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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Dining in the Auvergne. Auvergnat dishes on French Menus.

Behind the French menu
Bryan G. Newman
A valley in the Auvergne seen through an extinct volcano
The Auvergne contains many extinct volcanoes
 with the last eruption around 6,000 years ago.
Photograph courtesy of Raymonde Dapzol.
The region of the Auvergne is close to the geographic center of France and includes the departments of Allier, Cantal, Haute-Loire and Puy De Dôme.  The Auvergne’s mountains, rivers and lakes are hiking, camping and water-sports centers in the summer. In the winter the higher elevations become centers for winter sports and ski resorts.  For those who enjoy a quieter vacation the Auvergne is the place. The Auvergne is one of the least inhabited places in Europe, it has 2 person per sq km. Compare that  with Provence- Alps-Cote-d'Azure with 156 persons per sq km.
Dining with 100% Auvergne produce, livestock, fish and wines:
Dining in the Auvergne can be a wonderful experience for visitors to France. Excellent meals made by well-trained chefs often only use local ingredients. Even the water, the beer and the wine on the table may be local. Mineral water with brands like Volvic, Vichy,  Saint-Diéry, and others are well known throughout France.  Local beers include Volcans, Vellavia, Pastourèla, Sagnes,  Ambrée and others.

Historically the Auvergne was the third largest wine producing region of France, after Bordeaux and Burgundy. Their vineyards, like most others in Europe, became infected with  phylloxera at the end of the 19th century.  Unlike other areas, the Auvergne wine producers never recovered their fame and fortune. However, that does not mean that the Auvergne has a shortage of  good local wines;  their Chanturgue AOC/AOP  red wine  has an important history in French cuisine.   Towards the end of this post I have listed the most well known wines.
Auvergne restaurant menu listings:

Couderc Gentiane -  A bitter, but fresh tasting, local aperitif or digestif served cold or with ice. It is made from fresh gentian flowers grown in the mountains.

