Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dining in Quercy. The departments of Lot and Lot-et-Garonne in the Midi-Pyrenees.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

St Cirq Lapopie, Quercy.

Quercy was a province in France’s southwest; its land was made for farming and the green and fertile fields are still seen as a patchwork of, meadows, orchards, woodlands and valleys. Wherever you look you will find fruit, poultry farms, livestock farms and more. Through the Northern Causses of Quercy, there are limestone plateaus, which are carved through by the Lot and Dordogne rivers. Two hundred years ago during the French revolution, Quercy was largely divided into two new departments of Lot and Lot-et-Garonne.
Despite the 200 years that have passed it is Quercy’s name that will still be on local menus and wine lists. In the markets all over France Quercy’s produce and products are still sort after by name.

Quercy on French Menus:

Selle d'Agneau IGP du Quercy Rôtie – Roast saddle of Quercy lamb.
The Quercy lambs are the Agneaux Fermier du Quercy, Label Rouge.

Agneau du Quercy
The Quercy lambs were the first to be awarded the French Red Label for their consistently high quality. Along with the Label Rouge quality regulations others regulations  include some of the highest standards in animal husbandry.  The lambs must be raised by their mothers for a minimum of seventy days, during that time they may also receive cereals, but not GMC cereals. Only after 70 days are the lambs allowed out into the pastures in the nearby Parc National des Cévennes, the National Park of Cévennes. At no time are growth hormones or antibiotics permitted.

The French-language website of the beautiful National Park of Cevennes is easily understood with the Bing and Google translation apps. It is a wonderful place to travel through:
The Fête de l'Agneau du Quercy.
The fete of the Quercy lambs.
This fete is held to celebrate the lambs of Quercy and to introduce their high-quality meat to the public. The fete is held in the village of Cressensac in the North of Lot.  From less than 700 inhabitants Cressensac combines with other nearby villages and grows overnight to welcome the visitors in their thousands. The Fete is held on the 2nd Saturday and Sunday in August. The town of Rocamadour so famous for its AOP goat’s cheese is just 35 km (22 miles) to the south in the same department and an amazing place to stay in when visiting the fete. N.B. Book a long time ahead.
Duo de Crèmes Brûlées au Safran du Quercy et Lavande - A duo of crème-brules; one flavored with the famous Quercy saffron and the other with lavender. Quercy is one of the few remaining places in France where Saffron, the herb, is still grown. Saffron cannot be collected by a mechanical harvester, it must have its deep red stigmas picked by hand, and that is both a backbreaking and expensive job.
Saffron remains the most expensive spice in the world. In Quercy, a farmer with a whole acre planted with saffron in a good year will have two kilos of saffron stigma. Saffron costs, at wholesale from $400 per 100 grams for the lowest quality to $2500 for 100 grams for the best. The farmers only begin to make a profit when they receive over $1,000 for 100 grams.

Half-a gram of Saffran

The French language website for tourism in Lot will introduce you to many Quercy events, food products and more. The website can be easily understood with Bing and or Google translate.
Grosses Crevettes Marinées au Safran du Quercy, Gaufre de Pomme de Terre et Fenouil Croquant. Large shrimps marinated in Quercy’s saffron and served with potato gaufres and crisply cooked fennel, the herb. Potato gaufres are thin potato wafers that look like thin Belgian waffles.  Fennel is a member of the same licorice-flavored family as dill, but it is less used in the French kitchen due to its stronger flavor. Despite that caveat the taste of the fennel plant is appreciated and used by French chefs in many fish and shellfish dishes.
La Salade Endives aux Betteraves et Cerneaux de Noix de Périgord AOC. - A salad of endives and beetroot served with the locally grown Périgord Walnuts AOC.  The department of Perigord-Dordogne borders with Lot and Lot-et-Garonne, and many of Perigord’s famous walnuts are grown inside Lot’s borders.  
Endives, goat’s cheese and walnuts

The endive is the Belgian endive, witloof or whiteleaf, called chicons in Belgium.  Endive leaves are mostly white with yellow to slightly light-green tips and are firm and crunchy; they are nutty and slightly bitter.
Melon du Quercy, Avec de Fines Tranches de Jambon Sec – The much appreciated Quercy melon served with thin slices of cured dried ham. These melons, so I have read, are descendants of melon seeds brought in the 15th century from Naples. The Quercy melon is a round light-green melon with thin, dark green stripes. It has a sweet, orange-colored, beautifully scented flesh. The locally cured ham offered here may be cured in many different ways and can have many different tastes. Here, the dryness of the ham used will complement the melon's sweetness.
The Quercy melon.
Blanc de Volaille Fermières de Quercy et Segala Label Rouge au Vinaigre de Xérès et Gambas. Chicken breast from the Quercy and Segala Red Label poultry prepared with sherry vinegar and served with jumbo shrimps. Segala is a unique agricultural area in the Midi-Pyrenees and with Quercy they jointly raised France’s first red label poultry. The poultry, including Guinea fowl are all raised free-range in grassy fields. No antibiotics are permitted nor are growth hormones allowed. N.B. Segala Label Rouge veal is considered among the best in France and it will be on many Quercy menus.
The English language website of Aveyron and Segala is:

