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Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Alpilles, Garrigues, and the Maquis of Provence in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman

The Alpilles, Garrigues, and Maquis will be on many southeastern French menus.
The Alpilles of Provence and the Garrigues of Languedoc are mostly limestone scrublands.   The vegetation that remains includes wild herbs, juniper, holmes oak, stone oak, cork oak, olives, and figs. The Maquis of Provence is different. The ground is not limestone and the scrub has created dense woods of short trees and bushes from 2 – 4 meters high (6 – 13 feet). These trees and bushes have formed thorny and impregnable thickets.  Life is returning to the  Alpilles, Garrigues, and Maquis and now they are now home to farmers raising herbs along with honey, figs, juniper berries, vineyards and olives for eating and olive oil.To that has been added sheep and goats for their milk and cheese. All of these will be on local menus.
The Alpages and the Alpilles,
Caveat Emptor: Do not confuse the Alpages that may be on some menus with the Alpilles in this post. The alpages are the foothills of French mountains, their produce, and products. 
The Maquis of Corsica
The Maquis of Corsica will be the subject of a separate post as the Corsican Maquis covers nearly half of that island and has a different history.
The deforestation of southeastern France
These area’s deforestation began with the Greeks and Romans who used these, originally, heavily forested areas for the wood they needed for buildings and ships. The wood was also crucial for glassmaking and the refining of iron and gold that they mined locally.  The Romans also burned younger forests for arable land. Nevertheless, not all the devastation can be laid at the feet of the Greeks and Romans as forest fires also took their toll. Roman rule ended in the 5th century A.D. and what followed was centuries of overgrazing by sheep and goats. A charcoal industry that used many of the trees that were left did the rest.

The good news
Farmers are returning and where they find arable soil they are planting vines, olives, and herbs. Wild herbs are now being harvested and farmed in a controlled manner, honey has become an important industry and sheep and goat farming now uses modern techniques. The sheep and goats provide milk and cheese while the young males reach the table.

The Alpilles are the limestone hills that are at most 500 meters (1600 feet) above sea level. They run parallel to the Mediterranean coast some 25 km (16 miles) below Avignon. The most well-known village in the Alpilles is the rebuilt village of Baux de Provence, which has a ruined castle at its peak. Les Baux de Provence gave its name to Bauxite, the foundation of most of the world’s aluminum industry. Bauxite was heavily mined in the area around Baux de Provence until about 70 years ago and France was the world’s largest supplier of Bauxite until 1939.   Since then much of the tailings have been cleaned up, and agriculture and tourism have replaced the mining. 
Château des Baux-de-Provence

The Alpilles on French menus:
Cotes d'Agneau Grillées aux Herbes des Alpilles – Grilled lamb chops flavored with herbs from the Alpilles. Here it will be the aroma of wild rosemary and mint that will pique the senses.

Gigot d'Agneau des Alpilles - A roast leg of lamb from of the Alpilles. Like the goats, the lambs of the Alpilles are bred for the milk, and the cheese produced. The young males do not grow up to provide milk, and so they will be on the menu.
Magret au Miel des Alpilles Duck breast cooked with honey from the Alpilles. With so many wild and farmed herbs there are also many Label Rouge, red label, honeys.
Ravioles de Chèvre des Alpilles au Basilic et Pignons de Pins – Ravioli filled with goat’s cheese from the Alpilles flavored with basil and pine nuts.

Olives Cassées de la Vallée des Baux AOP

From the valley below the village of Les Baux de Provence come the AOP Olives Cassées de la Vallée des Baux AOP.  These are salonenque and aglandau olives that are split, to make them edible quickly, and preserved in brine. (The saloneque olives originated in the area around the nearby village of  Salon-de-Provence).


     Van Gogh
The town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is a prototypical Provencal town and it is set on the Northern side of the Alpilles.  It is famous for the landscapes and other paintings of Vincent van Gogh that he created from May 1889 to May 1890 when he hospitalized himself in the Saint-Paul asylum. The asylum has since been renamed the Clinique Van Gogh and may be visited. The clinic offers art therapy and has a French-language website that may easily be understood with the Bing and Google translate apps:

Les Alpilles, Mountain Landscape near South-Reme 1889.
Van Gogh
Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands
Starry night Saint-Rémy-de-Provence
Van Gogh
Museum of Modern Art NY

Nostradamus, (1503 - 1566), that crazed seer, was born in Saint-Remy de Provence.  You may visit his home in Saint – Remy as well his other Provencal home in the village of Salon-de-Provence. 45 km (28 miles) by car or bus where there is a Nostrodamus museum. 

The English language website of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is

For those who may be traveling in the region, the Parc Naturel Regional des Alpilles, the National Park of the Alpilles has a French language website. It is easily understood using the Google and Microsoft translate apps.

The Garrigues

The Garrigues are mostly limestone scrubland in the northern parts of the departments of Hérault and Gard in the old province of Languedoc. Languedoc is now included in the new super region of Occitanie.  The Garrigues have vineyards, olive and olive oil industries, wild and cultivated herbs along with goats, sheep, and their cheese.
The Garrigues.

The Garrigues on French menus:
Côtelette d'Agneau de la Garrigue et Gratin de Legumes – A lamb chop from Garrigue lamb served with vegetables browned under the grill.
Suprême de Poulet aux Parfums de la Garrigue – Chicken breast flavored with the scents from the herbs of the Garrigue. The garrigue with its limited arable ground is also a source of free-range poultry farms where the chickens are also helping to fertilize the land. However, if the chickens on this menu listing were free range then the menu would read: Poulet Élevée en Plein Air, free-range chicken.
Souris d'Agneau aux Herbes de la Garrigue (thym, ciboulette, romarin) - Lamb shank flavored with herbs from the garrigues, specifically thyme, chives, and rosemary.

