6 specialties from Nouvelle-Aquitaines Dordogne

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NOUVELLE-AQUITANE, FRANCE – This region might be best known for its quality Bordeaux wines, but its food is an epicurean’s paradise. To the east of Bordeaux, the department of Dordogne (historically known as Périgord) is best known for its gourmet foods. With more than 2,000 years of history and numerous regionally protected products, there’s a plethora of choices to keep any food lover happy.

Truffles: Native to the Dordogne, the black Périgord truffle is coveted by gourmands worldwide for its complex aroma. From November to March, the expensive delicacy can be purchased for a fair price from Perigueux’s Place St-Louis market and Sarlat’s Saturday market. Connoisseurs of the black diamond are known to visit Sorges, about 19 kilometres northeast of Perigueux, to learn about the fungus at its charming truffle ecomuseum and area truffle farms. Or attend Sarlat’s truffle festival on the third weekend of January.

Foie gras: Despite its controversy, the traditional skill of force-feeding geese and ducks is still practised in Périgord and remains part of the department’s identity. Foie gras, a.k.a., fattened goose or duck liver, is served at most restaurants and found in specialty shops in Sarlat. There’s even a Route de Foie Gras for those wishing to meet the more than 60 producers of the specialty. Look for products labelled “Indication géographique protégée” (IGP) which guarantees the high quality product is strictly from Périgord.

Dordogne strawberries: Delicate, candy-sweet and a treasure of the region, the excellent, large-fleshed Dordogne strawberries are the only strawberries protected by the IGP geographic status. Thanks to ideal temperatures and soils, the region enjoys a long season that lasts from April to October. The main strawberry varieties, including Gariguette and Darselect in the spring, and Mara des Bois and Charlotte in the fall, can be found at most markets.

Traditional macarons: Ursuline nuns brought the traditional macaron to Saint-Émilion in the early 17th century. Although they’re made with the same ingredients — egg whites, sugar and almond flour — as their gussied-up sandwiched Parisian cousins, the rustic confection is chewier, straddling a soft biscotti and almond cake. Many shops sell traditional macarons, but the original recipe (a carefully guarded secret that’s only passed down to the business’ successor) is only available at Les Macarons de Saint-Emilion.

Caviar: A pioneer in river sturgeon breeding in Aquitaine, Domaine Huso in Neuvic sur I’Isle is one of three production sites in the Dordogne that specialize in high-quality caviar. Using methods that create minimal environmental impact, the prestigious products are processed and packaged, then marketed as Caviar de Neuvic. The 7.6-hecatre farm is open to visitors seven days a week. Tours of the facilities (that concludes with a caviar tasting) are available, but pre-booking is required.

Walnuts: Since the Paleolithic era (with evidence found in Cro-Magnon habitations from 17,000 years ago), walnuts have been widely celebrated for its many uses. At area ecomuseums or walnut-oil mills including Moulin de la Veyssière, you’ll find products such as vin de noix, a sweet and rich liqueur made from the green nuts, walnut flour, and walnut oil that’s been pressed from cooked nutmeal. For quality and authenticity, look for appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC)-certified Périgord walnuts.

Credit/Source: Info-Europa.com

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Dordorgne Dreaming

sunflowersThe Dordogne is France’s third largest department, and as well as numerous picturesque villages, it also boasts an incredible 4,000 chateaux, 10% of all the chateaux in France.  Like many French departments, the Dordogne is named after the river that flows through it. Foie gras, duck and goose are regional specialities.

The department has four distinct territories. In the north you will find ‘Green Périgord’ which derives its namedordogne regions from its many green valleys and woodland, covered with trickling streams, and houses the Périgord-Limousin Regional Natural Park. The major towns in the area are Brantome (the “Venice” of the Dordogne), Nontron and Riberac.  In the center of the department is ‘White Périgord’, so called because of its limestone plateaux. It contains the capital of the Dordogne, Périgueux, with attractive shopping centre and marvellous winding old town.  The ‘Purple Périgord’, in the South West of the department, is named from the area’s grapes, which are put to good use in Bergerac, the capital of this wine producing region. The area was of great strategic significance during the hundred years war, and visitors will find a number of fortified villages, castles and chateaux built by both the English and the French here.  In the south-east you’ll find ‘Black Périgord’, with deep valleys and ancient forests. It contains the towns of Saint-Cyprien and Sarlat-la-Caneda, which are both popular with foreign buyers. It houses numerous prehistoric caves with some 30,000 year old cave paintings.

