Universal and International Exhibition of Paris 1900

The balance sheet of a century

April 15, 1900-November 12, 1900


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Agriculture and Food

Agriculture and Food at the Exhibition Paris 1900

As we have seen, while going through the galleries of the Champ-de-Mars, the immense hall of the former Galerie des Machines of 1889 was this time devoted to Agriculture and Food, with the exception of the central part which was transformed into the Salle des Fêtes. The whole part of the Gallery to the west of the latter was reserved for the foreign sections, while the eastern part was occupied by the French sections.

In order to present the products of our national soil, the idea was to build a veritable city of chalets, pavilions and buildings of all kinds, reproducing the types of rural architecture of our various provinces, under the immense glass vault of the Gallery. These buildings, necessarily of limited dimensions, produce in this immense vessel a little the effect of a gigantic toy box from Nuremberg, but the whole is no less picturesque. In the very centre of the Gallery, these rustic buildings frame the square of a village, or rather of a town, for if there is there the ancient mill, making toc toc with the passage of water under its worm-eaten gates, the press of the old days, and the farming implements which seem to take us back to the time of the Romans, we can also see the bourgeois shop of M. We also see the bourgeois shop of M. l'épieier-droguiste and his flowered earthenware pots, and his more or less mysterious jars, since some of them could contain delicious jujube candies, and others the atrocious aloe, his traditional molasses barrel, hope of the boys in breach of the school banns...

A world of reflections comes to the visitor's mind when contemplating the collections, so simple, so modest, so insignificant in appearance, gathered in this part of the Exhibition. What could be interesting about old ploughs, such as those on display at the retrospective exhibition of the Ministry of Agriculture? It must be said, however, that it was not entirely wrong to bring them together in this place, for they have their public from morning to night, and a public that does not spare its cheers. Thousands of farmers from all over the world pass through here, people who have the earth in their blood, and if the shapes of the ploughshares and the proportions of the arms of these primitive instruments mean nothing to city dwellers, country people are immediately attracted. They compare the tools of their fathers, tools that are already not so far away from them, with the sophisticated tools they have today, and they cannot help thinking, in their somewhat routine conception of life, that with courage, good arms, and a good eye, they could still do good work.

It is the history of humanity that is written there, in this monumental press where groups of grape-pickers used to climb, singing the new wine at the top of their voices, the blood of the vine flowing into the vats; they no longer want the rest of this cumbersome assembly of pulleys, and they are looking for something more powerful and more convenient to handle under a smaller volume.

Modern industry provides it, but often at what price! (It is not without a heavy sigh that the delicate, whose refined taste cannot endure without injury the manufactured products that come out of today's factories by the thousands, stop in front of the thatched cottage where the kitchen utensils and the furniture of the common room of yesteryear have been brought together. The cottage itself is charming, with its stone oven, its thatched roof and its large windows through which one can dive into the interior where the most vulgar and least expensive objects are amassed: household utensils!

A vast sideboard, in the beautiful Louis XV style, which occupies one side of the room, shows us curious samples placed here and there, laid out for the visitor to examine at leisure: treasures of earthenware, carved wood, yellow copper and pewter.

On the walls, on the shelves, on the edge of the fireplace, on the tables, on the floor, a spinning wheel all the more exquisite because it is more ordinary; it is indeed the country spinning wheel near which one looks for the housewife spinning the hemp intended for the solid linen shirts, or the hard bed sheets which would perhaps frighten us now; The classic copper candlestick, such as one still finds numerous samples in the farms of Brittany; the lamp, which is rarer; the ember pot, a rustic ashtray where pipes were lit in the evening; the matchbox, the grater, the yellow copper colander; the salt and spice boxes made of carved wood, as well as the large grater, the coffee grinder, so graceful, mounted on its four feet of such a pretty design.

Special mention should be made of the moulds: fish, shellfish, crowns; they come in all sizes and models, and are so carefully embossed that they seem to be the decisive mark of a time when household care, when one had the leisure to do so, held the place that is rightfully theirs: how good the pastries, sweet dishes, and desserts must have seemed, presented in this way!

