Saturday, August 16, 2014
Berry, One of France’s historic Provinces, Enjoy its excellent Berrichonne Cuisine. Savor its wines. Taste its outstanding cheeses and much more.
Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Berry is a historic French province that during the French revolution was divided into two departments, Cher and Indre, both in the the Loire Valley. Despite over two-hundred years of administrative division, Berry remains united in its cuisine and its people. Berry’s ancient provincial capital was the city of Bourges, now the capital of the department of Cher. Châteauroux, the largest city in Berry, is now the capital of the department of Indre. Berry is a two to two-and a half-hour drive from Paris and less than two hours by direct TGV train.
Berrichonne traditional dress.
Photograph courtesy of So-P.
Berrichonnes is the name still given to the people who live in the area. Berrichon was the language they spoke, it was a precursor of modern French. Berrichonne is the name of the excellent cuisine that was, and is still is being created in the area.
Berry’s cuisine has well-established culinary credentials, but like much of the best French cuisine does not cling to a single style or type of recipe. Local dishes will, like elsewhere, be assigned suffixes that will show their origin. Your menu may offer dishes… du Berry or…. à la Berrichonne. Berry’s name remains famous throughout France for its vegetables, freshwater fish, cheeses, snails and wines, and local restaurants will always include at least one dish with their famous green lentil, the Lentille Verte du Berry, IGP, Label Rouge.
Your menu may offer you:
Coq au vin à la Berrichonne – Coq au Vin made with one of the red wines of Berrichone. For more about Coq au Vin see the link at the end of this post. [i]
Coq au Vin.
Photograph courtesy of xeeliz at Flickr.
Crème de Lentille Verte du Berry - A cream of lentil soup made with the green lentil of Berry.
Cuisses de Grenouilles Flambées à la Crème d'Ail Persillée – Frogs’ legs in a cream of garlic sauce flavored with parsley and flambéed before serving. For more about frogs' legs see the link at the end of this post. [ii]
Fricassée de Lumas à la Berrichonne – The local Petit Gris snail fried in butter and flavored with garlic, parsley, sea salt and pepper; often made with an added local white wine. For more about tasting escargots, snails, see the link at the end of this post.[iii]
RIs et Rognon à la Berrichonne, En Croûte – Sweetbreads and kidneys, cooked in a pastry covering in the manner of Berrichonne. For more about kidneys see the link at the end of this post. [iv]
Salade de Lentilles Vertes du Berry au Chèvre Chaud - A salad made with the green lentils of Berry and warm goats' cheese. Your cheese plate or a restaurant’s cheese trolley will include at least two of Berrichonne’s five famous goats’ cheeses. Berry has quite a number of other excellent cheeses and you may enjoy them locally; unfortunately most do not have the production required to receive a national following.
Salade du lentils vert au chevre chaud.
Photograph courtesy of jasonEscapist.
Salade Berrichonne – A salad in the manner of Berry. Like all salads linked by name to a specific area there are small changes in the recipe from chef to chef and Berry chefs will also make one or two tweaks to the original recipe. The traditional version is a warm goat’s cheese served with toast, on top of a poached egg, bacon and tomatoes. The salad is flavored with nuts, cider vinegar, walnut oil and a small amount of mustard. Ask how your Salade Berrichonne is prepared, it should be close to the traditional recipe.
Tarte Berriaude - An apple tart flavored with a cinnamon cream sauce. Occasionally this dish may be served flambeed with Calvados. Calvados is France’s famous and unique apple brandy.
The fish, frogs and snails of Berry
Local chefs take full advantage of the freshwater fish from the National Park of Brenne. The park has over 1,000 fresh water ponds as well as freeing-running streams and fresh water fish-farms. From here comes fresh carp, pike, eels, pike-perch, freshwater perch and frogs, here uniquely called guernouilles; in the rest of France frogs are grenouilles. Local menus will also feature their lumas snails, the Lumas de Cluis; the local name for their homegrown petit gris snails. Most of these snails are raised in and around the small town of Cluis in the department of Indre. Cluis has a number of snail fairs every year, but the big one is held on 1st May. For more about fresh-water-perch see the link at the end of this post.[v]
Photograph courtesy of Mark Edley.
The wines of Berry
Berrichonne is part of the Loire Valley so even the house wines, in small restaurants, will be the very good IGP Val de Loire wines. If you do want an AOP local wine ask for the wine list and look for their white, rosé and light red Sancerre AOP; the white, rosé and red Menetou Salon AOP; the white Quincy AOP; the rosé and red Châteaumeillant AOP and their white, rosé, and red Reuilly AOP wines. For those who want a sparkling wine the nearby Crémants de Loire are excellent white and rosé sparkling wines. For more about the AOP labels and other wine labels or more about Cremant sparkling wines see the links at the end of this post. [vi], [vii]
Photograph courtesy of dpotera.
The five most famous cheeses of Berry.
Berry has many wonderful goats’ and cows’ cheeses though their internationally famous five are all goats’ cheeses. Look out for the Crottin de Chavignol AOP; the Valençay AOP; Pouligny Saint Pierre AOP; Selles sur Cher, AOP and the most famous of all the Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine AOP. For ideas on taking French cheese home or more about the change from AOC to AOP see the links at the end of this post: [viii], [ix]
Photograph courtesy of Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine Office de Tourisme
Listening to French in Berry
You may have learned excellent French in school or college; however, among themselves the locals do allow old Berrichon words to slip in and that, along with local usage, may interfere with any eavesdropping!