Sarlatsarlat sign

Sarlat is the capital town of the Perigold Noir – a beautiful area of deep valleys and ancient fortresses, in the South East of the Dordogne. The town is a great example of 14th century France as many of its buildings from this era remain in tact. The nearest airport is Bergerac.

 The area surrounding Sarlat has history reaching back as far as ‘Primitive Man.’ Prehistoric caves with paintings for example have been found and the Vezere Valley is now classified by UNESCO as being a world heritage site.

The town center meanwhile began to makes its mark in the 9th century, eventually developing around a Benedictine abbey built in the 12th century. The wars then struck, and the town suffered greatly due to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and England. In 1360, Sarlat became English and remained so until 1370 when the Connétable du Guesclin took over.

From the 14th to the 17th centuries, Sarlat was prosperous and displayed this through its architecture; new and grand dwellings were built as symbols of nobility, using Gothic and Renaissance styles.

Sarlat Activities 

Sights to see include:

  • the medieval sector centred around ‘Place de la Liberté’
  • the curious architecture of the St Bernard tower, also known as the ‘Lanterne des Morts’ (Lantern of the Dead)
  • the St Sacerdos Cathedral
  • ‘Les Jardins du Manoir d’Eyrignac’
  • the house of Etienne de la Boétie, a great philosopher
  • Château of Castelnaud with its medieval warfare museum
  • Château du Temniac, which overlooks Sarlat

There is a twice-weekly market, overflowing with fresh produce, including local specialities such as foie gras, walnuts, black truffles, wild mushrooms and pork delicacies.  Annual fairs and festivals include: ‘Les marches;’ different types of markets throughout the year, ‘Festival des Jeux de Théâtre,’ mid July to the beginning of August, ‘Festival du Cinéma’ every November, which unites big screen stars, directors and producers, as well as students studying film and ‘Les Hivernales;’ exhibitions of local artists every Christmas.  Cycling, horseriding, swimming, canoeing, fishing, hot air balooning, and golf are also popular activities.

Food and Drink 
A typical ‘Perigordin’ meal consists of: ‘tourin blanchi’ a garlic and onion soup mixed with goose fat and eggs and topped with sorrel, foie gras, a ceps or truffle omelette, goose preserved in fat with sarladaises potatoes, a salad with nut oil, cabécou (goats cheese), walnut cake and a bowl of strawberries.

 

Restaurant des Rois – A Royal Evening!

In researching places to celebrate a special anniversary, I discovered the Restaurant des Rois at La Reserve Hotel – a gastronomic restaurant at a 5-star hotel in Beaulieu-sur-Mer.  From the moment of arrival, I felt like I had entered a palace, due to its exquisite & lush decor of silks, velours, and passementerie, as we were Into Bar areaescorted, addressed by name, into the bar area.

Courtyard entrance

Bar

Champagne and amuses-bouche

Champagne was the apero of choice (bien sur!), served with a tiered plate of nibbles.

dining room

We were again escorted and welcomed by name to our table in the beautiful dining room, as I took in the decor and chandeliers.

table and view

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following 5-star etiquette, I was given the menu without prices listed and was immediately provided with a table hook from which to hang my purse. Every attention to detail was made by the staff, from A to Z; the sommelier approached to discuss our three-course (fixed-price) menu choices with regards to the extensive wine list (more like a book) which included a bottle of red wine listed for 13,600 Euros!  On the other end of the price spectrum, we ordered a half-bottle of Montrachet, a light-bodied red wine that was delightful.

As the dining area began to fill with couples and tables of four, I noticed one couple with a little girl of about 5 years of age and wondered how she would cope during the formal dining experience. I was surprised that other than hearing her sweet voice a few times, she was well-behaved throughout the (long-for-a-child) evening.

Again, we were served a few savory appetizers to whet our appetite:

amuses-bouche 2

I ordered a three-course menu, but before that began, we were served the chef special: a small pot of mousse aux petits pois with bacon underneath.

pea & bacon chef special

aparagus and foie gras soup

The menu then began with asparagus and foie gras soup

duck and beets

followed by the main course of duck with beets

I passed on the cheese course, which was served from a special cart

I passed on the cheese course, which was served from a special cart

before dessert

& before the dessert, an entremets of lime, chocolate, and coconut delights

 

la piece de resistance was a lemon souffle and granny smith sorbet

la piece de resistance was a lemon souffle served with granny smith sorbet

candelier and ceiling

After 3 1/2 hrs of excellent food & service, we left the dining room & were escorted through the bar towards the reception area, I felt regally satiated & festively full. Certes – a royal evening to remember!

