For Bounichou, the cheesemaker, Saturday is the longest day of the week. He rises at five to fill the trailer he drives to Saturday’s farmers market. From five in the evening, he’s up in Audrix, stock refreshed, selling plates of his cheeses. Home around one in the morning, he’s up again at five for the Sunday farmers market. When his herd of cows expanded from three to five and he was stumped for suitable names, a resident wit suggested using those of women renowned for their toughness. As a result, picnickers in Audrix tuck into cheeses from the milk of ’illary Clinton and Margaret T’atcher. “Prenez de l’aillou!” he encourages. Aillou, a confection he’s invented, consists of fromage frais containing copious handfuls of freshly chopped herbs and garlic. He sells it to complement the baker’s warm bread, but it’s just as sublime when taken home as a dip for eggplant slices deep-fried in batter.
Inside their truck beside the church, Béatrice and Guy Franc fire up their hot plates and check their refrigerator for supplies of magrets de canard and foie gras. Guy Franc was a military helicopter pilot until his father fell ill, at which time he decided to take over the family farm. Now he raises ducks and geese that he kills and then sells both from home and at a couple of nearby farmers markets. He seldom eats them; that would be his profit lost. During the Audrix night market, he can move up to 90 plates of the foie gras he flash-fries dry to release its abundant fat. “Et puis,” he demonstrates, “you temper it with a swirl of balsamic vinegar and honey to balance the richness of the liver.” At a Michelin-starred restaurant, a serving like his would cost around 20 euros. Here, this summer, it costs seven. “The aim was to keep Audrix alive,” explains Bounichou. “And we don’t want to take it any further. We want to keep it intimate and authentic.”
Whereas Audrix has been successful in this undertaking, as the night markets have expanded in number, they have evolved beyond Thuillier’s original quest to promote only local growers and producers. Along with the Marchés des Producteurs de Pays have come general Marchés Nocturnes, attracting commercial enterprises that often travel from miles away and attend several different night markets a week. (At Audrix you can eat only traditional Périgord dishes; at general Marchés Nocturnes, you will find pad Thai and other foreign foods.)
Cadouin’s Marché Nocturne, for instance, looks, at first sight, like something out of a Bruegel painting. (Indeed, through the centuries, pilgrims have flocked to this golden stone abbey, which was founded in 1115, to see the Holy Shroud of Cadouin, yet another piece of fabric believed by the faithful to have wrapped the head of Christ.) Squinting your eyes and peering through smoke from the barbecue, you can almost imagine hessian robes and thick linen skirts in place of today’s tight jeans and shrunken blouses. Almost. After all, there is a pizza van parked next to a group of women from an out-of-town butcher who are spearing bulk-bought sausages onto plates mounded with mustard. Gaudy toys hang from the poles of a stall swarming with children. Nearby, a woman sells cheap sugary sweets, while an Indonesian woman who runs a takeout service from her dining room mans a booth selling saté and noodle dishes. In the center of it all, surrounded by jiving dancers, a band pumps out the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” macerating Jagger’s lyrics in between French ballads that have the youngsters who’ve flown in on a cheap Ryanair flight from Britain rolling their eyes. “Tu danses?” a French guy with a mullet asks an English camper in a ripped T-shirt.
“Parisians come down with their wives or mistresses to eat Asian in the Dordogne?” muses Raymond Bounichou, father of Stéphane, the cheesemonger, who has stolen away for the evening to observe the other side of the night markets. Here, the dining profile is reversed—tourists outpacing the locals.
But at Audrix, things are as they should be. Couples square-dance under the arcade. Retirees in their Sunday best lick their lips at the prospect of rotisserie-grilled lamb and fresh strawberry tarts. Franck Hammon, the director of an area children’s camp, leads kids around in a donkey cart. When Hammon eventually stops, it is to sweep a pile of donkey droppings into a sack and then interrupt the music to grab a microphone. “To those who brought their own plates and cutlery, thank you!” he says. (Feeling smug, those of us who have done just that look around critically.) “We must protect the environment. To those who brought plastic, not next time, please! And make sure you dump your rubbish in the correct recycle box!” It’s Audrix’s ambition to get to a point where the night markets generate no garbage at all.
The chief of police from the valley below strolls by with a plate of grilled goat cheese and walnuts on salad leaves. When this night market began, the mayor ran his own stall, cooking pommes de terre sarladaise—thin slices of potato stewed slowly in duck fat till golden and tossed with a pungent handful of chopped garlic and parsley. The police chief would order an entire pan, then request that it be turned into an omelet with 12 eggs. “How many will that be feeding?” I asked when I first witnessed this. “My wife and me,” he shrugged.