Midi Pyrenees is a beautiful region of France, located southwest of the country. It is full of picturesque towns. Like those around the area of Toulouse, whose temperate climate and sweet limestone soils cultivate some of the most irresistible and delicious gastronomic delights. Aromatic black and white truffles. Succulent canard, savory duck confit. Sweet prunes, fragrant Armagnac. Fresh vegetables, mouthwatering cheese, and fabulous red wines. And what I love most about this area is that for the last 400 years, farmers have eaten like kings. So I would like to share some culinary tips. On what you cannot miss in this wonderful region. A Culinary Escape to the French Pyrenees
One of the most amazing things about France is that even the smallest towns have large markets. In the market town of Cahors you can find delicious regional products. Such as walnuts, artisanal charcuterie, duck, wild boar, cheeses and bread. And the best of all in this particular area is that you can buy these delicious products in the market and create your own picnic. You can go to a bar next door with your purchase. And grab a beer. Some cheese, some salami, a beer et Voila!
One of the most famous classic French desserts was invented in this region. Known as Tarte Tatin. It was invented by the Tatin sisters. Two great local cooks who lived about 160 kilometers from Toulouse in the 1880s. There are a few stories about how it came to be. One story goes that one day one of the sisters accidentally left some apples cooking in butter and sugar too long. Since no good food should go to waste. She tried to rescue the dish by covering the burnt apples with pastry dough and baking it. Then, to further hide the evidence, the sisters served the tart upside down.
However, much to everyone’s surprise, it was a huge success. And thus was born the Tarte Tatin. Ironically, probably half of the errors that occur in the kitchen usually become a success. You can serve this classic with sweet prunes and Armagnac ice cream, which is abound in the area. So hats off to the Tatin sisters and the delicious mistake they made decades ago.
In March the ban opens to collect the famous truffles of Perigord. Another classic of the region. The grandfather of a friend of ours still uses the traditional method of utilizing a pig to search for this prized truffle. Which has an acute sense of smell. However, in order to dissuade the pig from eating the truffles, he rewards him with sweet apples instead. He must monitor closely however because at any moment the pig can eat a truffle. This is an exclusive product that costs hundreds of euros. If the grandfather is lucky his truffle sniffing pig can earn him a year’s salary in two months.
Truffles are mysterious. Unusual, grow underground amid the roots of trees. And cost so much money. It’s funny that you have to trust a grumpy pig to find them. With truffles what I like most is an omelette. A delicious and simple recipe. This includes a pinch of salt, white pepper, 3 fresh medium eggs softly beaten, olive oil and thinly sliced truffles. You can enjoy it with a fresh piece of bread and a good red wine. Et Bon appétit!
In the Perigord area, there is a rather famous local bread made with a special traditional technique. It is also cooked in a historic oven by a group of men who care for its tradition. It is what we know as sourdough bread. Which rises slowly in the oven, so the crust is wonderful. Since the crust retains moisture, it stays fresh for 4 to 5 days. After which the stale bread can still be used in countless recipes. The bread has a familiar sweet smell of beer. And you can see they made it with lots of love, attention and time. This traditional bread is a real pleasure.
In France there are many people who gather together to care for culinary traditions. The French call them Confreres and they are culinary fraternities. Dating back to medieval times, from the SXII. These brotherhoods basically entail a group of like-minded people who admire the same product. And their goal is to protect the product and preserve the tradition in their manufacture.
Another product very well preserved with a D.O. is the famous Roquefort cheese. And they use it to prepare a delicious rustic salad. Bare in mind, this is no ordinary salad. This is a typical French salad. With Lacan (smoked bacon), croutons (thick pieces of bread), nuts. A heaping tablespoon of Dijon mustard for the dressing, red wine vinegar and ciboulete (chives). Canons of the area and of course, the local Roquefort cheese. Legend has it that the cheese was discovered when a young boy, who upon seeing a beautiful girl in the distance, hid his cheese in a nearby cave to meet her. Upon his return months later, the mold (Penicillium Roquefort) had transformed his plain cheese into Roquefort. Delicious and creamy.
No doubt this area is steeped in tradition. While people cook everything with local products. Braised lamb, terrines, duck sausage and pork. Cabbage, potatoes, duck neck, squash and the classic Confit de Canard (duck cofit) are very typical of this area. Confit means to simmer fat, which historically french people do it to preserve meat. Fat slows the spoiling of food by keeping oxygen away. French-fat meat stored for many months is surprisingly light and crispy when finally cooked in the oven.
Equally surprising is that in this part of France, people are living longer. The French call it “The French Paradox”. No one can understand how the locals can eat so much cheese, duck confit and lots of saturated fats, but also have a low rate of heart disease. People here live long and happy lives. No doubt we have much to learn from them.
Another traditional activity is wild boar hunting in the forest. The locals have always eaten wild boar. It is an animal well known in this area but also greatly feared. A large female will not hesitate to attack if she sees that their young are in danger. A medium boar can eat up to 40 people. After the kill, with the help of a group of hunting dogs, they make a final tribute. By putting food in its mouth and playing the sound of an old trumpet as a sign of respect. This hunting ritual is very traditional in France.
Townsmen, retired men, and groups of friends regularly gather to hunt animals. And they don’t do it for money – they cook it for themselves or give it away. All of this it may seem very medieval or old school. But like this, friends and family meet up, hunt, drink, cook and keep warm. Connect and feel satisfied.
It’s undenying that the locals of the French Pyrenees, like other parts of France, are still very attached to their traditions. These brotherhoods and all these people help preserve a part of our culture. They preserve history and gastronomic delights with their enduring concern and love for their land and their traditions. It’s absolutely beautiful. So, to the proud and unwavering people of this region we say merci beaucoup!