In France there are many wine and cheese trails but if you look a little more carefully there are some lesser known food themed trails that are worth investigating. Here are five of my favourites.
The three cities of Bordeaux, Bayonne and Biarritz in Aquitaine are ideal cities for the chocoholic. Cocoa from the New World was imported into France at Bordeaux. The aristocracy frequented Biarritz and brought their luxury drink of chocolate with them. The Jews were kicked out of Spain and came to Bayonne with their chocolate making skills. Now the three cities make a “chocolate triangle”. Bordeaux has the greatest concentration of high quality chocolatiers; the three main ones are Cadiot Badie, Saunion and Darricau. For luxury hot chocolate and a chocolate museum visit Biarritz and for a stroll among the chocolate shops and cafes serving the frothy chocolate drink popular with the general population visit rue Pont Neuf in Bayonne.
Around the town of St George des Nuits famous for its rich Burgundy wines you can also follow the blackcurrant trail. Among vineyards are acres of bushes on which grow the little perle noir (black pearls). The most famous product is the blackcurrant liqueur called creme de la cassis. It was called this by decree from Napoleon and is the only liqueur produced in France not to bear the title liqueur. The blackcurrants are also used in preserves and many desserts in the numerous hotels and restaurants around the town.
The city of Agen in southern France lends its name to the world’s most sought after prunes. However they were only shipped from there and were mistakenly labelled as coming from Agen by the Dutch. The plums from which we get prunes are actually grown in the valleys of the Lot et Garonne further to the east. The prunes are used in a number of ways other than the dried fruits commonly seen in supermarkets. Confectioners fill them or coat them with chocolate. Chefs use them in food with duck breast stuffed with prunes being a popular local dish. In Agen there is a festival devoted to prunes and in one of France’s more eccentric events there is a prune stone spitting contest.
Salt of the Sea
Some of the most sought after salt in the world comes from the salt marshes of the Guerande near the mouth of the river Loire. It is easy to cycle, walk or drive around the salt marshes between May and September and watch the salt workers raking the salt from the pans were the sea water has been allowed to evaporate. Footpaths take you right among the salt pans and the white heaps of drying salt. It’s the trace mineral content that gives the sea salt a distinctive flavour that is much prized by chefs. It is also available in many boutique shops and at roadside stalls. There are a couple of museums devoted to the production of the salt and the lives of those who spent their lives working the marshes.
The Dordogne or Perigord region is best known for foie gras. A less well known product is the walnut. Walnut trees thrive in the valley of the Dordogne and the nuts are used in many local dishes, often in a supporting role. Cakes and tarts are the most common dishes you are likely to come across. The most used product of the walnut is its oil and there are a number of mills that can be visited as well as an informative museum where among other interesting facts you learn that the walnut shell is used in the production of the heat resistant tiles on the underside of the space shuttle.
There are other foods and products that can be investigated such as the chestnuts of the Ardeche region; water of the Rhone Alpes; lavender of Provence and the Drome; honey of Corsica