Monday, 18 November 2013

Flavours of Biscay.

How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese? Charles de Gaulle

Obviously Charles de Gaulle was referring to the political differences between all the regions but as the quote demonstrates there are a few different types of cheese in France and we’ve enjoyed trying as many as possible. In the French Basque region there was a cheese with a layer of carbon through it’s centre only made in a few mountain villages, it was fantastic melted on bread (as recommended by the lady on the market stall). Chaource is a soft cheese similar to camembert. There have been many strong blue cheeses, comte which is also delicious grated and a runny one in a pot called St Felicien Du Dauphine. We’ve tried goats and sheep cheeses, we’ve enjoyed artisan and familiar types and all have our own favourites.

One of the many cheeses we have tried and enjoyed
As we travelled through the Basque country we discovered the cultural importance of peppers. With enormous peppers of interesting shapes in shades of red and green in sauces, stews, pour on sauce, dried, pickled, hanging from balconies in fact you name it, it had peppers on or in! There were many tasty dishes including a chicken in pepper sauce and a Basque lamb stew. We also stocked up on some lovely red pepper Basquaise sauce which we have used with many things.

Seafood is, not surprisingly, something we come across quite frequently. You may have noticed us mention mussels on several occasions. When visiting fishing ports during the summer months, freshly caught sardines are often found grilling beside the harbour wafting their perfumed smoke around. In other areas it is the shellfish which rule. Oysters are often considered in Britain to be a food for the rich, a demonstration on the dinner table of wealth. In many areas however, they are the poor mans option, sold in all the local markets around the areas where oyster farming is all important and dominates large areas of seabed. From the days of the cave man they were the basic protein part of the diet in coastal areas and obviously required a lot less energy to hunt than a mammoth or wale. We’ve enjoyed trying oysters in different places and they do vary in size, shape and taste, with a squeeze of lemon or a drop of Tabasco they slide down in salty deliciousness. Then there are the prawns and langoustines, big beasties and very tasty.
home made paella

Coming up the west coast of France we stopped in the Gironde region which is famed for its wines. The Bordeaux wines, of which there are 6 families, many appellations and many more types are very much a part of the area. We enjoyed sampling some of the local specialities and also the sunshine which makes them special. Further up in the Charente Maritime region we were recommended to try a wine fortified with cognac called Pineau des Charentes which is often enjoyed as an aperitif, it was lovely.
Medoc wine from the Gironde
Pineau de Charentes from La Rochelle

Although Churros are a Spanish treat (traditionally eaten with a hot chocolate for dipping) many towns on the Atlantic coast of France sell these sticks of delight freshly cooked to order with a tub of Nutella. I may have mentioned them before mainly because they are so delicious. A cross between a pancake and a doughnut they are crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside, definitely one of my favourite treats.
Another unusual meal was steak tartare. Ordered by the middle deck hand at a restaurant in Le Mans, it was prepared in front of him at the table. I’m not sure which he enjoyed the most, the meal or the theatricality of its construction.

The skipper enjoys finding and trying out local and traditional recipes. Kig ar farz (literally meat and stuffing) is a traditional Breton recipe which used to be prepared by peasants and left to simmer over the fire whilst they worked the fields. The dumpling is made using buckwheat and is cooked over the stew in a muslin bag. This has now been added to his repertoire of successful dishes.
oysters, sausage, bread and lemons from the market washed down with local cider

Seaweed pate, cured and smoked sausages (with herbs, with garlic, kangaroo, rabbit, mushroom and various others) fish soup, snails and pastries have all been tried by the crew. They are very good at trying new things and we all love going to the markets. Mixed in with old favourites and a lot of basics we are loving trying regional flavours. Salud.

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All the way through this journey we’ve enjoyed trying different foods.
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