Exploring Traditional Foods of Western Europe: Our Trip through Farms, Cities and Coasts

Each year, my husband, my son and I pack our bags for an extended trip in the spring.  Two years ago we drove through California, camping in Yosemite, staying in a yurt in Big Sur, and driving through Sonoma. Last year, we took our time and drove through New Mexico – visting geological landmarks, museums, hot springs and galleries.  We write, we hike, we learn and we explore.  As luck holds true, we often combine these springtime trips with business like speaking engagements, festivals or cooking demonstrations that require travel anyway.  This year, we were blessed with the opportunity to visit Italy on business, and we dutifully took the opportunity to spend our ritualistic springtime travels in Western Europe.

We’re on a hunt for real food, for farmers markets, for raw dairies, for old-school butchers, and for wholesome, traditional foods.  We’re four weeks into the tour, and I had intended to update more frequently but internet access is woefully lacking as we find ourselves nestled into the rural folds of the verdant green hills of Devon, on trains, on the coast of France, or cuddled into an old Swiss farmhouse held tight against the vivid green breast of towering Alps.  Here we’ve explored old recipes, followed farmers into the fields and tried new foods (like lamb’s pluck with olive oil and bay).

We’ve two more weeks to go, and I have so much to share with you – finding myself revitalized by the traditions of the old world.  Here’s what remains of our trip, and if you have any suggestions for me as we work our way through Switzerland, Netherlands and Iceland, please share.

grass-fed cows

A Dairy Farm in Devon, England

During our first week, we visited a dairy in a tiny farming community in Devon – we stayed in a little Featherdown Cabin, cooked on a woodfired stove and explored the neighboring towns.  Each morning, I’d don my gloves and pluck fresh nettle which we’d combine with eggs from our rented hens for scrambles and omelets.  In the afternoon, a stew pot of pasture-raised and grass-fed meats and organic vegetables would wait us, and we’d light up the fire and wait for the stew to simmer and cook on the stove.  You can find a recipe for my favorite Farmhouse Beef and Bacon Stew here, and more recipes for nettle omelets, potato and sausage hash and bacon soup will come.  And we drank fresh, raw milk every chance we could get.

Sausages at London Market

London, England

When our time in Devon ended, we drove to London and stayed only one brief night.  My husband and I aren’t fond of cities, as the flavor  and spirit of a nation rests in its countryside.  We took our time, visited museums and markets before heading on to France.

Eiffel T

Paris, France

From London, we visited Paris – eating out at our favorite Steak Frites restaurant whose sauce is incomparably delicious – and reportedly contains a combination of butter, cream, shallots and chicken livers.  We stayed in a little two bedroom apartment, shopped the farmers markets every day and prepared dinner at home every evening after a visiting the museums. And we drank wine, lots of wine.  I learned about little grey shrimp, dined on fresh mackerel and worked with a terribly finicky old gas stove.

Calanques in Cassis, France

Cassis, France

From Paris, we hopped on the trains and rode south toward the coast where we visited Cassis, a small tourist community on the coast – most notably for its steep seaside cliffs coupled with the calanques – little inlets where the cliffs meet the sea.  We visited the market, picked up wine, saucissons secs,  and hiked from the village through steep limestone cliffs down to the water where we picnicked and soaked up the sun.  From there, we visited the restaurants and ate Soupe de Poisson, a regional specialty served at every restaurant.  Richly flavored with fish, fennel, olive oil, tomato and orange, the fish soup is paired with toasted bread, rouille (a saffron and garlic mayonnaise) and shredded Gruyere cheese.  When I return home, I’ll test my recipes from the memory of the flavors and share them with you if I can do it justice.

Einkorn Farm

Cooking Retreat in Lucca, Italy

After six days in Cassis, we traveled by train to Lucca, in the Tuscany region of Italy where I met the folks at Jovial Foods, and several Nourished Kitchen readers who joined me for a cooking retreat focusing on traditionally prepared, fresh local foods.  We covered fermentation and sourdoughs, soups and bone broths, and emphasized traditional nose-to-tail eating.  And it was here that I discovered I actually enjoy lamb’s pluck (a combination of lamb’s heart, liver and lung) cooked in olive oil and sweet bay.  And it was here I discovered the joy of pizzas topped with lard, rosemary and freshly grated parmesan cheese.  The traditional foods of Italy are remarkable.  We also visited an organic and biodynamic einkorn farm pictured above.