The fireplace is a whole world, with its hearth lined with a marvellous cast-iron plate and cross-shaped racks, suitable for holding the many and varied containers in which the doctored mixtures were simmered, its pans, its oven, the roasting pan, the drip pan, its pots of all sizes, its tripods, its pans and the copper ash shovel as well as the coal bucket, and the large water pot from which one drew with a ladle, and the fountain and the wrought-iron grills, representing fleur-de-lis, various ornaments, initials, and the doughnut moulds; there would be more to describe. ...

The dining room, no less curious, shows us the mée, the piece of furniture where the bread was kneaded, the wooden pantry, a carved sideboard, a delicious red copper fountain, the dresser loaded with pleasures, plates, jugs, and bowls in wrought pewter. And the table served! either earthenware dishes from Rouen, Sarreguemines or Nevers. No, decidedly, our modern industry will not leave anything so graceful, so charming.

Our wines of France have, of course, a large place in this exhibition of the products of our agriculture. The Gironde, the Champagne, the Burgundy, are magnificently represented; the Charentes, the Haute-Garonne, Saumur and the other centres of production, all of which are struggling during the hard work of winemaking, have all been called to the fore, and each of these groups makes a good showing.

And first of all the Gironde in the centre of the viticulture section, a grandiose and charming installation, a vast iron rotunda, four entrances superbly adorned with grapevines and grapevines on red drapery trellises, four panoramas where the river, its tributaries and streams run, where towns, villages and châteaux rise up in the middle of the greenery, in the middle of the vines. Here Bordeaux, there the Bordelais, Médoc, Bazadais. In front of the panoramas, heaps or rather rows and rows of bottles with tempting labels, but a sign warns us that they are absolutely empty. One fears the alteration of the wine or thieves. Everyone knows these labels: Barsac, Preignac, Bommes, Sauternes, Château-Yquem, Saint-Estèphe, Saint-Julien, Saint-Emilion, etc., the Graves, the Médocs.

Surprisingly, these wines, generally known as Bordeaux wines, so fortifying because of their richness in iron tartrate, so renowned for their taste and bouquet, were hardly appreciated in France until the last century. Burgundy thought it had no rival but Champagne. However, they were known in the northern countries; as early as 1372, Froissard saw arriving in the Garonne "all of a fleet, well over two hundred sails and ships of merchants who came to the wines".

The Champagne region is just a stone's throw from the Gironde. A palace, Louis XV style, where we enter through an archway decorated with sculptures, "winegrowers and winewomen at harvest time"; we are in a cellar, a chalk pit, as they say in the Reims region of France, of any excavation from which chalk has been extracted. A charming display case depicts in relief the Champagne wine-growing army, wine-growers and wine-makers one decimetre high, and all these people work hard, whatever the season: in winter, planting of the vines, low vines; in spring, digging up the soil, pruning of the vine, provignage, fichage, that is to say, the laying of the stakes; in summer, weeding, tying, sulphating; in autumn, the grape harvest.

On the first floor, the preparation of the wine continues in another showcase: weighing of the grapes, sorting and peeling of the bunches on racks, pressing, vatting, distillation. The wine is put into huge barrels, then it is racked, "worked", because the nature of the soil and the choice of grape varieties do not give Champagne all its qualities, its delicacy, its spirit, its sudden fervour: art is a big part of it.

From the pigeonhole, one passes into a vaulted cellar where workers in flesh and blood complete the making of the sparkling wine: the stirring which brings to the neck of the bottle the deposit which has formed in the liquid, the disgorging by which it is expelled, the dosage which gives the wine the degree of sweetness demanded by the taste of the consumers of this or that country. In another cellar, the bottles are labelled, packed, etc.

The most charming view of the City of Wine can be had from the VIP lounge on the first floor. You can taste, if you like; you learn that the production from 1895 to 1899 was 400,000 hectolitres.

And yet the country of true sparkling and non-sparkling Champagne is very small: the hillsides of the Marne around Epernay, the Avize hillsides which include the Vertus vineyards, and the eastern slope of the "Montagne de Reims" with Verzy and Sillery.

