“ Brunomart is a group of continental market traders (30 to 35 stalls) coming to Great Britain, usually for 3 days at the end of the week. Their markets are based on small traders selling directly to the public in the high street or adjacent street and comprise high quality food and craft stalls, creating an attraction that brings people into the town centre. They only visit each location no more than twice a year. „
As you may have read elsewhere in my reviews, I have a large appetite for things French, especially cheese. Whilst I love the usual favourites like Camembert and Brie, which are usually easy to find in most supermarkets, I also love cheeses which are far harder to find such as P'tit Basque and most especially Morbier. Usually I have to wait until our occasional visits to France in order to stock up on these rarities but I do keep my eyes open for the French Farmer's Markets which appear around the country at various times, especially just before Christmas. Southport has a regular one and we usually combine a visit to the in-laws to take advantage. The other potential source are the markets that are held in Kent, just a hop and a skip across the Channel from the source of all these goodies. However, this is a fair old hike from where we live and so the cost of travel usually outweighs the benefits. Then there is Brunomart. Brunomart is an organisation that is run by Bruno Girardeau to arrange markets mostly around the South of England but with occasional detours to the Midlands and the North, for French market stallholders visiting Britain for a few days at a time. These markets are held in regular locations though some are visited more frequently than others. The Brunomart website states that each event "...will consist of 28 to 35 stalls..." with a balance between food and crafts of 60/40. Would that that would have been so but the event that we visited in September in Gurkha Square, Fleet, Hampshire, consisted of anything but. On a pleasant day when a host of potential customers could have been expected, there were less than 20 stalls present and of those I have my doubts as to how many were genuinely French! There was, for instance, a bread stall but the delicacies on offer were generally English in style. However, there was, fortunately, a cheese stall with an excellent range of French produce and especially welcome from my point of view, the range included my favourite Morbier. However, the prices were nothing extraordinary but then beggars can't be choosers can they? We did avoid those varieties that we know we can get elsewhere. Pyrenean Iraty sheep's milk cheese, which I know can be bought in your local Waitrose at around £19.50/kg, was here on sale for around £10 more than this! I know these guys have to cover their costs but this is ridiculous. Other than this there was more or less just one of each of an olives stall (utterly gorgeous olives, many stuffed with a variety of fillings), a soap stall, a cured meats stall (where I bought a very tasty garlic and boar saucisson), a sweets stall and a stall selling hot dishes to take away for lunch. Most of the rest were stalls selling various craftworks. In total we stayed only around half an hour, during which we toured all of the stalls and bought at three of them. We were happy with our purchases; we only bought what we considered good value. Fortunately Fleet isn't that far from where we live that it could have been considered a completely wasted journey. We haven't visited any of the other venues so cannot comment on how representative this event was compared with others. I did notice from the calendar on the Brunomart website that Fleet does not seem to be a frequent location for these markets. Certainly there are others that are used more often and maybe at these locations there is a better selection of stalls. I would just suggest that you should be prepared for the possibility that the event that you attend may be somewhat less well represented than you might have been led to expect.
Last Sunday, a little unexpectedly, I found myself in the midst of a traditional French market. The insistent shouts of the fruit-sellers, the scent of crêpes and roasting chestnuts, and the creative assembly of the simplest of merchandise, from cheeses and fruits to sausages and olives, all combined to create an unmistakably Gallic ambience. Meandering amidst the stalls, I secured a pungent sheath of smoked garlic, some olive bread, several pastries, plump red grapes, olives, a thick wedge of smoked ham and a number of cheeses. Then, satisfied with my haul I decamped to Debenhams, and had a coffee. A Debenhams on the Continent? Well, not exactly. For in fact, this particular market wasnt in Toulouse, or Dijon, or anywhere else even remotely French. Rather, it was held on the Buttermarket, a town square in the centre of Ipswich. However, whilst the produce and ambience were certainly redolent of a market on the Continent, for the most part the prices were not THE CONCEPT: Founded in the late 1990s, Brunomart represents a collective of some 35 French market stallholders. These traders visit the UK towards the end of most weeks, recreating their small scale, traditional French market on regional squares and marketplaces throughout Britain. The enterprise is named, a trifle vaingloriously perhaps, after its founder, Bruno Giradeau, whose rugged, Mediterranean profile is displayed prominently on Brunomarts eponymous website. Brunomart publicity suggests (a little fancifully, in my opinion) that a visit to the market represents a good alternative to that day-trip to Calais. Admittedly, the good bread, excellent selection of cheeses, as well as unexpected delicacies such as a freshly prepared Cassoulet are more than likely to give your average Francophile a temporary fix. However, the selection is still limited and the produce expensive. Furthermore, for most people, that day trip to Calais is still more about stocking up on unseemly quantities of cheap booze or cigarettes than about the more subtle pleasures of a freshly prepared Cassoulet anyway All the same, the market is a charming idea, well executed, and well worth a visit should Bruno and his troop happen to descend upon a town near you. THE MARKET: On my visit to the Brunomart in Ipswich, the market consisted of roughly twenty stalls. These included a boulangerie/patisserie, a cheese stall, a stall selling smoked and cured meats, an extensive fruit and vegetable display, a crêperie, and further stalls selling such produce as olives, Belgian chocolates, honey, charcuterie and home made biscuits. Anyone still labouring under the misapprehension that the English hate the French would do well to pay a visit to a local Brunomart. Once there, consider the extraordinary spectacle of dozens of people queuing for up to 30 minutes (in the rain, no less) to secure a humble baguette. At the cheese stand, similar scenes, more reminiscent of communist-era Bucharest, prevailed. Who would have imagined that a little goats cheese, or a whiffy wedge of Pont LEveque would ever provide such a draw? Our local market was very well advertised in advance, both in and around the town, but even this cannot entirely explain its astonishing popularity. THE STALLS: At the boulangerie stand, baguettes and croissants were freshly baked throughout the day in specially designed mobile ovens located behind the stall, and the resulting scents were almost irresistible. Other items, such as specialty breads and fruit tarts, are baked in France very early in the morning and then brought across the channel by the stallholders. The (admittedly rather small) specialty loaves, such as olive or walnut bread, cost around £3 each. Baguettes and croissants, on the other hand, were very reasonably priced. An excellent selection of olives was available at a nearby stall, in glistening mounds emerging from small wooden barrels. A small pot of toothpicks sat beside each barrel, with the stallholder continually encouraging passers-by to test the produce. There were fat green olives laced with garlic and herbs, Morrocan style olives, huge and moist Kalamatas, tiny onions pickled with cumin and chilli, amongst an array of others. These were all priced at £4 per 250gr, which seemed reasonable enough, but a couple of smallish scoops cost me just over £10, probably a little dearer than expected. The fruit and vegetable stall was probably the largest at the market, with fresh produce displayed along one side, and an impressively comprehensive selection of dried and smoked garlic along the other. Tomatoes, which were enormous, sweet smelling and violently red, were priced at £3 a kilo. Firm little clementines, complete with token leaf attached, and reasonably priced, were displayed in a bright orange band. Beside them, there were some huge, mahogany-coloured chestnuts, bigger than walnuts, and assembled in picturesque mounds. A small number of large artichokes rested at the edge, looking very superior indeed, and costing £3 each. Crêpes were sold from a small caravan-style stand, encircled by the ubiquitous hordes, and doing a roaring trade. The crêpes were sold with a large selection of the usual toppings, both sweet and savoury, including Grand Marnier, Nutella, Gruyere and ham. Adjacent to this was a stall selling home made biscuits, Belgian chocolates and boiled sweets. AND IF YOU THOUGHT MARKETS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE CHEAP After little more than half an hour spent strolling around the Brunomart in Ipswich, I had somehow succeeded in spending almost £40. Astonishingly, this costly haul fitted comfortably into a couple of smallish carrier bags. Of course, the exercise would have proven more expensive still had my current pregnancy not prevented me from adding a little Pont LEveque and Livarot to the load. Still, my shopping expedition was well worthwhile, we are still enjoying several of my purchases some days later, and I would happily visit the Brunomart again the next time one is held in Suffolk. Recommended. INFORMATION: Brunomart has held markets at the following towns so far in 2006: Amesbury, Attleborough, Bath, Bexleyheath, Bromley, Berkhamstead, Brackley, Bicester, Barking, Bognor Regis, Buckingham, Bourne, Broadstairs, Chester, Cranleigh, Croydon, Darlington, Diss, Eastbourne, Edinburgh, Farnham, Faversham, Fleet, Godalming, Grantham, Gravesend, Hackney, Hartlepool, Hastings, Ipswich, Lavenham, Leytonstone, Milton Keynes, Market Harborough, Newark, Norwich, Shoreham, Stamford, Swindon, Staines, Stowmarket, Salisbury, Southampton, Sudbury, Thetford, Tunbridge Wells, Winchester, Walton on Thames, Walthamstow, Whitely Village, Woking, Woolwich, Wootton Bassett, Worthing, Yarmouth (Isle of Wight). Further information, including a full list of upcoming markets, is available at the website www.brunomart.com . Bruno Girardeau OFFICE ADDRESS 7 Buckland Road, Lower Kingswood, Surrey KT20 7DN Tel/Fax: 01737 832718