You haven’t tasted real tomatoes until you taste those ripened by the Mediterranean sun. It’s the same story with all the fruit and vegetables here in Languedoc-Roussillon, they have a taste you won’t find in those greenhouse ripened cousins which actually bear very little taste resemblance to those bursting with sunshine flavour.
Mediterranean food is loved the world over and often written about but I have not come across any Languedoc specific articles so I was delighted when I found Caroline Conran’s book Sud de France, the food & cooking of Languedoc (available to buy from our website). It is filled with fabulous recipes using the delicious produce of the region. I have used it many times and everything has turned out superbly well and tasted delicious. Chapter 8 is dedicated to vegetables, pulses and wild foods and this perfectly reflects the culture here, for foraging is something the Languedoc folk love to do. In this chapter is a recipe for La Truffade which is a rustic cheese and potato cake. No truffles are contained in this dish, it gets its name from the old Occitan word for potatoes, truffas. But truffles are very much part of the cuisine of the region and we celebrate them during the season of January and February with several festivals.
Vegetables are not the only food we excel at and much of the traditional dishes are good old fashioned peasant food that harks back to pre-fridge and freezer days to include preserved meats and duck confit. The confit was used to make the famous Cassoulet that legend has it was created in the town of Castelnaudary. There are many takes on this dish but my favourite cassoulet is made by Bridget Grau and is featured in my book The Wines of the Languedoc-Roussillon and we feast on it on our Saint-Chinian & Minerve tour.
Another great book that focuses on Languedoc cuisine is ‘Arrazat’s Aubergines’ by Patrick Moon (also available to order from our web site). It takes you inside a Languedoc Kitchen and relishes in the local cuisine and follows the authors foodie escapades.
In Provence, Italy influences the style of cooking whereas here it’s Spain that inspires much of the food. Tapas is regularly served including Pan con Tomate, dried and cured hams, saucissons (often duck and pork) and of course seafood. There are several small towns along the coast that like to boast the best oysters but I must admit Bouzigues on the Étang de Thau probably does win this contest and the beautiful town of Collioure, close to the border of Catalonia is famous for its legendary anchovies.
You can’t talk about French cuisine without mentioning cheese and one of the most famous cheeses, Roquefort comes from this region. It’s made from ewes milk and indeed nearly all our traditionally made cheeses are made from either goat or ewes milk, you don’t see much cattle here due to poor grazing land and the heat. What you do see a lot of is almond trees and these tasty nuts were used to produce almond milk in the old days to supplement the milk from livestock.
Languedoc olives are returning with gusto. We lost a lot of olive trees in the spring on 1956 due to a heavy and unusual frost that came when the sap was rising in the trees which froze and split the trunk killing many of them. There was more future in wine production at that time so not all were replaced but now the landscape is sporting many more olive groves, their silvery leaves waving in the breeze.
The bustling Languedoc markets are a pleasure to walk around and always make me want to buy huge armfuls of fresh produce and head for the kitchen. But I must admit, cooking is not where my talents currently lie however I am hoping to change all this because this year Heather Hayes, a qualified Chef has opened her cooking school ‘Cooking by the Canal du Midi’ close to Carcassonne. She is offering Classic French Cooking classes and I for one will be joining a class this summer. She served her apprenticeship as a chef and first learned to cook “in the French style” in Brittany and on the Cote D’Azur. Now she is bringing some of her magic to Languedoc and is running day courses using fresh seasonal produce to teach us how to create some classic French dishes. For the French (and for me) a meal is not complete without a glass of delicious wine and I will be helping Heather by finding just the right match for all her mouth-watering dishes.
Languedoc cuisine is delicious and so are the wines. Let me know which is your favourite Languedoc food and wine.