The best crus are those of Aï, Sillery, Mareuil, Hautvilliers, Dizy, Epernay and Pierry.

A glance at the pretty diorama of Aï, in a small room adjoining the salon d'honneur, and we take the road to Burgundy.

Burgundy is legitimately proud of its pavilion, which is made up of small but charming parts, the Palais des États de Dijon, the cloister of Semur, a real architectural jewel, the hospital of Beaune, which belongs to Flemish art, and a house of Cluny (12th century), surmounted by the famous jacquemard that Duke Philippe le Hardi once took from Courtrai.

In this enclosure of great memories, the exhibition of all the wines of the region, of this famous Côte-d'Or known throughout the world by its delicious products, "wines as precious as liquid gold", has been repeated a hundred times. This coast with its whitish slopes begins south of Dijon and, following it, we greet in turn Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolles, Clos Vougeot, Nuits, Romance, Pouilly, Beaune, Pomard, Volnay, Meursault. Let us not forget in the great wines of Burgundy neither Mâcon, nor the Chablis, which belong to the district of Auxerre, nor the Thorins south of Mâcon, i.e. the Romanèche and the Moulin-à-Vent.

The Charentes have their historic monuments in the City of Wine: the bell tower of Cognac and an old city gate leading to an old abbey. A Renaissance pavilion houses the sparkling wines of Saumur. Toulouse has a lovely fragment of a cloister topped by a brick bell tower. Carcassonne shows us its Narbonnaise gate, Montpellier the Pines tower, Nîmes the Augustus gate.

We could continue this walk in each of the cities of the South and the West, and even throughout France, because Normandy also has its great vintage which is cider, the North its beer, Cognac its brandy.

From wine, we move on to oil, grains, and then milk, which plays such a lasting role in the diet and whose entire history is contained in a large pavilion and small cottages for the dairy, the butter factory, the cheese factory, and, next to it, all around it, the tools, the utensils, the machines.

The large pavilion, with its facade partly covered in earthenware with various ornaments, charming but bizarre figures, ox and cow heads, milk and cream pots, flowers and garlands, rises to the top of the gallery, and has two recessed corners where the Perrette of the good La Fontaine is grouped together, almost life-size, on the one hand, in the turmoil of her broken jug, and, on the other, Master Raven, his tree, his cheese and his fox. It has two floors linked by a conveyor belt. Let's enjoy it upstairs, or enjoy it downstairs, and let's meditate... as we meditate, as we meditate in front of all the good and excellent things that man's work gives us.

Milk, man's work? Yes, milk, a gift from Providence, a gift from nature, is also due to man. How many thousands of workers, in certain seasons of the year, to maintain these fertile meadows, natural meadows, artificial meadows, fat and fresh pastures, in such or such regions of our France, in such or such countries of the world! The whole of the North, at home, Brittany and Normandy, the Vosges and the Alps, the valleys of the Loire and the Saône, and so many other places; outside our own country, England and Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, etc. How much care these cows, sheep and goats require to give us milk in abundance! It must be acknowledged that farmers, both large and small, all over the world, treat them as human individuals, as it were, and as a family close to their own. Those who have the happiness of a farm, the joy of a field with a cow, do not break their morning bread unless everything in the barn is in order, in peace, in safety.

From such and such a point one ships in large quantities to the city, on such and such a point there is a butter factory, a cheese factory. The father of the family is the first to be ready, his cart, his horse, his mule or his donkey, he goes to collect milk from farm to farm. The young girls and boys are in the game; ahead of the angelus, they all carry on their heads and backs milk and cream containers to a market that is often very far away.

How much work, how much fatigue, has this cup of milk cost us, which we have so often contemplated with cold indifference, which we have drunk without thanking either God or man!

At the Exhibition we find numerous specimens of the various breeds of cattle, dairy cows represented in relief or by photography: the Flemish breed with a tall, red-brown coat; the Norman breed from Bessin and Cotentin; the Breton breed, small in size, with a black and white coat; the Comtoise breed, the Montbeliarde breed; the Aubrac breed, the Auvergnate breed, throughout the Massif Central. It would be unfair not to mention the famous Durham breed, all English but of which we have many representatives, and the cows of the canton of Schwitz, which inhabit our slopes of the Jura.

