If you are considering a trip to France but are gluten-intolerant, fear not! France isn’t hard to navigate—I have celiac disease and live in Provence part of the year. Let me tell you what I’ve learned.
I’ve previously written about gluten-free (GF) dining in France, now I’ll tell you what it’s like to shop here. Many of the products you’ll find in grocery stores are similar in quality to those found in American grocery stores, while others are frankly better.
First, some vocabulary. Blé means wheat, orge means barley, and siegle means rye, the three ingredients to avoid. “Sans Gluten” means “gluten-free,” so look for those words on products you are considering. Many stores have a special section for their GF products—you’ll see an aisle marked Sans Gluten. There may be other products elsewhere in the store, but this is a good place to start.
For those who have to avoid cross-contamination, look for this symbol, it means the product has been certified gluten-free.
If you are trying to read a label and don’t speak French, use the Google translate app on your phone. Tell the app to translate from French, hit the little camera icon, then point your camera at the label. After a few seconds the original text disappears and is replaced by an English translation. It’s like magic!
While most supermarkets carry GF products, you’ll find more variety and higher quality at a bio (organic) food store. These are very popular in France, and a couple of the big chains are Naturalia and La Vie Claire. Every decent-sized town has at least one bio store, so shop there if you can.
The gold standard for GF baked goods is Schär, a German company that has specialized in GF breads, pastries, crackers, and more for over 40 years. Schär products are widely available in France and are increasingly popular in the US.
For regular sliced bread, Schär is good but I prefer the one from Genius. It’s harder to find, especially their cinnamon-raisin bread (so good!), but worth it when you do.
Schär’s crackers are tasty but, like a lot of GF crackers, they tend to be crumbly. When I want to take crackers with me to a restaurant or a picnic, I prefer what’s called a tartine craquante like the one below. It doesn’t have much flavor but it’s very sturdy, a perfect platform for loading on cheese or tapenade or something else tasty.
Most bio stores have a variety of breakfast cereals, like these multigrain flakes. They are from Italy, a country that takes celiac disease very seriously, as, interestingly, despite being the land of pasta and pane, it’s also a country with a burgeoning celiac epidemic.
You can also find safe GF oatmeal and muesli, like this one from Ma Vie Sans Gluten.
Like Schär, Ma Vie Sans Gluten is a company with a variety of GF products that are widely distributed.
We found these in our local bio store this year — vegetable tarts with a buckwheat crust — wrapped to avoid cross-contamination. They were excellent, especially the crust, and you wouldn’t know it was GF unless someone told you. It’s an example of how there are more GF products arriving in the stores all the time. This tart was better than any I’ve had in the US.
Here’s something that is so perfect I am always amazed it doesn’t exist in the U.S. French stores sell GF crusts that have been rolled up with parchment paper and then refrigerated. You take one out of the fridge, unroll it, put whatever you want on top (below: roasted vegetables), and bake it. Easy! Delicious!
There are two kinds—pâte brisée (shortcrust pastry) for things like tarts and quiches, and pâte feuilletée (puff pastry.) I think whoever invented this should win the Nobel Prize for pastry.
Now that you’ve gotten what you need from the bio store, be sure to finish your shopping at one of France’s fabulous outdoor markets. Nearly everything there will be naturally GF: cheeses, olives, wines, fruits and vegetables, even the roast chicken. Bon appétit!
Keith Van Sickle splits his time between Provence and California. He is the author of the recently-published An Insider’s Guide to Provence and the best-sellers One Sip at a Time: Learning to Live in Provence and Are We French Yet? Read more at Life in Provence. All photos used courtesy of the author.