Magret de Canard de Quercy Sauce au Vin de Cahors. Duck breast from the highly rated Quercy ducks prepared with a sauce made from Quercy’s famous Cahors red wine.
Méli Mélo de Pommes et Fraises de Lot-et-Garonne.  Méli-mélo of apples and strawberries from Lot-et-Garonne.  Méli-mélo is a name given to dishes that offer two or more contrasting but well-matched tastes; or at least that is as it should be. In ancient Greek Méli is honey and Mélo is apple; in French cuisine today Méli Mélo still indicates contrasting tastes served together. Here the Mélo remains an apple but the Méli, the honey, on this menu listing will be replaced by the wonderful strawberries of Lot-et-Garonne.  Over 20% of the best Red Label strawberries in France come from Lot-et-Garonne. The ancient Greek tradition of eating apple and honey together was adopted by the Jews of Ancient Israel when the Greeks ruled the Holy Land. That tradition continues to this day as part of the celebration for the Jewish New Year.
Risotto Carnarolli au Vieux Parmesan et à la Truffe Noire du Quercy. A risotto made with the most expensive of all risotto rices, the Carnarolli rice. Here it is prepared with aged Parmesan cheese and the black Quercy truffle. This is same truffle from across the border in Perigord. The Périgord truffle, the black truffle, their black diamond is the most famous, tasty and costly of all French truffles. However, truffles have no respect for borders and in season, these truffles will be disinterred in Quercy and described on local menus as the black truffles of Quercy. The perfect risotto must be soft, not mushy, with each grain identifiable, and 99% of all Italian and French chefs will agree that while the Arborio and Baldo are better known the Carnaroli rice is unbeatable where risotto is concerned.

Also from Quercy:

The Raisin Chasselas de Moissac AOP – One of the two most famous table grapes of France. These uniquely tasting grapes are virtually entirely hand-raised, and they are only available in the markets from late August through the first week of November.  The farmers who grow these grapes also sell its fresh grape juice and a bottle will cost more than many wines. If you dine in the area, you may be offered a cocktail made with this grape juice and brandy called an Emoustille.  
The Raisin Chasselas de Moissac AOP
Rocamadour  AOC/AOP  A 45% fat goat’s milk cheese, made with non-pasteurized milk. The ancient city of Rocamadour is in the department of Lot. The Rocamadour AOC cheese is creamy, and when young is quite mild, then it may well be in your salad or it may be part of another dish.    If you are considering taking one home you will not pay overweight, all Rocamadour AOC cheeses weigh less than 40 grams. For more about buying cheese in France and taking it home click here.
The hillside town of Rocamadour
The Capital of Quercy.
The capital of the province of Quercy was the town of Cahors; today when you look for an exceptional French red wine the red Cahors AOC wine will among those heading the list. In fact Cahors will always be among the top ten red wines of France; that is a grading that you will never hear disputed.  Their local Route de Vins, their wine road with its wine tastings may be visited by car or, for a refreshing change, possibly in more ways than one, by boat on the river Lot.
Quercy has other red, white and rose wines; the Coteaux du Quercy Reds, Rosés and White AOP wines and the Côtes Du Lot IGP.
In the town of Cahors do not miss the Pont Valentré, the Valentré Bridge.  In Occitan, the original and still used local language, the bridge is called the Pont de Balandras.  This bridge is the symbol of the town and a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This bridge first opened in 1378 and was rebuilt in 1879. Look for the emblem of the little devil on one of the towers. Then ask why!
The little devil on the Valentré bridge in Cahors

If you are visiting the area check for more information and places to visit with the English language website of the French Government Cahors Tourist Information office:
Ask for the dates of the next Fete du Vin de Cahors, the Cahors Wine Fete. The fete is held at the end of July or beginning of August in a number of the villages close to Cahors.  When talking with the locals note that the town’s name is pronounced without sounding the H; just say kaors.  N.B. the locals call themselves cadurciens.
Quercy and the English connection:
Those who went to school in the UK will have learned of the 100 years’ war fought between England and France; one war among many! It was in Quercy where many of these battles were fought among the towns and castles fortified by limestone towers built on hilltops. Many of these castles, towers and hilltop towns remain.
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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
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