Kir Royal   Auvergne -  An  Auvergne take on the aperitif  that originated in Burgundy.  The Auvergne Kir is made using the local Saint-Pourçain Mousseaux lightly sparkling wine and an Auvergne crème cassis, black currant liquor.
Crème de Lentilles du Puy - A cream of lentil soup made with the Auvergne's unique AOC/AOP lentils. These lentils are cultivated in an area with its own microclimate around the small town of Puy-en-Velay in the department of Haute-Loire. These lentils are a dark green color characterized by blue marbling.  For lentil lovers these are very special and since less than 300 tons are grown in any one year make sure you get there early. If you do visit Puy-en-Velay, there is a 12th-century cathedral which is  a UNESCO World Heritage site. The cathedral is built along the old pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The pilgrimage route is marked by the sign of the scallop shell; in France that is also the shape of those famous little sponge cakes called Madeleines.
Lentils de Puy.
Photograph courtesy of GavinBell.
Soupe aux Choux au Cantal – Cabbage soup with Cantal AOP cheese.  This is a combination of the Auvergne’s plentiful cabbages and their superb Cantal cheese. When in the Auvergne at least find one opportunity during your visit to taste an Auvergne cabbage soup or another Auvergne cabbage dish.
Vichyssoise – Vichyssoise; a cold leek and potato soup. This is the dish to choose on a hot summer’s day. Not everyone considers Vichyssoise an authentic Auvergnat dish; despite the fact that it was created by an Auvergnat native, the chef, Louis Diat.  The Auvergnats, the name given to the residents of the Auvergne,  believe this soup is their own. However, since  Louis Diat created his world famous soup at the New York Ritz-Carlton Hotel, USA, some chefs claim the soup for the USA. However, it is clear that Louis Diat had different ideas and named the soup after his hometown of Vichy in the Auvergne and that was nearly 100 years ago.
Photograph courtesy of Mark H. Anbinder.
Melon Fraîcheur et son Jambon d’Auvergne – Chilled melon served with a cured Auvergne ham.  Auvergne cured hams are salted and then cured for a minimum of seven months; the very best Auvergne hams are cured for up to one year.
Belles Tranches de Bœuf AOC Fin Gras du Mézenc Justes Marinées et Condiments d’une Béarnaise – Beautiful slices of Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC beef lightly marinated  and served with a Sauce Béarnaise. This dish is a Fin Gras du Mézenc take on a Carpaccio.   The Bœuf Fin Gras du Mézenc AOC/AOP cattle are raised on the Mézenc Massif that runs through the département of Ardèche in the Rhône Alps and the département of Haute-Loire in the Auvergne. These are a unique AOC/AOP beef cattle. The cattle are not a single breed rather they  are mixed breeds all raised as free range cattle. They are given their AOC/AOP for the way they are nurtured and the taste of their beef. This finely marbled beef is only on French Menus between February and early June.
Coq au Vin de Chanturgue   The original Coq au Vin, most chefs agree, was prepared with the Chanturgue AOC/AOP red wine of the Auvergne.  For more about the original Coq au Vin see the post: Coq au Vin, the Traditional Version is Much More Than Just a Chicken Stewed in Wine. 
Coq au Vin.
Photograph courtesy of xeeliz
Truite Sauvage, de l’Auvergne Grillé au Feu de Bois avec Carottes Vichy  – Wild Auvergne trout, grilled over a wood fire and served with carrots cooked in the manner of Vichy.  The Auvergne has hundreds of rivers and streams. Apart from trout the local fishermen and women will be catching: omble chevalier, freshwater char; brochet, pike; sander, pike-perch, perche, fresh-water perch; carpe, carp; and  the angler’s American import  large-mouthed bass. The Auvergne is considered a fresh-water fisherman’s and fisherwoman’s paradise. Many amateur fishermen and women choose the Auvergne expressly for the exceptional fishing and the privacy.  Carrots in the manner of the town of Vichy is a garnish of carrots served glazed with butter. The original recipe requires the carrots to be boiled in Vichy’s famous lightly effervescent mineral water; however, I doubt that most restaurants carefully observe that instruction. Vichy is famous for the food products named after it such a Vichyssoise and its Vichy  mineral water.  The town itself remains infamous for its role as the center of German collaboration in WWII.
Lake Pavin in the Auvergne.
The lake is part of an extinct volcano and a beautiful place to visit.
Photograph courtesy of Raymonde Dapzol.
Aligot d'Auvergne Saucisse et Salade de Printemps – Auvergne aligot, a traditional and very popular dish of mashed potatoes and  a young Cantal cheese. Here the Aligot is served with an Auvergne sausage and a spring salad, a salad made with young vegetables.  The traditional Auvergne sausage is a small salami type pork sausage, about 100 grams, made with pork, pork fat and beef. When this sausage is served with aligot it is usually grilled.
Aligot served with an Auvergne sausage.
Photograph courtesy of Julien Attiogbe.
Truffade Auvergnate – A traditional potato dish from the Auvergne. It is a thick potato pancake from thinly sliced potatoes that are fried in goose fat. Just before serving  it is mixed with a fresh Auvergnat tomme cheese. This dish made be served on its own or accompanied by grilled Auvergne sausages or locally cured ham.
Entrecôte Charolais de Bourbonnais aux Morilles– An entrecote, a rib steak. A rib-eye in the USA and UK. Depending on the cut it may also be a UK  sirloin. Here the entrecote  comes from the Charolais cattle and is served with morel mushrooms.   The  Bœuf Charolais AOC/AOP or  Le Bœuf Charolais du Bourbonnais AOC/AOP are among France’s most famous breeds.  Bourbonnais was one of France’s traditional provinces and the original home of the French Bourbon dynasty of kings.  The ancient province of Bourbonnais is now divided between the modern regions of the Auvergne and Centre. On the same menu you may also be offered Agneau Charolais du Bourbonnais, Label Rouge, red label, lamb from the same area.
Grilled Entrecote.
Photograph courtesy of @10.
Cheese:  In the Auvergne there are five AOC/AOP cheeses: Cantal, Salers, Bleu d'Auvergne, Saint-Nectaire and the Forme d’Ambert.  Apart from these five there are many excellent cheeses  without an AOC/AOP.   These less expensive, but very tasty, cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s cheeses include  Chèvreton, Chabrirou, Chambérat, Fournols, Saint-Amant, and  the Tomme d’Auvergne among many others. Not having an AOC/AOP  does necessarily indicate an inferior cheese; many of France's most popular cheeses have no AOC.

