While the French are famous for their love of cheese, wine, and bread, they’re also renowned for their picnics. The word “picnic” comes from the French word:
The earliest usage of the word in print is in the 1692 edition of Tony Willis, Origines de la Langue Française.
Picnicking became common in France after the French Revolution, when the country’s royal parks became accessible to everyone and people would gather outdoors to enjoy nature, with everyone bringing a “little something”.
By the 18th century, picnics were social events with elaborate platters, drinks, and plenty of refinement. Several famous artists based in France, including Monet, Manet, Picasso and Alain Jacquet, began painting pictures of the “Déjeuner sur l’herbe“, meaning lunch on the grass, helping the concept of the picnic travel world-wide. And thus the French picnic became main-stream.
A picnic became an excellent way to spend a sunny day without breaking the bank. In fact, it is so much cheaper than eating out that even the most luxurious picnic can be considered a bargain. Plus, you get to enjoy a nice meal in the middle of beautiful, natural surroundings.
But it’s not just a case of throwing a few things into a basket and heading off into the woods. With the French passion for fine food and wine, packing and preparing a perfect picnic became an art form. We don’t have to go that far, but we can still indulge a bit. (Champagne, anyone?)
The only problem is that picnics are so much fun that you sometimes forget about all of the preparation involved. Here are some tips and tricks for preparing and packing a perfect French picnic. Allons-y!
The Basics to Pack
Now if you want to have a French-style picnic, i.e. the classic Parisian picnic apéro (whether or not you are by the Seine River), you are going to have to need a few ingredients.
At its simplest, you can put together a choice of various charcuterie and cheeses, and call it a day. There is plenty of variety there to please any Frenchie. And not to worry, they are all easily available at your local grocery store.
Any French picnic worth its name needs some bread. Whether you go for the traditional baguette, pain complét (country bread), pita, or a gluten-free variety, bread is always appreciated.
You can also add an assortment of viennoiseries like croissants, chocolatines, brioches, etc. if you are having a brunch picnic.
Charcuterie is always an easy favorite to purchase and pack in your picnic basket. Get a mix of hams, pâtés, terrines, cheeses, and more, all artfully unwrapped and spread out on your picnic blanket.
For a bit of choice, try traditionally cured hams like jambon de Bayonne, de Parme (prosciutto in italien), d’Auvergne, or Serrano. Saussisons (salt-cured sausages) are also a favorite like, rosette, chorizo, saucisson de Lyon, or saucisson d’Arles.
You can read more about assembling a French charcuterie platter here.
If you don’t like charcuterie (and even if you do), you may want to add a few cheeses to your picnic. France is the land of cheese, so there is plenty of French cheeses to choose from.
Pick at least 2 or 3 kinds of cheese, alternating between hard cheeses, soft cheeses, goat cheeses and blue cheeses such as:
- Soft cheeses – Camembert, Brie, Reblochon, Vieux Boulogne
- Hard cheeses – Comté, Etorki, Gruyère, Mimolette, Beaufort
- Goat cheeses – Tomme de chèvre, Sainte-Maure, Crottin de Chavignol, Valençay
- Blue cheeses – Roquefort, Bleu d’Auvergne
You can read more about putting together a French cheese plate here.
4. Crudités (veggies)
For some veggies, add some crudités to your apéro picnic, like a small box of cherry tomatoes, baby carrots, radishes, etc.
Interesting tidbit, French people don’t really eat raw celery the way North Americans do. But no one will scoff or turn down your celery, so feel free to go for it!
You can read more about preparing a crudités plate here.
With all that charcuterie and veggies, you are going to need a few dips. Sauces like aioli, tzatziki, spicy rouille are also always appreciated. You can purchase these in a grocery or make your own (it is not as hard as you may imagine)!
France is one of the major wine-producing countries in the world, so you can be sure that wine is a must at any French picnic. If champagne is too expensive for your taste (not just for New Year’s you know!) get a sparkling crémant from Alsace or the Loire.
Light rosé from côtes de provence are also a firm favorite, along with white wines like reisling from Alsace. These wines are usually served chilled, so be sure to take a cooler with you. You can read more about French wines here.
Easy French recipes for a picnic
Now if you are looking for something for a little more elaborate, here are some recipe ideas of dishes that make for an excellent picnic:
1. Savory cake salé
Instead of sugar, this “cake” is made with lardons, olives, etc. Other alternatives include:
- Smoked Salmon, avocado, and tomato confit
- Roquefort and cauliflower
- Dried tomatoes
- Fig and goat cheese
- Spinach and feta
You can combine all sorts of interesting ingredients and test it out. Get the savory cake salé recipe here.
Another popular French dish that is a regular at picnics in France is the quiche. From the lardon and cheese-based traditional quiche lorraine to the vegetarian-friendly spinach quiche, there is something to please everyone.
3. Egg muffins (Oeufs au four)
Similar to the savory cake, but in bite-size pieces that easily fit into tupperware, is the oeufs au four or egg muffins. The recipe for egg muffins can also be adapted to personal tastes, with a variety of ingredients. You can get the full recipe for oeufs au four here.
4. Baked Camembert
Now, I will admit that baked camembert is not the easiest to transport, especially if you are travelling some distance to your picnic rendez-vous point, but if you happen to be going somewhere close, take a melted camembert along.
The melted cheese with toppings make for an excellent dip with a bit of baguette. You can get the baked camembert recipe here.
Socca is type of flatbread made from chickpea flour that comes from the city of Nice in the south of France. It is gluten-free similar to panisse, and a great alternative to pita or bread. You can eat it by itself, or with one of the sauces noted above. Get the full socca recipe here.
No meal would be complete with a French desserts. Now, you could pick up a box or macarons or eclairs from your local patisserie, but if you are looking for a simple dessert that is easily transportable, I propose the humble French yogurt cake.
Now, picnics are great, but you don’t want to forget the corkscrew or a small knife to cut that cheese and saucisson. And we even got those cool little wicker baskets, because no picnic is complete without it!
- 2 or 3 kinds of cheese (Sainte-Maure,Camembert, Brie, Roquefort)
- Crudités like cherry tomatoes or baby carrots
- Sauces like tzatziki, touille, or aioli
- Charcuterie (traditionally cured hams like Ham from Bayonne, de Parme (prosciutto in italien), d’Auvergne, Serrano)
- Saussisons (salt-cured sausages like Rosette, chorizo, saucisson de Lyon, saucisson d’Arles)
- bottle of wine (preferably a chilled rosé or white wine, but if you like red, go for it!)
Easy Baked dishes
- Savory cake salé
- Egg muffins
- Baked Camembert
- Socca flatbread
- Yogurt cake for dessert
Other essential ingredients
- Fruit juices
- Pick the perfect picnic location in Paris.
- Invite a few good friends.
Pro tip: if you are planning a romantic picnic for two, add Neufchâtel cheese to your picnic basket. The cheese comes in the shape of a heart.
So there you have it, everything you need for the perfect Parisian picnic! If you are in the city and are not sure the ideal location for that picnic, you may want to read my list of top picnic sites in Paris that the locals love. Bon appetit!