-flavoured spirit created and produced in Marseille. If you’re well-organised with picnic supplies, why not whip up this refreshing bohemian tipple, the Versailles Experience, and plant yourself firmly on everyone’s summer guest list.

3. Niçoise Salad

This classic French summer salad was named after the city of Nice, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, and carries a strong Mediterranean flavour. It is generally agreed that an authentic Niçoise salad should include olives, garlic, anchovies and tomato, but no cooked items such as hard-boiled eggs and potatoes, however there are many variations. The salad is almost always paired with traditional Provencal seasonings of olive oil, basil and garlic. For a tasty alternative, try this beetroot and walnut salad or witlof, caramelised walnut and Roquefort salad.

4. Yes way to rosé

France is the world’s highest producer of rosé, with the majority coming out of the Provence region (here’s a quick rundown on French wine regions). Enjoying a chilled glass under the shade of the plane trees screams ‘Mediterranean summer’, especially when paired with cheese platters and petanqué. Council restrictions permitting, take along a bottle to complement your food and don’t forget the ice bucket, preferably of the vintage variety plucked from a Sunday brocante in the countryside. Lastly, be sure brush up on your knowledge of reading French wine labels before you head to the store.

5. Cheese please

Along with linen napkins and real (read: not plastic) cutlery, cheese is a staple at every Parisian picnic, with the nation being home to around 400 different French cheeses. But with so many delicious varieties, how does one choose? Include a good mix of textures and flavours – two popular soft cheeses, brie (which comes from Île de France) and camembert (originating in Normandy), are perfect for spreading onto crusty bread, while there are many tasty (if pungent) blue varieties to choose from – this guide to French cheese will help you to navigate the options. Some fried zucchini flowers (beignets de fleurs de courgette) would also make a welcome addition to any cheese platter when stuffed with seasoned ricotta.

6. Cue the charcuterie

While on the subject of platters, a French-inspired day in the park wouldn’t be the same without a charcuterie plate. Not just about meats of various cuts, cures and flavours, this is a chance to get creative with mustards, pickles and condiments. A traditional country-style paté and cucumber and smoked trout terrine can be made beforehand – simply remove from the fridge and serve with gherkins and a light red wine.

7. Tarte up with tatin

This classic French dessert is said to have been created by accident around 1900 when Stephanie Tatin, who ran a hotel in France with her sister, was making a traditional apple pie and left her apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. A fortunate mistake – in an attempt to save the dessert for her guests the end result was the upside-down cake we know today as the tarte tatin. Stick with the classic or try this tasty pear adaptation – Le Creuset cast iron pan optional…

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