Over the next fortnight, you will hardly be able to walk through Paris without encountering a russetcoloured cow. Her soft eyes already gaze ruminatively out of posters on buses and Métro stations. Horns shining in the sunlight, she is the sort of animal you would like to invite to a dinner party, albeit she might arrive on a plate. This glorious animal is Limousin, one of 25 cattle breeds represented at the Salon International de l’Agriculture. Others include the Rouge Flamande, the Vosgienne, the Abondance… names that by themselves evoke images of wildflower meadows and sparkling brooks.
‘‘We are the only show to present so many animals,’’ says SIA director Béatrice Collet. ‘‘There will be more than 3,500 this year.’’
“Welcome to the Pigsty” is the title of one section in the Village of the Pig, designed to show porcine France at its best. Children will find lots of piggy games to play, including an interactive board showing which parts of the pig go into various charcuterie products.
A cookery demonstration will show how to prepare lamb, drawn from 38 different breeds. Young shepherds from a dozen regions will take part in a sheep Olympics. The goats, including rare breeds, will be accompanied by an offering of goat’s cheese for visitors to taste. They will be joined by 1,000 dogs, 610 rabbits and 100 horses. Fourfooted winners of the grandly- named Concours Général Agricole des Animaux et des Produits, with 2,100 animals competing, will be paraded in the show ring on the last day.
The SIA is not recommended as a destination for vegetarians. There is a Planet Meat, even a foie gras tasting, but no Planet Vegan. Proper farmers (they account for a quarter of the show’s visitors) focus on the way breeding can improve the quality of their herds and flocks. The rest of the crowd simply enjoy getting close to some of the most beautiful animals of their kind. If you are French, it is a bonus that many of the breeds are natives.
Poultry was absent last year due to bird flu, but returns in triumph in the Podium of the French Farmyard, with 1,500 birds and rabbits on display. Breeds that originated in France (45 in the case of chickens, 19 in the case of rabbits) are to the fore.
You have to hand it to the organisers: they know how to tug the French heartstrings. It is quite seductive. Vive l’entente cordiale. The Salon International de l’Agriculture is at the Porte de Versailles from March 3-11, open daily, 9am-7pm. See www.salon-agriculture.com. Eurostar operates up to 17 daily services from London Waterloo and Ashford International to Paris, with return fares costing from £59. Tickets are available from www.eurostar.com or by calling 08705 186 186.