Saturday, July 9, 2016

Noix – The Walnut. France’s Beloved Nut. The Walnut on French Menus.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

The Walnut.

The Noix de Grenoble AOP and the Noix du Périgord AOP.

 France loves nuts, but above all, they are nuts about walnuts. Other nuts are good, but for the French none can compete with walnuts. Noix is the French word for nut and also the word for a walnut. (Noix is pronounced nwa).   

Other nuts will have a second name that clearly identifies them, for example, Noix de Macadamia is a macadamia nut or the Noix de Pékan, the pecan nut. When the single word noix is on your menu, or on sale in a market, it is a walnut, and there will be no prefix or suffix. The walnut is THE nut. Nevertheless, just to keep us on our toes a walnut can also, very occasionally, be called a noyer

Two French nuts have AOP ratings, and both are walnuts. These are the Noix de Grenoble AOP and the Noix du Périgord AOP.  

The Noix de Grenoble AOP

Grenoble is a city at the base of the Alps in the region of the Rhône-Alpes and the capital of the department of Isere. Grenoble despite being an industrial city has a walkable center and a great cable car up to the mountains with incredible views.
Grenoble gave this walnut its name and the nuts are grown in three departments of the Rhone-Alpes. Isère; Drôme and Savoie. 
Grenoble Walnuts on sale in the market.
France had its own walnuts, and they were probably brought by birds and the wind and when the Romans arrived they cultivated the French walnuts and brought more cuttings from home. The AOP walnuts of Grenoble have achieved their unique taste and consequent fame over hundreds of years of careful attention and selection.

The cable car: Teleférico Grenoble - Bastille
Travel over 800 meters vertically from the center of Grenoble.
Walnuts from Grenoble on French menus:
Carpaccio de Veau Mariné à l’Huile de Noix de Grenoble, Algue « Wakamé » et Graine de Sésame A veal Carpaccio marinated in Grenoble Walnut oil along with Wakame seaweed and sesame seeds. Walnut oil is not used for cooking, like an excellent virgin olive oil that would destroy its distinctive taste.

 Crumble à La Noix De Grenoble –  The traditional English dessert that the French learned to appreciate England during WWII and took home. The French learned about apple crumble and have since developed many French versions of the English crumble. This is a walnut crumble.
Les Scampi Sautés aux Noix de Grenoble sur un Nid de Salade - Dublin Bay Prawns lightly fried with the walnuts from Grenoble and served on a bed of salad.

Salade d'Avocats, Pommes et Noix de Grenoble -  Avocado salad, prepared with apples and Grenoble Walnuts.

Salade de Roquette avec Fruits de Saison et Noix de Grenoble Rôtis, Vinaigrette au Cidre de Pomme. A rocket salad made with the fruits that are in season and roasted Grenoble walnuts. Served with an apple cider vinaigrette.

Gâteau aux Pommes et aux Noix de Grenoble – An apple and Grenoble Walnut cake.
Picking the walnuts.

The walnuts of Grenoble are treated like the best wine grapes.  As with vineyards belonging to a particular appellation, grape vineyards have their Ban de Vendange. The Ban de Vendange is the day when the grape picking can begin. Even if one vineyard is ready ahead of time, it must wait with all the growers must wait until the announcement of the Ban de Vendange.  In the same manner, the walnuts of Grenoble have their Date de Récolte, the time the walnuts may begin to be picked. 

All stages of the walnut
Drawings by Pierre-Joseph Redouté.
Tension builds from the beginning of September and when the Date de Récolte is announced then the whole area goes wild. Then farmers work into the night and if they could work 25 hours a day they would.  In a big year, the older kids are taken out of school to help.  If that year’s quality is good, the whole region celebrates, if it is poor, the entire area may have a very tough year.

Visitors to the area look at their Routes de Noix, nut routes that are set up throughout the region.  They have separate routes planned for car or foot, as well as mountain biking and horseback riding.  Plan your day with routes that will take you to visit farms that make walnut oil and or walnut wine while others offer local cheeses and wines. Then, of course, there are restaurants of all types, and they all will have at least one dish with Grenoble  Walnuts on the menu.

