Haute Cuisine: Fancy Foods from Southwestern France

Moules frites (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Moules frites (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

In southwestern France, particularly in the Dordogne, you can feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a place that is quite isolated from the rest of the world. Medieval castles blanket the hilltops and prehistoric caves are home to some of the oldest known cave paintings in the world. Townships host a market day once or twice a week where some of the best culinary pickings are still produced the way they have been for centuries. Accordingly, price tags range from reasonable to extortionate.

Despite this region’s humble environs, it is home to some of the richest and finest French delicacies that grace the tables of all the top dining destinations across the world.

Foie Gras

Foie Gras

Foie Gras

Literally “fatty liver”, this typical French delicacy has a creamy-smooth consistency. The duck or goose liver usually comes in small tins or blocks. It is rich and buttery with a sophisticated flavour. But there is a controversial catch: the foie gras made in France is most often the product of force feeding the animal, a practice that is coming under scrutiny now more than ever. Fortunately, foie gras is increasingly being made more humanely, and if you can’t afford a pure block of the stuff (prices are more akin to those of precious gems than food), many of the pâtés de foie gras come close enough to impress.

Confit de Canard

Confit de Canard

Confit de Canard

There may not be a more decadent way to serve duck. This dish, “preserve of duck,” is a fall-off-the-bone, melt-in-your-mouth leg of duck with an almost impossible richness of flavour. The preservation process, a specialty of southwestern France, is one of the oldest ways of preserving food in the world. Salted and seasoned, the meat is then cooked very slowly submerged in its own fat, set to cool and preserved in that fat. Typically, confit de canard ordered in a restaurant is then cooked at high temperature to produce a crispy skin. Confit de canard is a dish that you will see on almost every menu at every restaurant in the region, and is absolutely worth suspending your diet for an evening.

Truffles–and I Don’t Mean Chocolates

Truffles

Truffles

A slightly more acquired taste, these unremarkable-looking, pungent little lumps, “truffles” in English, are a type of mushroom that grows underground. It only takes a few shavings of this rich mushroom to impart delicious flavour to an entire omelette, or to infuse your favourite oil for dressing. Black Périgord truffles are so named for the Périgord region in which they grow, one of the highest producing regions of truffles in the world. Once cultivated and enjoyed by a large number of people, they have since skyrocketed in price and are considered a rare delicacy mostly reserved for special occasions. As if the truffles themselves weren’t unusual enough, looking for them in open ground requires specially trained pigs known as truffle hogs with a honed sense of smell to detect them at up to 15 centimeters underground. The trouble is preventing the pig from eating the unearthed truffle!

Unlike some of the seasonal attractions of southwestern France, these culinary delicacies can be enjoyed outside the busy summer period. Both foie gras and confit de canard are often preserved in tins, and the best time to enjoy truffles is actually in January and February when they have just been harvested.

A trip to this part of the world would be incomplete without indulging in the treasured foods that have helped define the uniqueness of the region and the prowess of France’s culinary traditions to the world.

Bon Appétit!

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