The cheeses of the Garrigues
Rove des Garrigues is the cheese most associated with the Garrigues.  It is an unpasteurized, 32% fat, soft, goat’s milk cheese, aged for two weeks before sale.  Rove is a village near Marseilles, and its name was given to the unique Rove goat breed that provides the milk.
Rove goats are large goats that have very impressive horns and have wholly adapted to their environment. While modern farming methods allow for bringing these goats inside in the winter, they could stay out all year round through the snow of winter and the drought of summer.  These hardy goats have been exported to the Maquis in Province and Corsica where they provide milk for their local Rove cheeses.   The goats have tough mouths for they eat plants that other goats leave alone like Juniper, Thorny Broom, and Kermes Oak. Their diet provides a special milk with a distinctive flavor.
A herd of Rove goats with their fancy horns.
The wines of the Garrigues
Muscat de Saint-Jean-de-Minervois is a white vin doux naturel, a “natural” sweet wine from the Garrigues. It comes from around the village of  Saint-Jean-de-Minervois in the old Languedoc province now in the new super region of Occitanie.  Natural sweet wines are made with the wine’s fermentation being stopped with the addition of an eau-de-vie (a young brandy) resulting in a wine with 15% alcohol.

There are other wines with the names Garrigues in the appellation’s names including Garrigues Cotes du Rhone. Nevertheless, from reading the labels I think most of the grapes come from over the Gard border in Provence.

The Maquis of Provence
The are many different areas called Maquis in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur.  They are all perfumed by wild herbs and plants including rosemary, thyme, and lavender, olive trees and vines. Other trees include the Arbutus, the strawberry tree, bay leaf, holmes oak, stone oak, myrtle and more. The Maquis includes areas that are practically impassable with bushes and trees from 2 -4 meters in height. In WWII thousands of French resistance fighters hid here and took the name Maquis. The different Maquisard groups fought the Nazis from these hideouts using guerilla warfare.
Maquis de Provence.
The Maquis of Provence on French menus :
Pissaladière aux Herbes du Maquis –The pissaladière is caramelized onions, olives, garlic, and anchovies served on a bread dough.  Here it is flavored with herbs from the Maquis and is being offered as an entrée (the French first course).  The pissaladière is a quintessential street from the City of Nice on the Mediterranean that has made it to some fine tables.
Agneau Rôti aux Herbes du Maquis, Flageolets, Tomate à la Provençale - Roast lamb flavored with the herbs of the Maquis and served with flageolets, a light-green to dried white kidney-shaped bean. The flageolet is a slightly different bean to the haricot blanc but used in the same recipes. Served alongside the lamb is a Tomate à la Provençale, Tomato in the manner of Provence. Tomatoes prepared in the manner of Provence are tomato halves covered and or stuffed with breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, basil and olive oil and baked in the oven.
Magret Rôti aux Herbes du Maquis et Haricots Coco au Pistou – Roasted duck breast flavored with the herbs of Maquis and served with the haricot, France favorite dried white bean, and pistou, France’s take on the Italian Pesto.
Haricot means bean in French.  But, the bean just called the Haricot on a French menu is the Haricot Blanc or Haricot Coco.  This the dried Navy Bean and is France’s most popular white dried bean. The Haricot Blanc will be in many recipes, soups, salads and is the bean of choice for most French lamb and beef stews and it stars in France's cassoulets.

The Arbouse tree or Arbre à Fraises is called the strawberry tree though it has no connection to strawberries.  The tree grows well in the Maquis and has a fruit that looks somewhat like lychees, but they have little taste.  Here and in the Maquis in Corsica, bees make a uniquely tasting honey from the tree’s flowers.   The fruits are also used to make an Eau-de-vie and in French-Chinese and French-Vietnamese restaurants, they serve the fruit like lychees in a sweet syrup. The popularity of the fruit in French-Asian restaurants has given the arbouse tree fruit its other French name, the Fraise Chinoise, the Chinese strawberry.     

Fruits from the strawberry tree.
Cheeses from the Maquis of Provence:
Brousse is a lumpy, soft goat’s milk whey cheese that began in the Languedoc Garrigues. This cheese is used in many local recipes. It has 45% fat and is made with unpasteurized milk goat's milk. In English, the word brousse just means a bush and in the Provençal dialect the cheese is called brousso  A similar but more famous cheese is made in Corsica where it is called the Brócciu AOP. 
Brousse de Brebis is the sheep’s cheese version of this cheese with cow’s milk versions also available.
Tomme de Provencealso known as Tomme à l'Ancienne, is produced in the Maquis and other parts of Provence. This tomme is a small soft, creamy unpasteurized, goat’s milk cheese weighing less than 100 grams with 20% fat. Tomme de Provence is really a local generic tomme as you will find this cheese has different tastes in different parts of Provence. The different tastes come from the different breeds of goats that eat different plants and consequently produce milk with different tastes. Enjoy the different tastes as you travel around Provence.

Banon AOPBanon is one of France’s best AOP goats cheeses with some of the milk coming from the Maquis.

Wrapped and unwrapped Banon AOP cheese.

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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2017.
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