Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Camargue, France. The Land, its People, its Produce and its Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan G. Newman
Updated July 2018
The Taureau de Camargue AOP
Don’t stroll though this field.
The cuisine of the Camargue gained international fame with the superb beef from its unique free-range cattle, the Taureau de Camargue AOP.  The Taureau de Camargue was the first beef to be awarded France’s AOC grade, that later became an AOP for its outstanding quality.  In addition the Camargue is famous for its organic rice and vegetables along with excellent salt water fish, especially tuna, and seafood.

The Camargue

The Camargue is set in the Delta of the River Rhone and covers an area of almost 1,500 sq km (580 sq miles). The Rhone divides the Camargue and France’s Mediterranean coast with Occitanie to the west and Provence to the east.

The Rhone River reaches the Mediterranean
It divides the Camargue the south of France` between its Spanish and Italian borders.

The larger part of the Camargue includes nearly half of the coast in the department of Bouches-du-Rhône in Provence, Alpes-Côte d'Azur; while the western part of the Camargue, called the Petite Camargue, is in the departments of Gard and Hérault in Languedoc-Roussillon.

Map of the Camargue

Half of the Camargue is a working nature reserve.
There are open spaces for the black and dark brown, cattle, the Taureau de Camargue AOC, and the semi-wild white horses, the Cheval Blanc Camarguais. These are the area’s most famous residents.

Wild, white horses of the Camargue

The agriculture of the Camargue

The most famous agricultural products grown in the Camargue’s unique micro-climate are the unique Camargue rice varieties that include a natural red rice, a Label Rouge rice and a certified organic rice; followed by organic vegetables. There are also freshwater fish-farms, pig farms, and producers of Camargue honey.

Dining in the Camargue:
….À la Camarguaise –   The prefix for any dish cooked or prepared in the manner of the Camargue.  À la Camarguaise indicates the use of local products including seafood, rice, freshly caught fish, (especially tuna), pork and, of course, beef from the bulls and cows of the Taureau de Camargue AOP.
Anchoïade  Camarguaise et ses Légumes Crus -  An anchoïade served with fresh, crunchy raw vegetables. An anchoïade is a Provencal anchovy based spread created together with olives and garlic. This listing indicates the anchoïade is made with locally caught anchovies accompanied by fresh, uncooked vegetables on the side. In the south of France, anchoïades, will be served with fresh country bread, usually, from the round loaf called a boule, the baguette is considered a Parisian bread.    If you like anchovies, olives, garlic and olive oil this is for you; I admit that I love it!. To fully appreciate your anchoïade order a bottle of a cold, dry, white wine, and spread your anchoïade thickly on the bread. Then alternate your bites with the crunchy fresh vegetables provided and sips of the white wine.  After a minute or two sit back with your eyes closed, and you may find yourself in anchovy, olive, garlic, and white wine heaven.  Anchoïade is also used in sauces that accompany other dishes, mainly fish dishes. Outside the Camargue, this same dish may be on menus as an anchoyade or anchouiad; the different spelling are from different dialects of the Occitan language,  Other menus may offer a tapenade;  that is an anchoïade with added capers; the Occitan word for capers is tapena and, so, with added capers, an anchoïade becomes a tapenade.

Capers in the languages of France’s Neighbors:
(Catalan -  taperera), (Dutch - kappertjes), (German – kapernstrauch), (Italian – cappero), (Spanish -alcaparras).
Daube de Taureau Mode “Gardienne” -   A traditional daube, a Provençal beef stew made in the manner of the gardians. The gardians are the French cowboys who look after the Taureau de Camargue  AOC, the black or dark brown bulls, and cows of the Camargue.
The main difference between a Gardian’s daube and other Provençal beef daubes is the quality of the beef and serving of the dish with rice. As with other daubes, the Gardian’s daube includes red wine, lardons, onions, beans, tomatoes and other vegetables along with garlic and other herbs for flavor.    

