France Culinary Travel Diary – La Dordogne (Part 1)

Le Fermier

France Culinary Travel Diary – La Dordogne (Part 1)

The Dordogne will always have a special place in my heart. It’s where I grew up, where my family still lives and where I completed my cooking apprenticeship. It’s also a stunning area of France, with green undulating fields, fairytale woods, and more chateaus than you can poke a baguette at. It’s not a centre by any means for big Industry but it is the gastronomique centre of black Périgord truffles, Foie Gras, and other duck-related goodness in France.

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The ethics surrounding Foie Gras are much debated in the wider world, as the process to create it is the force feeding of corn to ducks or Geese to give them a super fatty liver which is then harvested, sliced and eaten (best raw) for the enjoyment of humans. It’s necessary in these situations to be informed about the realities of production and then make up your own mind about how you feel about it. What I will say is that I would prefer to only buy foie gras from the smaller producers, as these are the ones more likely to use traditional, and more gentle practices and take better care of their animals.

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Speaking from a purely culinary perspective, I love eating foie gras. The texture is almost like a dense mousse and though it’s very rich, the flavour is subtle. You don’t need to eat a lot to be satisfied and so it’s often enjoyed at aperitif on a thin slice of baguette accompanied by a glass of pastis or sweet white wine.

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The Black or Périgord truffle is the second most highly prized truffle after the white truffle. They are found growing among the roots of oak or hazelnut trees and are harvested with the use of sows or specially trained dogs to detect them beneath the soil. They’re an acquired taste and, as they are quite strong and very expensive, are often simply grated into things like omelets or crispy potatoes, or added to Foie Gras for an extra touch of luxury. They are a kind of fungi and have been eaten by man since pre-Roman times.

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The other culinary delight found throughout the region is confit de canard or Duck confit, which makes sense, as there are a lot of duck around thanks to the foie gras. Confit duck is made by salting a duck leg overnight to preserve it, before its rinsed and then slowly poaching it in its own fat. This is then left to cool before it’s put into a glass jar or tin, fat and all, which can last for weeks to months. Duck confit can then be heated and eaten as a main meal of it’s own or used in the famous Cassoulet dish.

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All these amazing products can be found in specialty stores or at the amazing farmers markets, and the best part is that often, the person selling the products is also the person who’s made it.

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My top Dordogne Region picks:

  • Sarlat-la-Caneda – every Wednesday and Saturday: regional specialties, cheese, saucisson and artists wares
  • A La Truffe du Périgord 6 route de Périgueux 24420 Sarliac sur L’Isle (also available at the market)
  • Vidal Foie Gras Pech Mercier 24250 Cénac (also available at the market)
  • Maison Arvouet Avenue des Sycomores 24480 le Buisson de Cadouin

France Culinary Travel Diary – Carcassonne and Toulouse

Le Fermier

France Culinary Travel Diary – Carcassonne and Toulouse

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Though it’s commonplace for French kids to grow up being surrounded by chateau-a-plenty countryside, and villages filled with wooden shutters and terracotta tiled roofs, even I was in awe when I laid eyes on the medieval fortress city of Carcassonne. With a history dating back to Roman times, full of sieges, ruin and renovation, the city walls still hold many secrets.

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What’s not a secret though, is that some of the best Cassoulet in the world can be found here, and because it’s a regional specialty it won’t cost you an arm and a leg either. It’s hard to find somewhere to eat within the fortress walls that isn’t “touristy” but I couldn’t have been happier with my choices, which were a little more tucked away. The first was L’Adelaïde and the second was Le Chaudron. The cassoulet at both ticked all the key boxes: crispy top layer, stewed Lingot beans, confit de canard & saucisse de Toulouse, while Le Chaudron’s version also featured pork to their dish, which was the point of difference for me to declare theirs my favourite. A word to the wise, Cassoulet is incredibly rich and filling so it’s best enjoyed at lunch and in the cooler months.

