Anthony the Great is the patron saint of pigs, hence why paintings of him often depict one at his feet. Some say that a pig accompanied him during his hermetic desert life in the 3rd century. Some say he used pork fat to heal skin disease – one of the acts that is linked to his sainthood. Regardless of its reason, all swine-related matters fall under Antoine le Grand’s guardianship. Which is why many charcutiers (pork butchers) in France bear his name.
Case in point: Marseille’s Au Grand Saint-Antoine, a name that confuses some locals since it’s the same as the ship that brought the devastating 1720 plague into the city. The charcutier-traiteur actually began as the Fromagerie de l’Est in 1922, a cheese shop that dabbled in charcuterie and chickens. Its more pig-centric name came in 1972 with the arrival of Yves Bassens, a charcutier from southern France who honed his chops in and around Paris. Now Yves’ son, Emmanuel – a soft-spoken, lean landjäger compared to his garrulous, coppa-like dad – is at the helm of this hub of artisanal food, though Yves still happily mans the counter some days.
Inside the small shop, a glass cabinet displays plump andouillettes (pork and tripe sausages), mouthwatering pâtés, and caillettes, a giant meatball stuffed with pâté de Campagne, spinach and caramelized shallots, and blanketed in caul fat. It’s a smorgasbord of French porcine pleasures, from Strasbourg frankfurters to Corsican figatelli. Each regional recipe has been refined and perfected by the father-son duo, whose enthusiasm and savoir-faire keep loyal customers coming back for more.
Inspired by a recipe he tasted in Biarritz, Emmanuel’s filet mignon – dried pork tenderloin that is the epicurean counterpart to processed beef jerky – swaps the usual herbs de Provence for piment d’Espelette. An apprenticeship near duck-centric Toulouse motivated Yves to make his famous magret de canard, a salted, smoked, and dried duck breast swaddled in fat. Both are piled on platters at the window besides a bevy of sausages, meaty bait for the shoppers passing by.
“We are not resellers, we make everything upstairs,” Emmanuel assures us. He is passionate about using farm-raised, non-GMO meat and avoiding any coloring or preservatives. This aversion to chemicals is what steered him away from his auto-mechanic dreams into the family business. After washing dishes and peeling veggies for his dad during school vacations, Emmanuel headed to Paris, thinking it would be “too complicated” to train with Yves. After a stint at the prestigious Maison Pou, he landed at the neighborhood-y Charcuterie Plecq, a more familial place where he found his own footing in the métier (trade).
In addition to the carnivorous offerings, Au Grand Saint-Antoine is also famous for their stellar aioli, the garlicky mayonnaise that is synonymous with the region, and brandade de morue, a whipped purée of salt cod, olive oil, and milk from nearby Nimes.
Now Yves’ son, Emmanuel – a soft-spoken, lean landjäger compared to his garrulous, coppa-like dad – is at the helm of this hub of artisanal food.
The traiteur, or catering side of the business, puts out dozens of dishes each day, like stuffed tomatoes, braised leeks, and museau de porc, a traditional pig snout and tongue salad tossed with onions and cornichons. Influenced by their location in the multicultural neighborhood of Noailles, the deli also dishes couscous and the addictive, Wednesday-only nems, Vietnamese spring rolls that Yves learned to make from a local Vietnamese woman.
On the corner of the charcutier’s façade, an old black-and-white tile logo sits diagonally above the front door. It depicts two pigs beside a nun – a nod to the 17th-century Couvent de Capucins for which the surrounding streets are named. The convent was taken down in 1791 and now Noailles teems with no-hog halal butchers catering to its Arab and African Muslim population.
Yet, in spite of the quartier’s changing demographics and the temptation of lower-priced supermarkets, Au Grand Saint-Antoine still stands strong. They are committed to their community – as witnessed by Yves role as president of the CIQ, the neighborhood association. And, perhaps more importantly, are passionate about each morsel they serve, pig and all.