Matterhorn in Zermatt

Zermatt, Switzerland

When we left Lucca, exhausted and worn but joyous, too, we took the train to Zermatt.  My husband and little boy wanted to see the Matterhorn, and also to ride the Glacier Express – a train that weaves its way through the alps revealing stunning views of valleys, peaks and glaciers.  Here I ate what has now become my favorite barley soup – Gerstensuppe.  The soup combines barley, leek, carrot, smoked bacon, and chicken stock with heavy cream.

Langwies, Switzerland

Now, I write to you from Langwies where we’re staying on a tiny alpine dairy farm that produces milk, cream and traditional cheeses just as described in the book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, which describes the traditional foods and habits of long-lived, isolated peoples living in the rural and remote areas of the globe not yet touched by industrialized foods.  Here  we wake every morning to a traditional breakfast of muesli soaked in yogurt, fresh raw milk, fresh bread, and grass-fed alpine cheeses.  I plan to share more with you about this beautiful little farm, but we’re off to explore, learn and photograph what we see.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

From Langwies, we’ll return to Amsterdam on our way home.  It is where my husband and I eloped eight years ago, and where we return out of nostalgia, and a love for the city itself.  We’re looking forward to taking our son here, and to showing him the special places we’ve found that mean so much to my husband and I – the museums, the restaurants, the canals and the bridges.

Keflavik, Iceland

After a few days in Amsterdam, we’ll fly to Iceland.  It was an afterthought really, to visit Iceland, but the airfare was less expensive if we also visited the country, and now I’m looking forward to our time there more than anything else.  We’ll see the glaciers, the fjords, visit the hot springs and stay on yet another farm.

How to Keep Updated

The quality of internet has been challenging on this trip – places we’ve stayed promise WiFi but have none, or very spotty connections, and I haven’t enjoyed the opportunity to keep up-to-date with photographs and recipes from the places we visit, but if you follow Nourished Kitchen on Instagram, you’ll see much more in real time of the food and farms.  And as time allows, I update Facebook with our trip, and will post more from our real food tour once we return to a solid connection.

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What people are saying

  1. says

    Wow Jenny – your trip sounds like it has been absolutely amazing! I would really love to do something like that with my family one day if our situation ever allows it. I have to think a trip like this is one of the most valuable gifts you can give your son. Thanks for sharing your adventures and we look forward to hearing/seeing more!

  2. says

    Jenny,
    Thank you for rejuvenating my life once again! I so enjoyed my time with you and your loverly family in Lucca Italy.
    I am looking forward to meeting again.
    Many Blessing to you and your family along your journey!

  3. Teresa says

    Jenny,

    As you head up towards the Netherlands. we are currently living in Belgium and would love to offer our help any way we can.

    Best on your travels,
    Teresa

  4. Diana says

    If you feel like meeting up, I am right around the corner from Amsterdam. I am one of the local chapter leaders of WAPF here.

  5. Colleen says

    Make sure you see the Blue Lagoon near Keflavik – such a nice hot spring break before your flight

  6. says

    Jenny, I love your sense of adventure!

    The allure of just taking off and seeing something new is very appealing to me. I tend to be more of a planner who has a set agenda but lately I am getting the urge to be more spontaneous.

    I worry that if we plan everything then we might miss out on some of the joys that are out there. At least at times that is what it feels like for me.

    I was forced to take a detour a couple of weeks ago and on this detour I saw a cute little café. I went in and had some wonderful homemade cooking.

    It made me think of what else I might discover if I allow myself to enjoy the “detours” more.

  7. Victoria says

    While in Iceland you simply must try skyr (traditional yogurt which is really a soft cheese) while a farm. You also cannot go wrong with the amazing seafood they have there, too. One of the best fish soups I ever had was at the Blue Lagoon.

    This is a farm that my husband and I visited while in Iceland on our honeymoon — http://www.erpsstadir.is/. Their skyr goodies simply must be experienced. Be forewarned that plain skyr is very, very tart (moreso than Greek Yogurt in my opinion) but full of protein, low in fat, and practically a meal in of itself.