Cooking for the French vs. French Cooking

OK – it’s no secret that I didn’t inherit the ‘cooking gene’ — when I was growing up, it was mostly plain, broiled steak, spaghetti, pot roast, hamburger, or meatloaf for dinner. However, I did spend summers at my aunt’s house in the country, and boy, could she cook (mostly hearty, meat and potato-type meals); and bake like nobody’s business — I remember how she always had a pie or cake cooling on the kitchen window sill and the wonderful smells in the house! Unfortunately, I was too young to care and resented having to help shuck corn and snap green beans from the huge garden. I wish I had paid more attention!

“Le Réveillon de Noël” (Christmas eve dinner) in France is a really big deal. I had been lucky enough to not have to host it….until, last Christmas — it was MY turn, as the American cooking for the French! I started stressing out months before, trying to figure out what to serve, let alone attempt to cook, for the expected 10-12 French guests. I finally settled on:

    • an entrée (starter) of the classic, grilled foie gras, served on a toasted slice of pain d’épice (spice ginger-type bread)
    • leg of lamb, as the plat principale (which I had never cooked before nor eaten much of), served with potatoes au gratin
    • salade verte (green salad) with vinaigrette, served after the main course
    • cheese tray – not as easy as you might think, in choosing from the over 400 types of French cheeses
    • La Bûche de Noël for dessert (log cake, bought at the local bakery – whew!)
    • Apertifs, wines, water (sparkling and flat but which brands?), and after dinner liquors — more choices to be made with serious contemplation.

Not to mention, the setting and presentation of the table– cutlery arrangement with fork tines up vs. down, centerpiece, decorations, dishes & glass placements, and table etiquette. (amusing video link)

OK, I was ready – with printed recipes and the timing of the courses calculated to a tee! Just when I thought I had it all figured out, a guest threw a wrench in the works by bringing an entrée of sausages and cooked apples — a very nice gesture to help relieve my having-to-cook stress.  Yet, it had to be heated, and by the time my starter was to be also served, the toasted pain d’épice had cooled and turned into a cement foundation under the foie gras.  One of the guests was tapping it with their spoon to confirm that “oui,” it was hard as a brick and impenetrable!  And of course, by now, the entire meal had been cooking longer than planned, and my stress level was off the charts!

When it was all said and done, the rest of the meal went OK, although I was convinced it hadn’t.  No one wanted cheese nor after dinner drinks, though…..maybe they just wanted to get home to their own French food!!

An Extremely ‘bubbly’ Sunday – French food market

I attended the 22nd “Salon des Vignerons” – an annual, wine-maker & wine-tasting fair that also sells regional foods and other specialties. Held at the town’s racetrack, there were more than 260 vendors from all regions of France, Italie, and from Quebec, Canada. I was given a wine glass at the entrance, and as I wandered among the stands and booths, vendors would vivaciously offer and pour free samples of wine or champagne or slice samples of cheeses and hams, as they explained their products’ individual nuances. You could taste absolutely everything that was for sale! I tasted Serano ham, Guyere cheese, olives, chocolate made with olive oil instead of butter, salami, and seaweed, just to name a few!

For example, from the Basque region, I sampled a special aperitif or dessert wine that consisted of white grapes and armagnac (delicious)! From Vertus, I tasted three kinds of wine, each one having progressively plus de corps and plus d’attaque (more full-bodied), with the last one having been in the wine cellar for ten years. At the Gremillet stand, I tasted a champagne that was 70% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay (fruity but not sweet), and another that was 100% chardonnay (not as round in the mouth). The apple cider booth from Quebec was unusual and very good, with a recommendation to use ‘vrai’ ice rather than crushed ice. I love champagne, and so, the booths selling ‘bubbly’ were my favorite — of course, I just had to buy a couple of bottles as souvenirs. What would you have bought?

There was also an impressive wine rack display, with unusual and creative designs of wine decanters and wine fountains. Other displays included the well-known French brand of knives, Laguiole.

All in all, it was a very French and bubbly day, with corks popping and animated discussions about what French people love and take si much pride in — their ‘produits du terroir’ (regional products)!

All photos © 24/7 in France