The characteristics of French cuisine, varying by region, include innovative flavors and elegant presentation. The southern regions feature rich flavors with garlic, herbs, duck and mushrooms, while the northern cuisine consists of country-style dishes with fresh local produce, dairy, sausage and beer.
The haute cuisine of France has intricate presentation and precise technique. In contrast, the nouvelle cuisine, which came into style after 1970, features lighter dishes with fewer ingredients. Many professional chefs consider the mastery of French cuisine to be the pinnacle achievement in the culinary arts.
In the metropolitan areas of France, citizens eat a wide variety of regional dishes, although older citizens tend to favor the regions of their origin. Some common produce in France includes berries, leeks, mushrooms, apples and squash. A variety of artisan cheeses and wines are abundant in all regions of France, as are fresh baguettes, croissants, yogurt and strong coffee.
The sophistication of French cuisine is due to the influence of Italy. Before the 15th century, French cuisine was rustic and used seasonings to disguise the taste of spoiled food. In the mid-15th century, with the arrival of Catherine of Medici, the cuisine of the French court became more elaborate in presentation and utilized more creative combinations of ingredients from other cultures.