Even the most amateur food connoisseurs don’t need Julia Child to tell them that France produces some of the best food in the world (yes, you heard me Italy!). Most people are content knowing the basics of where, exactly, all these delectable foods come from: Bubbly Champagne comes from Champagne, duh! But for anyone who is just a tad more curious and eager to explore the legendary culinary regions of France, there is a way. No, it’s not a gaudy new app or a guided tour. It’s a 200-year-old map commissioned by the illegitimate son of a king.
Entitled the Carte Gastronomique de la France, the map pinpoints the origins of the best food across France. The map, created by Jean-François Tourcaty in 1809, appears in the culinary tome Cours Gastronomique, written by Charles Louis Cadet de Gassicourt, an illegitimate son of Louis Louis XV. Cadet de Gassicourt was a prolific scientist and, according to the Cornell University library, where the map is part of the digital collection, he made it his life’s work to “mak[e] scientific knowledge an obligatory part of gastronomic expertise.”
Cadet de Gassicourt was a bit of a lush and a voracious eater himself. As a member of the Caveau Moderne, he gathered with a group of men to sing, eat, and drink wine. In fact, Cadet de Gassicourt wrote his very own song for the group, some of which went, “Laugh, eat, sleep and drink, rhyme and sing about nothing, love always, this is the glory of the true Epicurean … We need to have fun and happiness is in pleasure.” Sounds like a life motto I can get behind.
In order to pass along his wealth of knowledge about all the goodies being churned, vinted, fished, and farmed in his homeland, Cadet de Gassicourt penned Cours Gastronomique. As Atlas Obscura points out, some of the points on the map are a little outdated (you wouldn’t want to fish from the Seine in 2020, for instance, thanks to a lot of pollution) but for the most part, you can still see the astonishing breadth of France’s culinary output.
You’ll see some familiar names here in places where the food is named for the region where it was produced. In Brie and Gruyere, cheese rules, for instance. And in Bordeaux, the vineyards still flourish. However, if you’re planning to embark on a culinary tour of France, you should also know that if you want a good duck, you better head to Alencon and that Toulon and Cancale are for oyster lovers.
You probably won’t be able to use this map to guide you through France (best to use your GPS for that), but it does prove that France’s long-standing culinary traditions are so diverse and, in case you had any doubt, worth experiencing for anyone who wants to follow in Charles Louis Cadet de Gassicourt’s gastronomic footsteps.