Is there anything seasonal to eat in France in the middle of winter?
Like in other months, products are coming into season at French markets in January, others are at their best, and some are going out of season.
But do the French want to eat anything after all those long, rich meals they had during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays?
But of course! This is France!
The French pay attention to the seasons when food shopping:
The French are known for their attention to seasonal ingredients when preparing meals.
This surprised me because I grew up mainly on packaged food. I was clueless about what produce was in or out of season from one month to the next.
But I found it enriching to adopt the seasonal cooking tradition I discovered after moving to France.
I learned to pay more attention to the rhythms of nature – even while living in a big city like Paris. And I expanded my food repertoire, too.
The fruit and vegetable stalls’ offerings in outdoor markets and grocery stores are not the only products to change. Different cheeses come into season during certain months, as well as various meats and seafood.
In January, however, the changes are minor compared to the previous month of December.
Let’s go down the list from surf to turf, fruits, vegetables, and cheeses to see which products are coming into season.
You will also discover in my lists below what’s already in high season at French markets in January. I’ll also review which products are past their prime.
The products that come into season at French markets in January:
From the sea:
- Arctic Circle Cod or “Cabillauds Artiques” – They arrive from the Arctic Circle in January and have more flavor than the cabillauds that are fished year-round. Their season lasts for four months.
- Yellow Pollack or “Lieu Jaune” – Intensive fishing begins in January, so the price goes down.
- Anchovies – If you like raw anchovies, this is your month: January is the month where the anchovy is abundant in winter: After January, there’s a shortfall until the summer months.
Fruits & Vegetables:
- Fennel – This vegetable arrives from Italy or the South of France. It’s one of my go-to easy salads to start a winter meal (with olive oil, lemon juice, salt & pepper). Fennel is delicious with roast pork or fish when steamed or braised. As it has a delicate anise seed taste, I’ve even flambéed it with Pastis before serving it with fish.
- Spinach – Large-leaf spinach arrives from Picardie, Provence, and the French Riviera (“Côte d’Azur”).
- Provence Salads – Several varietals of greens make up this appellation: green leaf lettuce, escarole, frisée, and oakleaf. The only salad I knew growing up was iceberg lettuce. So the abundance of choice here is a treat!
- Oranges – January is the time for making orange jam and marmalade (read more about the difference between jam and marmalade here). Varietals such as Maltese, and demi-sanguines are the best. The bigarades or bitter oranges are also in season.
- “Pommes Clochard” – They don’t look very pretty, but the “Pommes Clochards” are delicious to eat. They’re excellent, too in pie recipes and Apple Charlotte.
- Pears – the variety of pears in season diminishes in January, so the “Passe-Crassane” and the “Countess of Paris” are the last pears worth eating this month.
- Litchis – An imported product from tropical regions, fresh litchis are everywhere in French markets in January. Their delicate rose-scented flavor is more intense than those sold in cans.
The products going out of season at French markets in January:
From the sea:
· Herring – You can still find herring in French markets, but savvy consumers don’t buy them. Its spawning period has started, so they are very thin.
From the butcher:
- Pheasant – January is the last month to enjoy this fowl. The French serve the older birds with braised cabbage or a “choucroute” (sauerkraut with a variety of meats).
- Boar – January is also the last month for wild boar: The hunting season closes in February.
Fruits & Vegetables
- Chestnuts – Their color becomes dull, and they start to dry out in January. The season will start again in October.
- Grapes– Certain varietals of stocked grapes were sold until Christmas at exorbitant prices, like the “Chasselas de Moissac” (AOP/PDO). Production is over in January. There won’t be any good quality fresh grapes sold in French markets again until September.
The products in high season at French markets in January:
From the Sea:
- Oysters: they’re perfect during January
- Sea Urchin or “Oursins”
- Shrimp or “Bouquet”– January yields the best price/quality ratio of the year.
- Calamar: This is their best month, as for shrimp. The catch amount will diminish in February.