Daube de Boeuf a la Provençale
The excellent beef from these free-range cattle will be on many menus. The breed are descendants of Spanish fighting bulls, however, now after many centuries, they are a much smaller animal than their forefathers and fore-mothers.

The gardians, the French cowboys, who look after the cattle, despite their similar hats and boots, are markedly different to USA cowboys. To begin with, they speak French, drink wine and have better cooks!  The beautiful white horses of the Camargue are also looked after by the gardians; these are the semi-wild Cheval Blanc Camarguais.
Filet de Rougets Poêlé, Riz Rouge de la Camargue – Lightly fried filets of red mullet, served with the natural red rice of the Camargue.  This unique and natural red-to-brown rice is often prepared with recipes similar to those used for risotto. It is the unique Camargue marshes that produce this special rice.
The red mullet is a sea fish and will have been caught locally; elsewhere, this fish may be on the menu as the rouget barbet or rouget de vase.  Under whatever name a menu uses this is a fish that makes excellent eating.

Red mullet in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - moll fanguer), (Dutch - koning van de poon), (German – meerbarbe or rot meerbarbe), (Italian – triglia, triglia di fango), (Spanish - salmonete de fango).

A lightly fried red mullet filet à la plancha.

Tellines de Camargue à la Plancha et Citron - The sea olive clam fried/grilled on a plancha.  The plancha is a distinctive solid, thick, iron plate used for a particular style of cooking that is between frying and grilling. It is claimed as their own by both the Basque and the Spanish. The clams will be lightly fried, or they become chewy; then just as they are served, they will be sprinkled with a virgin olive oil and fresh lemon juice.

Telines, still unsorted, straight from the sea.
Photograph courtesy of Finca la Casilla
Elsewhere, in France,  this small clam may be on the menus as the flion or olive de mer.  This clam, when cooked will often be served warm or cold in a seafood salad or served raw as part of a seafood platter; in Italy, this clam is a favorite to serve with pasta.

The sea olive clam in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Dutch – tellina), (German - stumpfmuscheln), (Italian – tellina).  (Spanish – coquina, tellina).

Tournedos de Thon à la Camarguaise Servi Saignant, Sésame, Réduction Balsamique A thick cut of tuna served rare and prepared in the manner if the Camargue.  It will be covered with sesame and then very lightly fried to color the outside, and served with a thickened Balsamic vinegar sauce. For this dish, the large northern blue fin tuna, which is also caught in the Mediterranean, is preferred.

Very lightly seared tuna with sesame.
As in the picture above the tuna will be served with only the outer two or three millimeters of the fish cooked, the inside will be raw, like sashimi; this is one of the best ways to enjoy fresh tuna.

The northern blue fin tuna in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan - golfàs), (Dutch - tonijn), (German – Atlantischer thunfisch, roter thun), (Italian - tonno, tonno rosso), (Spanish - atún alata azul).
Salade Camarguaise – A Camargue salad is made with local rice, tomatoes, maize bell peppers.
Apart from the unique red to brown rice offered on one of the menus listings above the Camargue also provides many other types of rice that including a label rouge, a red label, rice which receives its certification for its consistently high quality.  Also, there is the much sought after is the Riz Bio de Camargue AB.  This is the Camargue's organic rice that holds the rights to the AB label for French government certified organic products. Even Japan imports these unique French rice varieties!

The Camargue salt industry
The Camargue salt industry was already an important industry, some claim, in Roman times. However, the renewed salt harvesting industry is a relatively recent addition. Whatever the age the Camargue salt and Fleur de Sel condiment are a significant industry today, and they have a museum that explains the system used for collecting salt.

Fleur de Sel from the Camargue

To all these local products add the catches of the Camargue saltwater fishermen and women who bring in crustaceans, mollusks, and many types of fish with the most sought after being tuna. Local menus show the influences of Provence, Languedoc-Roussillon, Gypsy cuisine and Basque and Catalonian traditions. The results make for a remarkably diverse, but singularly Camargue cuisine.