Visiting Bourges the old capital of Berry
Bourges, the ancient capital of Berry is now the capital of the department of Cher. Bourges has an amazing history, a unique Gothic 13th-century cathedral and is set on the River Yevre. Of special interest is the Marais Berruyers, the marshes of Berry; there is no longer any marshland there though the name remains. The marshes are an amazing agricultural area in the center of the city, a 10-15 minute walk from the cathedral. Originally, this was a market gardening center, now it has over 700 private plots with some that include amateur fish farms. You may visit and walk among most of the plots. Bourges is 250 km, (153 miles) from Paris. With a direct TGV train, travelling time is 1 hour and 45 minutes, and by car two and half hours.
The cathedral of Bourges.
Photograph courtesy of sybarite 48.
Visiting Châteauroux the largest city in Berry and the Brenne national park.
Châteauroux was the largest city in Berry and now is the capital of the department of Indre. The town is set on the River Indre and on the edge of the Brenne national park. If you just wish just to enjoy the country travel slowly around the National Park of Brenne with its ponds, fields, forests and villages along with many small, but good, local restaurants. The park’s English language website is: http://www.parc-naturel-brenne.fr/en/.
A very small part of the Brenne National Park. .
Photograph courtesy of Jori Avlis, and the Labrador.
The Circus Museum and the annual green lentil fete in Vatan
If you are traveling with children the small town of Vatan has a rather unique circus museum. Vatan is just 30 km, or twenty-five minutes by car, from Châteauroux. However, when visiting the musuem do check its opening times as they close daily for two hours for lunch, and are closed all day Monday and Tuesday mornings. The circus museum’s French language website is: www.musee-du-cirque.com/Vatan.
Vatan also hosts over the second weekend in September the annual Fete de la Lentille Verte du Berry à Vatan, the Festival of the Green Lentil of Berry in Vatan. Their French language website is: www.lentilleduberry.com/FR/esprit-terroir.html. This green lentil was the first dried vegetable to be awarded the Label Rouge, the Red Label. Do not confuse the green lentil of Berry with the Lentilles de Puy-en-Velay AOP, that lentil is from the town of Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne.
Visiting Cluis for their snail fete, their Fete de Lumas.
Cluis has a number of snail fetes every year with the largest on the first of May. It also has farmers’ markets on the first and third Sunday mornings of every month. Their town’s French language website is www.cluis.fr/. Unfortunately the site does not get updated too often, but with Google or Bing translate you can understand it and then can write ahead for dates and information on all their snail fairs to email@example.com. They promise to reply in English.
Visiting the Chateaux of Berry.
Berry is in the Loire valley which is covered with wonderful Chateaux. Two of those chateaux stand out.
The Château de Chenonceaux
The Château de Chenonceaux is one of the most famous in all of France; it is built across the River Cher. Apart from the Chateau itself, which itself is unique, it has absolutely fabulous gardens. See the English language website at http://loire-chateaux.co.uk/19-Chateaux/Chateau-Of-Chenonceau.html
Château de Chenonceaux.
Photograph courtesy of Paula Soler-Moya.
What the chateau’s website does not tell you is the connection of the Château to Catherine de Medici. Catherine came from Italy at age 14 to marry the French Prince Henry, also 14, who would later become King Henry II of France. Catherine wanted the Château de Chenonceaux, but in 1547 King Henry gave the Château to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. Nothing that Catherine said could change that, and so she waited. When Henry II died in a hunting accident Catherine took the Chateau from her husband’s former mistress and made it one of her royal residences. For more about Catherine Medici and her influence on French cuisine see the link at the end of this post.[x]
Château Valençay and its gardens
The beautiful Château Valençay was once the home of that consummate politician Talleyrand. See its English language website at http://loire-chateaux.co.uk/19-Chateaux/Chateau-Of-Valencay.html
As this is a blog on French cuisine I have included below a Talleyrand quotation that gives his views on English food and religion at the time:
L’Angleterre a deux sauces et trois cents religions; la France au contraire, a deux religions, mais plus de trois cents sauces.
The English have two sauces and three hundred religions, while on the other hand France has two religions and more than three hundred sauces.
Talleyrand: Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Prince Benevento (1754- 1838).
Talleyrand was a gourmet and France’s first internationally famous politician as well as the first politician to use the dinner table for political maneuvering. As a Minister, he first served King Louis XVI but later supported the French revolution and took part in writing the Declaration of the Rights of Man. As a true Everyman’s’ politician, he later served Napoleon I as Foreign Minister and then when the monarchy returned served King Louis XVIII and King Louis-Philippe, Philippe Égalité.
The nearby town of Valençay gave its name to the Chateau and it is the only town in France to have an AOP for both its cheese and wine, as well as a chateau named after it. The Valençay AOP wines are whites and reds and its cheese is one of France’s most respected goats’ cheeses.
Chateau de Valencay.
Photograph courtesy of Henk Bekker
Look at a map of Berry and you will see one large part is called Champagne Berrichonne, and that causes some confusion. Champagne Berrichonne has no Champagne; the word champagne historically refers to a type of soil and the name was adopted further north for the famous sparkling wine. Champagne Berrichonne is not a center for bubbling wine or any wine for that matter though it does have a micro-brewery. Champagne Berrichonne is a large plain, and a center for the cultivation of Berry’s famous green lentils, and also their cattle industry. The area is covered with hundreds of small lakes and is also home to the Pouligny Saint-Pierre AOC goats’ cheese. For more about the sparkling champagne see the link at the end of this post.[xi]