    Also, you simply MUST try their rye bread, or, as they call it Rúgbrauð. There is an amazing bakery called Almar Bakari just a ways out of Reykjavik and I believe they will sometimes even bake their bread in geothermal vents. (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Almar-Bakari/122747403402)

    And their butter? Smjor? Yeah. Once you eat that, you will never go back to any other kind of butter. So glad it can be found here in the US.

    Iceland is amazing. BEYOND amazing. I would go back in a heartbeat.

  8. Laura says

    Jenny, your trip sounds amazing. My family (my six year old son and my husband) and I live about an hour from Langwies. I’m American, my husband is from Italy. We live in a small village at the edge of the Alps, and have access to wonderful raw Jersey milk, raw cheeses, pastured meats, fresh eggs, etc. Not to mention the beautiful landscape we enjoy daily. Enjoy the remaining weeks of your trip. I’m looking forward to reading more about your travel.

    Blessings and happy travels.

  9. Christine says

    I was born and raised in Bavaria, but now living in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. How incredible for you to take this trip.

  10. Linda says

    I also have enjoyed reading about your trip. The pictures are beautiful. How did you find out about staying on a farm & renting an apartment in France? It’s nice to know there are still some places left in the world where people eat naturally because the crap hasn’t gotten to them. Sometimes I think about living somewhere like that where I don’t have to work so hard to find real food.

  11. Laurel says

    Sounds like an amazing trip, but I must stick up for London! There is great steak and kidney pudding to be had at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese and many other pubs… not to mention 2000 years of history in one spot. There are also nose-to-tail restaurants and great foodie street markets. Try the farmhouse cheeses at Neal’s Yard Dairy.

  12. Heather J. says

    It sounds like you have already finished the English leg of your journey, but next time you pass through, you must stop at Wheelbirks! It’s an old-fashioned dairy farm in the North, about an hour south of Newcastle. They sell raw milk on the farm – probably the creamiest Jersey milk I’ve ever tasted – and they also have a really cute ice cream parlor, where the ice cream is made from the farm-fresh milk. The kids love it! It’s a great place to stop, especially if you’re on your way to Scotland, as it’s so far north. http://www.wheelbirks.co.uk.

  13. says

    It looks amazing. I love to travel in winter. Cold weather doesn’t bother me as along as I’m prepared for it. When traveling out of season I don’t feel like a tourist. :-)

  14. Lisa Sadler says

    Hands down .. I am chartreuse, olive, forest, kelly .. GREEN with envy!! Thank you so much for such a wonderful bunch of writings and gorgeous photos!

  15. Cathie says

    As an aussie who has spent most of my life confused about food, i find europe an absolute pleasure. They just do what they’ve always done, ignoring food fads and nutritionists’ warnings, and they thrive. I don’t see many obese people in europe, certainly not as many as in oz, and i think that’s because they favour their traditional diets. Shame to see mcdo making inroads into most western European countries, except italy (autogrill do it better and cheaper!). Long may they shun soy chai lattes and embrace lard!

    • Diana says

      Unfortunately it is not really that great in Europe anymore either. Not too long ago in Denmark that was a fat tax proposition. Luckily it did not make it in the long run. Furthermore the restaurants all over Europe are changing as well, Many restaurants serve heated up food, not home cooked. While shopping there is plenty that is wrong. The supermarkets are loaded with margarine and soy products. In several countries soy flour is added to bread flour, and has been for many years. It is true that we have not caught up with the obesity rises, but that is only a matter of time. There is so much propaganda going on with regards to what is considered the “right” way of eating. It is sad really what is going on. I do hope people come to their senses soon though.

  16. says

    Depending on the amount of time you have in Iceland, I HIGHLY recommend a visit to the Blue Lagoon. A geothermal spa which will take away tension you never knew you had!

  17. Michelle Goldstein says

    Thanks for sharing your adventures and food finds. It sounds so very exciting! When our family travels we always find the llocal natural food stores and enjoy trying to eat as “real” as possible. If we go on a road trip I will pack my raw milk and pastured eggs with me, especially if we will have a kitchen on our trip. If/when we return to Europe, your trip has inspired me to try and find local, traditional farms to visit…Happy Travels!!!

  18. Heather says

    This vacation sounds absolutely unbelievable! I would love to hear more about how you planned for such an adventure – or perhaps, the first step is simply not planning, but embracing the unexpected. I really hope to make a trip of this caliber some day! How wonderful for your whole family to share this experience together. Enjoy your last few weeks overseas!

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