Despite the city of Grenoble giving these nuts their name, the small town of Vinay in the department of Isère considers itself the birthplace of the French walnut industry.  It is a short drive from Grenoble to Vinay, only 44km, 28 miles, and that is a beautiful drive. As the crow flies it is just 20 km, (13 miles) but the road takes you around the mountains, and allows you to enjoy the valleys between.

The Grenoble Tourist Information Office has an English language website

The Vinay Tourist Information office website is in French. Nevertheless, using Google or Bing translate apps, it appears in nearly perfect English:

Vinay alone claims over 300 km (190 miles) of walnut hiking trails including a route called Les Sens en Émoi, the way that will awaken the senses;  this route highlights the sheer beauty of the area.  In Vinay and other villages and towns and throughout the later part of the year there are celebrations and fêtes, all in honor of their walnuts.  The dates may change slightly from year to year; however; the local tourism office will provide the routes for walking, mountain biking, horse and pony riding and driving. The Tourist Information Office also sells a book with maps for planning ahead.  Unfortunately, the book is only in French:   Promenades et Randonnées Pays de Tullins Vinay à pied, à VTT, à cheval» You may order it by email from the Tourist Information Office. Last time I looked it was not on sale at Amazon France,

Noix du Périgord AOP

Perigord Walnuts

Noix du Périgord AOP – The other French AOP walnut.  These nuts are grown in communities in the departments of the Dordogne, Lot, Corrèze and the Charente.

Here, as in Grenoble local chefs prepare dishes with their walnuts on the menu. This is Perigord, and Cuisine--la-Perigourdine is one of France’s most admired cuisines.

The Perigord Walnut on French Menus:

Crème Brûlée au Bleu du Vercors et Noix de Perigord, Sorbet Poire - Crème Brûlée made with the Bleu de Vercors Cheese and the Perigord Walnut all served with a pear sorbet.  The Bleu du Vercors Sassenage AOP cow’s milk blue cheese, is sweet, creamy and has a slightly nutty taste of its own.
 Croustille de Cantal AOP aux Noix du Périgord - A crispy cut of warm Cantal cheese served with Périgord walnuts. Here the Cantal cheese, an AOP cheese from the Auvergne will have been lightly grilled and then sprinkled with the nuts.

Figs roasted with the chayote marrow,
the Grenoble Walnut and iced cream
Dos de Cabillaud en Croûte de Noix du Périgord – A thick cut of cod cooked inside a covering of Périgord walnuts.

Magret de Canard de Noix du Périgord (et Cèpes Poêlés en Persillade)Duck breast cooked with the Périgord Walnuts along with French porcini mushrooms lightly fried in a mixture of parsley and garlic. When the persillade is cooked separately, as it is here, then it will probably be fried in butter and breadcrumbs may be added.
Salade de Roqueforte aux Noix de Perigord - A salad with Roquefort Cheese and Perigord walnuts,
 Jerusalem artichoke soup, walnut oil and lumpfish roe.

Saucisse de Morteau Tiède à l'Huile de Noix de Perigord – Morteau sausage served warm in Périgord Walnut oïl. Morteau  is a smoked pork, salami style sausage.   Walnut oil cannot be heated as it loses its unique flavor while the Morteau sausage, as a salami-style sausage, may be eaten cold.  Lightly heating the sausage in walnut oil is a nice way to enjoy both.

                                        Walnut oil press 

Walnut oil has a delicate  flavor and like virgin olive oils heating removes that special flavor. Heating walnut oil also reduces the oil’s antioxidants.  In France you will see walnut oil added just before a hot dish is served or used in a vinaigrette dressing.
The Périgord Walnut farmers’ organization is well organized, and they have a website that is very detailed. Unfortunately, it is only in French. However, a click on the Google or Bing translate app and everything is translated into English.

For the routes of the Perigord Walnut all you need is one click on the website, you may also write ahead for printed maps.

Routes are laid out on both sides of the Dordogne (the River), east of the Dordogne (the department), and south of the departments of Corrèze and north of Lot.  That is one of most beautiful parts of France.  Apart from the natural beauty, the area has ancient castles, churches, and beautiful villages. 

Walnut oil
Perigord has a number of Fetes that celebrate the Perigord nut, and the website above and local Tourist Information Offices will point them out.

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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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