France Culinary Travel Diary – St Emilion & Bordeaux

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France Culinary Travel Diary – St Emilion & Bordeaux

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No culinary sojourn to France would be complete without sampling (read over-indulging in) the wonderful wines of France. For me, the varieties of the Bordeaux region are a particular favourite with their oldest red grape variety being Cabernet-Sauvignon, it gives you very tannic red wines with aromas of ripe black currant, green pepper or even liquorice and their white grape varieties Sémillion, it gives you an elegant wine with aromas of toasted almonds, acacia flowers and cinnamon or their Sauvignon varieties which is rich in sugar and produce amazing liquoreux wines in Sauternes or dry perfumed whites wines with aromas of rosewood, spices and fennel in Entre-deux-Mers.

Some of the most outstanding wine Chateaus in the country are situated on the rolling hills of Bordeaux and most have cellar doors which offer wine tastings and retail sales.

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Also sitting pretty among the vineyards is the quaint medieval town of St. Emilion. This place ticks the boxes for all kinds of tourists, from history buffs (there are the ruins of a Church destroyed in the 100 years war), to foodies (the stunning Hostellerie de Plaisance restaurant is perched at the top of the town with a fabulous view) and naturally, wine lovers!

With so many options, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with choice so I recommend visiting one of the great cellar doors in St. Emilion which carry an exemplary edit of everything the region’s châteaus have to offer. A good friend from St Emilion Cellar Door took me through his picks for my palette and thankfully they can also ship your wine home for you, so I could buy as much as I wanted without having to lug around bottles for the rest the trip!

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The Madame and I only had one short day in Bordeaux and it turned out to be such a stunning one that the friend with whom we were staying insisted we head to the pacific coast for some beach time. Lunchtime on a beach day in Australia normally means some fish and chips, or maybe a picnic lunch, but this is France and “le midi” is a sacred time. On the way to the coast, and situated about an hours drive from Bordeaux, is Cap-Ferret, a hub for holidaymakers, and trendy mover and shakers in the summer months. For those who live in Victoria, this place has a similar vibe to Lorne, on the Great Ocean Road, so Cap-Ferret instantly made us feel at home. We sat down to our host’s favourite lunch spot L’Escale, which sits right on the beach overlooking the Oyster Fields out in the bay. Even though it was only Spring, the sunshine had brought us Frenchies out of the woodworks so there was a 30 minute wait to get a table. Finally, with an icy glass of Rosé in hand, and some of the freshest, most delicious seafood I’ve tasted on my plate, I couldn’t help wondering how I’ll ever be able to go back to a packed-lunch on Aussie beach days ever again.

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For dinner in the city of Bordeaux itself, there was only one place on my list, and, knowing my love for the great chef, Rick Stein, you can probably guess where that was – La Tupina. Yes, it’s touristy, and yes, it probably isn’t what it was back in the Rick Stein’s French Food Odyssey days, but I’m glad that I ticked it off my list. Naturally, the non-negotiable menu item was the potatoes cooked in duck fat, which they cook over a fire in the giant fireplace that fills the restaurant entry. I am slightly disappointed to report that while they were tasty enough, they certainly weren’t the best potatoes cooked in duck fat I’d ever eaten and I enjoyed other items from the menu much more.

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What it does say is that while the old institutions still have their place, don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path when finding somewhere to eat on holidays – seek out local recommendations for places where the locals eat!

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My St Emilion & Bordeaux picks:

  • St Emilion Cellar Door 4 place de L’ Eglise Monolithe, 33330 Saint Emilion
  • L”Escale Restaurant: Jetée, 2 Avenue de l’ocean Cap Ferret, 33970 Lège-Cap-Ferret
  • La Tupina : 6 Rue Porte de la Monnaie, 33800 Bordeaux

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