Inspiration

Foodie guide to Central France by Carolyn Boyd

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Carolyn Boyd

Guest Expert

5 min read

In her new book, Amuse Bouche, writer and lover of French Food, Carolyn Boyd takes you on a culinary tour of France, exploring the specialities and pecularities of the country’s wildly differing regions. In these extracts from her travels and tastings in central France, she samples canelé in Bordeaux, discusses Burgundian blackcurrants and visits a tomato bar which showcases just a few of the Loire’s 700+ varieties.

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Blackcurrants, Côte D’or – Burgundy

The patchwork of vineyards on the Côte d’Or, known as les Climats de Bourgogne, are known for their top-class wines – but there’s another fruit that is as much a part of the local gastronomy as the wine: blackcurrants. Varieties such as the Noir de Bourgogne and Royal de Naples have been grown in the cooler climes of the Côte de Nuits since the sixteenth century, but their cultivation particularly took off after the phylloxera blight that destroyed so many vineyards in the 1860s.

Tending the blackcurrants traditionally fell to the wives of vineyard owners, and even now many families still hold dear their Recette de Grandmère for crème de cassis. This liqueur is ubiquitous; there are several big-name distilleries, among them Vedrenne, which even has a museum on site, Cassissium. Here you can learn all you ever wanted to know about blackcurrants and their liqueur, with interactive displays, collections of antique distilling equipment and a tasting session. Buying fresh blackcurrants is less practical while you’re on your hols, though it can’t hurt to pick up a punnet at the market to toss over ice cream. 

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Blackcurrant

Tomatoes, Château De La Bourdaisière – Loire Valley  

Nothing beats the taste of a home-grown, sun-ripened tomato, plucked fresh from the garden, and the tomatoes at Château de la Bourdaisière, near Tours, must be seen – and tasted – to be believed. In the red-brick-walled garden of the nineteenth century castle, 700 different varieties of tomato grow in the Loire Valley sunshine. They come in a rainbow of colours – red, orange, yellow, purple. They’re all sorts of shapes and sizes, too: ribbed, oval, small, large. But best of all, their names are like something from a Roald Dahl book: there’s Black Zebra Cherry, Livingston’s Golden Ball and Pink Ping-Pong.

They’re here because they form part of the National Tomato Conservatory, an incredible project in biodiversity led by the château’s owner and aristocrat Louis Albert de Broglie. Established in 1995, it aims to showcase the varieties, as well as study them for their medicinal, cosmetic and scientific characteristics. Should you wish to conduct your own gastronomic study, then take a seat at the rustic tables in the garden’s small ‘Bar de Tomates’, which serves simple lunchtime recipes such as gazpacho and tomato salad. It’s on the edge of the adjoining dahlia garden, which makes a dazzling display in summer. 

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Canelé, Bordeaux

You can do a lot of pavement-pounding in Bordeaux, whether in the narrow streets lined with alluring boutiques in the Chartrons district, or between the galleries and museums, so you’ll need some sustenance. Thankfully, the city’s famous little fluted cakes, called canelé, offer a decadent sugar hit when energy levels are low. There can be no better a pick-me-up than to sit on a bench in Place de la Bourse, surrounded by the Unesco-listed architecture, and bite into the crunchy crust of a canelé and have that woozy hit of rum and vanilla wrap around your taste buds. 

It’s said the canelé owes its existence to the nuns of the Couvent de l’Annonciade, who in the eighteenth century would gather the rum and vanilla that came to Bordeaux’s port and then sell their cakes to raise money for the poor. The details of this story are a little murky and there’s another tale that seems more plausible. This one tells how the cakes were developed by bakers in the Gironde wine-growing region to use up the egg yolks left over from wine-making (where the whites were used to tame strong tannins and reduce the astringency found in the region’s grapes). 

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Canelé

Ducks And Geese, South-west France (Dordogne) 

The cooks of the south-west are particularly adept at nose-to-tail eating, where it should rather be called ‘beak to tail’ cuisine, such is the skill with which every part of the canard and the goose is cooked. Since the Middle Ages, rearing ducks has been popular in the south-west, where the Dordogne, Lot and Garonne rivers loop past walnut groves, golden-stone villages and sentinel châteaux. Raising them became particularly bountiful once maize had been introduced from the New World and took well to the terroir.

Techniques for making food last throughout the winter included foie gras and confit de canard, both of which could be shared beyond the region after canning took off as a preserving technique in the nineteenth century. Even now, this is a common way to buy confit de canard. The dish is also a staple on most menus; the legs of the duck are salted and preserved in their own fat. Once warmed through, the meat just falls off the bone, leaving you to scoop it up with crushed potatoes and sauce. 

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Duck

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Carolyn Boyd

Guest Expert

Carolyn is one of the UK’s leading food and travel writers and an expert on France. She likes nothing more than telling a good story, packed with expert insight and inspirational recommendations. Her writing for The Guardian, The Times, National Geographic Traveller and many more has seen her cycle across France, seeking out its beauty, culture and delectable produce in search of some of the most delicious and exciting experiences in travel.
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