The milk, most often sent from our provincial countryside, arrives in Paris and the big cities in a perfect state of preservation, thanks to the care taken at the place of origin, to pasteurisation, to the excellence of the containers and to the speed of transport.

One admires and sees working the City of milk, in the section of the Food, these machines with pasteurization and sterilization, very complicated steam machines; One sees steam apparatuses [turn to condense, to concentrate the milk, i.e. to reduce it to the state of thick, solid cream, and to facilitate thus the transport and the conservation of it. When one of these machines comes out, 100 litres of milk are no more than about 30 litres of cream. We still see automatic milk pumps to fill bottles, and multitudes of utensils made of tinned steel sheet, pots of all sizes and shapes, tubs, jars, vases, boxes.

It's all about butter: the skimmers skim before the public's eyes, and it's as interesting as it is ingenious. After a short period of work, the cream and milk are separated. There are skimmers of different systems and sizes, for large and small farms. A skimmer that processes 100 litres of milk per hour, 200 litres, 300 litres, can be operated by a woman. It's a crank to turn.

In the cream, the butter particles are simply grouped together without forming a body. They are isolated by a layer of moisture from the whey. The moisture is removed and the butter particles are brought together by repeated beating with a churn.

Everyone knows the churn in its original simplicity. There are skilful churns at the exhibition of the milk, and of all shapes, vertical and horizontal churns.

The butter is then kneaded, i.e. washed and stirred in a new device, the mixer; then kneaded, then divided into lumps of various sizes: it is done. Let us at least know that 25 litres of milk give about one kilogram of butter, and that the production requires a constant temperature of 15 to 17 degrees.

The Charentes and Poitou Cooperative Dairy makes butter just a stone's throw from the tasting room. Gournay-en-Bray, Isigny, Rennes, and other manufacturing centres display their products in elegant windows on the first floor.
The cheese dairies of Franche-Comté, Ain and Savoie produce their Gruyère cheese on the ground floor, explaining in detail, and showing us the vast boilers, the various utensils necessary for its production.
Delightful photographs take us to the mountainous sites, to the immense pastures shaded by fir trees, where the Gruyère industry is in full swing. And there, in the morning and evening, the milk arrives in the markaireries, carried by the animals or transported by hand, on their backs, with a white wooden ball, by the women and men of the country. The milk is weighed in the cool room, skimmed or not skimmed, depending on whether you want to make fat cheese or lean cheese. The cheese maker sets to work. He shakes his 250 litres of milk in a huge boiler with a long-handled bowl coated with rennet. The curd forms: he cuts it lengthwise and widthwise, he divides it meticulously, putting the boiler back on the fire from time to time.
It is now a mush that he stirs constantly until it takes on a yellowish hue. The cheese is cooked, placed in a first mould, and the next day in a smaller one. In the cellar the cheese is rubbed with salt every day for three weeks. In Switzerland it is said to be kept in the cellar for a whole year.

Today, with the help of steam engines, more than a thousand litres of milk are processed into Gruyère cheese at a time.

Brie has a pretty farmhouse in relief, on the first floor, a dairy, a cheese factory.

Like the firm cheeses, pressed and cooked, Gruyère, Mont-dore, etc., or simply pressed, Roquefort, Sassenage, Cantal, etc., the soft ripened cheeses, Brie, Camemberg, Mont-d'Or, Géromé, Marolle, etc., all sent plans, engravings, drawings, and photographs to the Exhibition, showing the exterior and interior views of their respective establishments. Of particular note are the dryers at Camemberg, which produce 6,000 cheeses a day.

Roquefort is, at the Exhibition, next to Brie, under a large window, a vast plan in relief: the village on its plateau, at the foot of the Combalou escarpments, dominating the valley of the Soulsou, a sub-tributary of the Tarn; below the village and above the valley, the long limestone mass, the 300-metre cavern, inhabited in the age of polished stone, which became a cheese cellar from the eleventh century onwards, divided endlessly by bitter rocks into long natural corridors that constantly suck in fresh air and moisture.