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After Carcasonne, The Madame and I stayed in Toulouse so we took the opportunity to try another variation of the Cassoulet. I could taste the difference immediately between each towns’ version. My Toulouse Cassoulet from Cave au Cassoulet, was saucier (with a hint of tomato), richer (thanks more duck fat being included in the recipe) and, in my opinion, used more delicious sausages (as I’d expect considering the city of Toulouse is the sausage’s namesake). Though I heartily enjoyed every Cassoulet, my overall favourite remains Le Chaudron’s in Carcasonne. It’s all a matter of personal taste though, so if you’ve found somewhere you think serves better, let me know in the comments below! And, if you can’t head to France anytime soon, but are craving something hearty for a cold winter’s day, check out my recipe and try your hand at it.

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For lunch on the go in Toulouse that’s a little lighter on the stomach and the pocket, you can’t go past Pikanik, a super trendy but equally delicious sandwich and salad bar that was packed by lunch time with students, office workers and tourists alike. For under 10€ you get your choice of salad or baguette, drink and dessert, and it’s even less if you don’t want all 3.

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The true gem of Toulouse though, as a coffee lover, is La Fiancée, a Salon de Café that served coffee to rival the best Melbourne cafés, including perfectly poured lattés! The staff were friendly, the decor justifiably hipster and the location perfect for people watching. A must visit!

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My Carcassonne & Toulouse Picks:

  • L’Adelaïde – 5 Rue Adélaïde de Toulouse 11000 Carcassonne
  • La Chaudron – 6 Rue Saint-Jean 11000 La Cité Carcassonne
  • La Cave au Cassoulet – 54 Rue Peyrolières 31000 Toulouse
  • Pik nik – 6 Bis Rue Roumiguières 31000 Toulouse
  • La Fiancée – 54 Rue Peyrolières 31000 Toulouse

Regional Cooking Part 3: Cassoulet

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The Cassoulet has to be one of my all time favourite French dishes, and, as Winter approaches, the one that I start to crave the most. Its heartiness makes it the perfect remedy to chilly winds and bleak skies and the fact that it freezes so well means you can make a big batch to then have it ready on hand in smaller portions when a cold day calls for it.

The original birthplace of this bean stew is claimed to be the town of Castelnaudary in the south of France, however slight variations are equally famous in the nearby towns of Carcassonne and Toulouse. Regardless of where it originated, it’s agreed that how it came to be, like so many other now-quintessential French dishes, was peasant food, born from the need to make something out of whatever was leftover or cheap.

The Castelnaudry Cassoulet, which is the version I am most familiar with, calls for confit duck, Toulouse (pork) sausage, haricot blanc or lingot beans, which are slow cooked and finished off under the grill so that a tantalising crust forms on top, right before serving.

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Cassoulet

  • 1 kg Haricot beans or lingot beans
  • 300g Kaiserflesh (smoked pork belly), diced
  • 250 g boneless pork shoulder, diced
  • 2 brown onions, picked with 3 cloves each
  • 8 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 bunch of thyme
  • 6 cloves
  • 4 Toulouse sausages
  • 5 Confit duck legs
  • 1 tin crush tomato

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Method:

  1. Place the beans, chopped thyme, bay leaves, smoked pork belly, sliced garlic, cloves, onions and crushed tomato in a deep cooking pot. Cover with hot water and cook on medium heat until the bean becomes slightly soft.
  2. In the mean time, heat up a small frying pan with some olive oil. Season and Quickly seal the pork shoulder and sausages on all sides. Preheat the oven at 180 degrees.
  3. Pour the bean mix in a dip baking tray and place the duck legs, pork shoulder and sausages on top. Bake for 2 hours covered with foil and 1 ½ hours uncovered to crisp up the beans.
  4. Serve with a side of green salad and a Chateau Viranel “Saint-Chinian” available from http://www.airoldifinewines.com.au

Bon Appétit

Le Fermier