- Sea Scallops: Their quality and price are still at their highest in January, but the quantity available is starting to diminish.
- Sea Bass: Winter months are the best season for this fish.
- Sole: It’s at its lowest price of the year in January. But as January is the spawning season for Sole, it’s not as good as in the summer or autumn.
- Whiting or “Merlan”: This fish is available all year long, but now is the time the French enjoy its lowest price.
- Mullet or “Rouget-Barbet:” January is its last high season month.
- Bream or “Dorade:” The “Griset” varietal is still in season and widely available.
- Skate or “Raie:” January is the best month for this fish, and it’s when the prices are lowest.
- Plaice or “Plie:” January and February are its two most prolific months of the year.
From the butcher:
- Poularde and Capon or “Chapon” are still available for one more month in France, and then the season will be over until next December.
- Beef – cuts of beef used for slow cooking in French stews like the “Pot au Feu,” “Os à la Moelle,” or “Daube” are in high demand.
- Free-range Pork – The “Monsieur,” as local farmers sometimes call him, is slaughtered in December or January on small farms. The meat tastes better than pork from confined feeding operations because the animal has been raised in a healthier environment with higher-quality food.
- Cabbages – All cabbage varietals are good in winter. They’re even better after a frost. The French eat green and red cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. They’re used in soups and mashes (“purées”).
- Cauliflower – “Choufleur” is grown mainly in France’s Brittany and South Western regions.
- Lamb’s Lettuce or “Mâche“- This is one of the typical winter salads eaten in France.
- Beets, Jerusalem Artichokes, Salsify, and Chinese Artichokes or “Crosne”
- Pumpkins – This vegetable has been stockpiled in France since November. The French use pumpkins to make winter soups.
- Black Truffles are even better now than during the Christmas holiday and are a bit less expensive!
- Citrus Fruits – lemons, grapefruit, oranges, and clementines
- Pineapple – This is another imported product. The French like the Victoria pineapple, which is smaller than a regular pineapple but sweeter and more intense in flavor. The best come from Reunion Island.
- Bananas – They are available all year round, but January is the season for the “frécinettes” bananas, which are smaller and more flavorful.
- Kumquats – Fresh kumquats are found only from December to February. The French serve them with roast pork in a sweet and sour sauce or with wild game. They’re also used in jams.
- Cape Gooseberries or “Physalis” – This is another exotic imported fruit found only during the winter months at French markets.
- Vacherin – The “Mont d’Or” vacherin is at its best.
- Munster – It’s at its creamiest during the winter months.
- Abondance – By January, this cheese has already been aged 4-5 months using summer milk. It’s at its best!
- Comté, Emmenthal, and Beaufort – These hard cheeses are also at their best in January and perfect for a cheese fondue or “Fondue Savoyarde.”
- Ossau-Iraty – This is a hard cheese from the Basque region made from ewe’s milk. January is its finest month. The French serve it with black cherry jam.
- “Salers” and “Laguiole” – These cheeses are made from milk harvested in the spring and have been somewhat aged already.
- Blue-veined cheeses – “Bleu du Gex” and “Fourme de Montbrison” are at their best now. This will no longer be the case in the spring.
I hope this list of products gave you a good idea of what the French find at their markets in January. There seems to be enough variety to get through the last winter months with many recipes.
Winter salads, thick vegetable soups, and hearty stews are characteristic of French family meals this time of year. A good fondue, made with the hard cheeses that are in season, is also an excellent dish for January – especially if you’re in the mountains.
The recipes the French turn to in January are appropriate for the cold, snowy, or wet winter weather.
I’ve found this way of eating has pushed me to broaden my tastes and be more aware of what nature offers at different times of the year.
For example, I love the clementines sold at markets in the winter. I realize I have to enjoy them during the cold months because they won’t be very good in the spring.
And now you: How does this compare to what’s on offer at your market or grocery store? Do you change your ingredients and recipes according to the seasons?
Let me know!
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