Roquefort cheese is made from the milk of the famous Larzac breed of sheep, the world's first milk producers. The milk arrives at the cheese dairies, is skimmed and heated to concentrate it. It cools slowly, and the milk from the next milking is added without skimming or heating it. One spoonful of rennet per 50 litres of milk is thrown into the mixture, and that is all. The whey is extracted. The curd is placed in glazed earthenware moulds, pierced with lions, in successive layers on which a pinch of mouldy bread is sprinkled. The cheese is then dried at a gentle heat and taken to the cellars where it acquires those qualities which distinguish it from other dairy products. In the cellars the cheese is dirtied, a few days later it is scraped, and this process continues for a fortnight. It is covered with a white down, a blue down, a red down, and the mould usually continues inside. A month and a half in the cellar and it is delivered to the trade. A longer stay in the cellars prevents the use of mouldy bread.

Chocolate has no claim to be a product of our soil, but we could not forget that it is our industry that has almost a monopoly on this precious food preparation, so we gave it a good place in the French Food section. The Menier company, which is undoubtedly the largest chocolate factory in the world, has set up its exhibition in a gigantic reproduction of the ship Le Triomphant, occupying in width and height the entire eastern front of the gallery. You can see the whole front and a good part of the ship with its rigging, its mast, its decks and its lookouts; the stern is set into the wall. It is sailing. The sea is therefore also represented here with enormous azure green waves. But these waves open up before us as they did before the Hebrews at the Red Sea. We do not witness the miracle, it is accomplished, and we can enter the ship through the hold.

A little hesitation perhaps and a great astonishment kept us outside for a long time, and besides, large and rich marble slabs, on each side of the bow, bear inscriptions which are of the greatest interest: "The ship of the king, the Triumphant, flying the flag of the marshal of Entrées, victorious at Tabago, returned to Brest with the squadron, on October 10, 1679, after having established French trade in the Antilles. He brought back to King Louis XIV, among many presents, chocolate prepared with cocoa from the first plantations in Martinique.

Stairs lead the crowd to a salon set into the sides of the ship where fountains pour streams of the aromatic beverage. The crowd is also packed to admire the dioramas installed under the keel of the ship and representing the workshops of the great Menier chocolate factory, workshops of an interminable length and a perfect illusion, filled with workers, either painted or alive.

The most delicate operation is carried out before our eyes, the roasting, over a gentle fire, in cylindrical burners fitted with a stirrer inside, 50 to 55 revolutions per minute: the reddish-brown colour of the beans and their sound, the beans clashing ceaselessly, announce that the drying process has reached the desired degree.

The grinding is done in a second workshop, which is as large, as crowded and as lively as the first one; it is done with the help of grinding stones and two or three granite cylinders driven by a steam engine. The mixture with the sugar is then made in a mixing machine, a large cast iron bowl: as much paste, as much sacre. Another trituration, and the chocolate is made. Chocolate is simply a mixture of cocoa and sugar, to which a little vanilla is usually added. The paste is soft and unctuous, because the fatty part of the almonds, the cocoa butter, has not been removed. This paste is poured into moulds, plates of twenty moulds, and each plate is placed on a table known as a tapping machine, which is moved back and forth to compact the chocolate and distribute it evenly in the moulds.

The packaging workshop is staffed only by women, who work with the utmost dedication.

Louis XIV knew chocolate before the gifts sent from the West Indies. Maria Theresa had brought it to France. At first, this food remained at court. The great lords then made use of it. It was said to be good for the stomach. You are not well," wrote Mme de Sévigné to her daughter, "chocolate will make you well. But you don't have a chocolate maker. I thought about it a thousand times. How will you do it? The Mexicans didn't put so much effort into it. They roasted the almonds in a sort of frying pan, boiled them with cornmeal and hot pepper, and drank this drink of Paradise with delight at any time of the night or day, even in church, even at mass.

©Louis Rousselet - L'Exposition Universelle de 1900