Wines from the Camargue
Menérbes Rosé
The excellent cuisine of the Camargue will be accompanied by the wines of the Camargue as well as the wines of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon.
The French AB logo for organic produce is on the left.
The leaf with 13 stars on the right is the European Union Organic food  logo.
Your vacation in the Camargue.
The Camargue is a beautiful place for a vacation; it has miles and miles of sandy beaches, and you may enjoy fishing, hiking, bird-watching, quad biking, jeep rides,  horse-riding, sunbathing, swimming, jet skiing and more. There are museums that tell the history of local industries and the Musée de la Camargue, the museum of the history of the Camargue, includes a three-and-one-half kilometer trail showing the uses of the land.

Vincent van Gogh self-portrait with bandaged ear.
Van Gogh cut off his left ear, why does the picture show his right ear bandaged?
The town of Arles is famous for artist Vincent van Gogh’s one year stay that ended when he cut off his left ear. However, Arles is much more than Van Gogh and Van Gogh's house unfortunately only has a few copies of his paintings to show the visitor.
Arles has the best preserved Roman amphitheater in Europe with an audio guide that, at least in English, is probably the best I have ever used. The amphitheater in the summer is fully booked with concerts of all types, operas and more.
The Arles Amphitheater

Check the dates with the Tourist Information Office of Arles to stay away around the third weekend in July when they have two days of passé corridas; real bloody bullfights.

The city of Arles tourist information office website.
Click on French flag  Union at the top of the screen to change to English.
One word of advice to first-time visitors, to enjoy the Camargue, even if you have your own transport, do not try to take it all in in a few days.  The Camargue is vast and has many fascinating places and towns to visit, far too many for just one visit.  I spent three hours in the Arles food market though not all tourists do that! N.B. With all museums, historical monuments and places of interest, and food markets as well you need at least three weeks to see it all and enjoy it.   In France check opening hours with the local tourist office or on the web; many sites are closed one day a week, others close for lunch, and others are closed at certain times of the year. Then pick two or three, and that will be enough for three days.

The Course Camarguaise.
Among the Camargue’s many traditions is the Course Camarguaise.  This is an aerobatic contest, and it is certainly not a bull-fight as some guidebooks suggest. The Course Camarguaise is distinctive, and the gardians do not allow their bulls, or cows, to get hurt or wounded.  The bulls, now usually the cows, are respected professionals that are under far less stress than the animals in horse-racing or horse dressage competitions.

The Course Camarguaise.
The Course Camarguaise is not a bullfight.
In a Course Camarguaise, the raseteur, an accomplished course acrobat, I can think of no better description, is dressed in white. His or her mission is to grab a rosette tied between the bull’s horns.  All the raseteur is allowed to use is his or her agility, and a small hook to grab the rosette.  No picks or swords are permitted here, and the bulls, or cows, and are not to be hurt. The rasteurs are rated, are celebrated, and are local heroes; the winner of the rosette gains a cash prize.

Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer is where the French Roma, the name the French gypsies prefer, have their acclaimed annual religious festival, in May. The center of all Camargue activities in May is held on the 24th and 25th of May. The festival honors the three Roma Saints and especially their patron saint, Saint Sara; it is a significant festival for the Roma, but open to all.  You may connect with tens of thousands who come to watch, alongside those who participate in this festival every year.

Before visiting for the festival contact the local Tourist Information Office:

According to the Roma tradition, Mary Magdalene along with Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, and their black servant Sara, fled King Herod who was pursuing them in the Holy Land; they arrived here, on the coast of France, by boat, and Sara would become the Patron Saint of the Roma.
The Roma will tell you that these three Christian Saints brought Christianity to France. The town and the festivities around the three saints have become even more famous after the publication of the book and the release of the movie the Da Vince Code.
Greeting the saints arriving by boat at Stes-Maries-de-la-Mer
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Bryan G Newman

Behind the French Menu
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1 comment:

  1. Hello! I was born in Palavas les flots, and I must say everything you say is very accurate! Great job at explaining everything.