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

What Produce Is in Season in Winter

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Which fruits and Vegetables are in season in Winter?

Well winter is upon us once again, so it’s now time for slow cook roasts, warming soups, and hearty stews.

I believe in buying what’s in season and what’s organic wherever possible. Buying seasonal produce is a great way to support your local farmers and farmer’s markets. In season, local fruit and vegetables are often more nutritious and tasty simply because there’s less chance they’ve been in cold storage for a long period of time which can affect these things.  Also, having grown up helping on my Uncle’s farm in France, I find there’s something truly soul-satisfying about eating something that’s fresh from the earth!

Winter vegetables are more varied than people think (check out the full list at the end of this post). My favourite winter crops for cooking are pumpkins, leeks and potatoes, which are perfect for soup making as well as classic roasting, cabbages, silverbeet, and fennel, which are beautiful braised, and your classic root vegetables like parsnips, turnips and carrots which are the perfect complements to any winter oven roast. Roasted carrot and pumpkin also make for a delicious winter salad when paired with feta, spinach or rocket leaves, some toasted pine nuts and lemon zest.

Let’s not forget the winter fruits available on farmers market stalls! Lemons are common year round, but are often at their best in the colder months. They are perfect to add zest to everything from meat dishes and desserts to something as simple a glass of water. Another member of the citrus family is orange and one of my favourite winter salads is fresh orange segments and shaved raw fennel with just a splash of apple cider vinegar and olive oil to dress.

Look out for seasonal, ripe fruits and veggies at your next local farmers market (or supermarket) and be sure to pick ones that are bright in colour, firm to touch and plump.

To see my favourite winter harvests brought to life, check out my Winter Harvest Videos on my You Tube Channel. The first one features a classic French winter dish using the humble potato.

Bon Appétit!