The Auvergne has a Route des Fromages AOP d'Auvergne, a cheese road for their top five cheeses. Taking this road is an excellent way to see the region while tasting cheeses of every type, AOC/AOP or not, along with wines, and other local products.  There is, unfortunately, no official Route des Vins d'Auvergne, a wine road.  However, you may see a map with the Auvergne wineries  clearly marked in their French language website. (See it in English with Google or Bing Translate):
The English language web site for the Auvergnes five AOC/AOP cheeses is:

 You may write ahead to obtain a printed copy of the map of the cheese road at: If you do buy cheese to take home first see the post: Bringing French Cheese Home and a Lexicon for buying French Cheese.  

With the map of the cheese road and the directions to the Auvergne's wineries you may make your own combined wine and cheese  road. The farms and wineries that you stop at for a tasting will ask for a small and reasonable contribution to the local economy. After a few hours of wines, cheeses, beautiful scenery and picturesque villages stop for lunch; then find a hotel, rest and enjoy the peace and quiet and continue the next day.
A wheel of Cantal
 Tarte de les Perles Noires et Perles Rouge de l’Auvergne -  A tart made with the red and black pearls of the Auvergne. In season all over the Auvergne’s mountains and hills, the locals will be collecting their wild and cultivated red and black pearls, the local berries.  These include the baies de cassis, European black-currants; myrtille or bleuet, the bilberry; mûre, the blackberry, baie de Genièvre, the juniper berry and the framboise, the raspberry. 
A black pearl, a blackberry.
Photograph courtesy of dorena-wm

Verveine - Verbena, the herb, may be offered as an herbal tea. In the Auvergne Verbena is also made into a liqueur and that may be offered as a digestif.
Liqueur de Châtaigne de l’Auvergne - The chestnut liqueur of the Auvergne may be offered as a digestif. An alternative will be the Marc d’Auvergne, one of the many local digestifs that you may choose from. Marcs are very similar to the grappa’s of Italy. They are brandies made with the leftovers from pressing the grapes used for wine. Originally they were the brandies made for the peasants; now they are professionally distilled, aged, and served in the finest restaurants.

The dishes noted above are just  a few examples of the Auvergne’s abundant local produce.

Then come the Auvergne's wines.

The AOC/AOP wines of the Auvergne include:

Saint-Pourçain AOC/AOP: Red, rosé, white and mousseux, lightly sparkling, wines
Côtes d'Auvergne AOC/AOP: (5 appellations)
Madargue: Red.
Chateaugay: Red, rose and white.
Chanturgue: Red. The original red wine used for Coq au Vin.
Corent: Dry rosé
Boudes:  Red
Côte Roannaise AOC/AOP: Reds and rosé.
Côtes du Forez AOC/AOP: Red and rose. 

 A glass of Vin de Chanturge.
Photograph courtesy of Maney | Digital
There are many good and inexpensive  Auvergne wines including  the Vins IGP du Puy de Dôme. (IGP wines were previously called Vin de Pays). There are reds, rosés, gris (gray) and white wines.

Additionally Auvergne has many Vins de France.  (Previously the Vins de France wines were called Vins de Table).  A Vin de France label does put a limit  on the price but does not mean these are all inferior wines.  Like all wines, including those with an AOC/AOP, you need recommendations from someone who knows the wine, the year and the vintner. There are many reasons that a wine cannot hold an AOC/AOP grading and many of those relate to where the grapes grew and/or the grapes used.  The lack of an AOC/AOP only rarely relates to the taste. NB: Old wines at low prices are indication to choose something else; the French know their wines and if it was good they would have been there first.  See the post on the new French wine labels: What has changed in French wines? What is an AOP, an IGP, and a Vin de France.
Before traveling to the Auvergne study the French Government, English language, website for the Auvergne:

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010,2014.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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