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 – First stop: Aix-en-Provence

Le Fermier

France Culinary Travel Diary – First stop: Aix-en-Provence

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First stop is the medieval town of Aix-en-Provence, in France’s South, slightly North of Marseille. It’s only April so the town is still a little sleeply, coming out of its winter hiatus, prepping for the tsunami of tourists that will flood Provence during the summer months.

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The main drag, Cours Mirabeau, is 100% geared for these visitors, with Paris-style bistrots and Irish pubs overlooking the fountains and designer stores. They’re great for aperitif and people watching and our favourite was Bar Le Grillon. But, it’s the back streets that were far more interesting food wise and also where the Saturday markets are held. This is what I missed most about France and Aix did not disappoint!

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It was a slightly drizzly morning when the Madame and I stepped onto the sandstone pavement, bright eyed at 7am thanks to some residual jetlag. We followed the locals as they weaved their way through narrow alleys and lanes, until we were warmly greeted by stalls upon stalls of the freshest and brightest looking vegetables, meats, fruits and flowers, protected from the weather by a canopy of elm trees.

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I bought a fresh punnet of strawberries, a saucisson de Taureau and some Herbes de Provence, but if I’d had a little kitchen I would have gladly bought some Tomates de Marmande which were vibrant red and as big as two fists, fresh oysters and Homard Bretons (lobster) and about as much cheese as my nose could handle. The Madame on the other hand, would have happily spent all our Euros on bunches of peonies, despite not having anywhere to put them but in the back seat of our hire car…

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It was also on the corner of this market square where I discovered a little coffee shop that made a mean short black but also sold coffee beans, which they ground fresh to order, from around the world, including Australia! The Madame’s latté left her wanting as it looked more like a ‘froth-a-cino’ on steroids but neither of us could fault the quality of the shot.

 

I noticed a huge Italian influence (or is that tourist influence, not sure which?!) food-wise with every second restaurant seemingly a pizzeria. We found a great one though, simply called “Le Pizza”, where the ingredients were super fresh, top quality and well priced.

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The culinary specialty of Provence is the Callison, a small almond biscuit that is made in many flavours, but always almond shaped. They aren’t cheap, but they are delicious and there are two famous stores to buy them at. Le Calisson du roi René and patisserie Béchard.

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Next stop is Montpellier by way of Marseille. If you have any must visit places, I’d love you to share them with me!

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My Aix-en-Provence Picks:

  • Café Le Grillon – 49 Cours Mirabeau 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Le Brûlerie – 1 Place Richelme 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France
  • La Pizza – 3 rue Aude 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Farmers & Flowers Markets – Place de l’Hotel de Ville 13100 Aix-en-Provence, France
  • Callisons de Roy René – 13 rue Gaston de Saporta 13100 Aix-en-Provence
  • Pâtisserie Béchard 12 Cours Mirabeau 13100 Aix-en-provence