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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
Updated December 2017.
St Cirq Lapopie, Quercy.
Quercy was a province in France’s southwest.  Its land is 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, the province of Quercy was largely divided into two new departments of Lot and Lot-et-Garonne in the region of the Midi-Pyrenees. The Midi-Pyrenees is now, together with the region of Languedoc-Roussillon, the new super-region of Occitanie.

Despite the 200 years that have passed Quercy’s name is still be on local menus and wine lists and Quercy’s produce and products are sought after by name all over France.

Quercy on French Menus:

Selle d'Agneau IGP du Quercy Rôtie – Roast saddle of Quercy lamb. The saddle is a large cut so you will be offered slices. N.B. Lamb in France, is served slightly pink and unlike steaks, you will rarely be asked how you prefer your lamb cooked. If your preference is for well-cooked lamb advise the server.  The Quercy lambs are the Agneaux Fermier du Quercy, Label Rouge and were the first French lambs to be awarded a red label for the consistently high quality of their meat. The Quercy lambs are raised in the pastures of the National Park of the Cevennes   
Agneau du Quercy
Every year on the 2nd Saturday and Sunday in August. There is a fete celebrating the Quercy lambs: The Fête de l'Agneau du Quercy. The fete is held in the village of Cressensac in the north of the department of Lot.  With less than 700 inhabitants Cressensac combines with other nearby villages and grows overnight to welcome the visitors in their thousands; visitors are welcome.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; it is an amazing place to stay in when visiting the fete. N.B. Book a long time ahead.

The beautiful National Park of Cevennes, where the lambs are raised, only has a French-language website. Nevertheless, it is easily understood with the Bing or Google translation apps. It is a wonderful place to travel through:

Duo de Crèmes Brûlées au Safran du Quercy et Lavande - A duo of crème-brules. One is 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, at most, two kilos of saffron stigma. 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 the Bing  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 potato wafers that look like very thin Belgian waffles.  Fennel is a member of the same licorice-flavored family as dill, with a 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 have a nutty and slightly bitter flavor.
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. Their 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. (Over 20% of the Red Label strawberries in France come from Lot-et-Garonne). 
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 the 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.  The perfect risotto must be soft, not mushy, with each grain identifiable.  Ninety-nine percent 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 that is called an Emoustille.  
The Raisin Chasselas de Moissac AOP grapes.
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 AOP 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. When it is older it will be on the cheese board or a cheese plate.   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.  When you look for an exceptional French red wine the red Cahors AOC will among those heading the list. In fact Cahors is 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, by boat on the river Lot. Quercy has other red, white and rose wines that are on the wine road; 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 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 ka-ors.  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. That was one war among many that were spread over 400 years!  In the province of Quercy, many of these battles were fought among the towns and castles built on hilltops. Many of these castles, towers and hilltop towns remain.
Connected Posts;

The Fabulous Table Grapes of France 1. The Raisin Chasselas de Moissac AOC
Behind the French Menu’s links include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 400 articles that include over 3,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations.  Just add the word, words or phrase that you are searching for to the words "Behind the French Menu" and search with Google or Bing.

Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016. 2017.

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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