Going from the deep south of France all the way to Belgium is no joke. Maybe for people living in the USA or in Canada driving 1300km is of no consequence and they would do it to visit Aunt Gudrun over the weekend. Not so in Europe where the same distance can have you cross five countries, probably more if you target properly and aim at maximizing border-crossing (some people do it as a sport almost!) Our first day of travelling had us reach la Lozère almost right in the middle of France, in Le Massif Central, a volcanic mountain range providing pretty amazing landscape but also pretty rough living conditions therefore quite devoid of human presence. It is a part of the French hippie myth to quit one’s job, buy a farm there and go make goat cheese. Some did.
Our next pit stop was for the evening but we had to stop for lunch, it happened whenever we started to feel a bit hungry and when a little town showed a name that I fancied, Le Caylar won the prize that day. It was a tiny village with stone built houses and a central plaza with big old trees (I do not remember but most probably a walnut tree or a lime tree…) The inn was run by a family and the food was as delicious as the place was cosy. Beware though not to start making a fuss because the cheese smells too harsh or because this or that as the owner is prompt to kick you out if you disturb “the ambiance.” It nearly happened. Not because of us: we were too busy enjoying sausage and lentils, bell pepper marinated with anchovies, local pâté de campagne and the über-ubiquitous plateau de fromages…
Then we drove some more…
French Food Roadtrip 5: Center of France!
Indeed we had to reach Chirac (Lozère) where I had made a booking in a “ferme auberge.” The concept is quite simple: some people have a nice big farm, some still farm or breed (animals, hu?), and have a couple of rooms for rent. One is welcome there and takes meals at the hosts’ table. You never know exactly what you’ll eat except that it will be local (sometimes as local as directly from the farm) and that you may meet some rather interesting characters (hosts or guests.) I thought the place was in Chirac, a little village I always wanted to explore just because it has the same name as a certain French Président de la République, it is always funny to send your family or friends a text message saying you’re having a beer at Chirac’s (the joke works better in French, yes, but you get the idea). After about 15min driving on smaller and smaller roads I had to come to terms with that, we would not be exactly in Chirac, rather somewhere remote higher in the hills, surrounded by forests (mostly pines, firs and oaks if you want to know…) and sheep.
The farm was a nice old building (or buildings, rather) and the hosts pretty colourful and very warm. It would be tedious to describe the whole meal so I’ll let the pictures speak…
- Apéritif of white wine mixed with Aubrac tea syrup,
- a starter of meat pie (with some dry sausage on the side as the lady of the house feared we would be still hungry! Insanity…),
- main dish of paleron and truffade (paleron is beef, somewhere in the shoulder as far as they told me… truffade is a sort of tartiflette, ah ah, now you know better don’t you? So, potatoes, crême fraiche, onions maybe and local cheese melted on top, cooked in a big pan… the best part is the crusty bits at the bottom, I had to fight with the host to get some, it is well sought after…),
- of course plateau de fromages
- and a dessert of homemade currant pie.
We could barely move to get to our room. The night went by very fast, sheltered in a room with meter-wide walls and very little noise and other distraction. In the morning, after breakfast, I went to try and see the sheep and the donkey. They have donkeys because they are good guards against wolves!
So yes, I wanted to see the famous loups du Gévaudan in Marvejols (Lozère) and, even if it is not really part of a food roadtrip to describe such things I have to say I was pretty impressed by these animals. If one wants to spend more time there one can rent a house close by the park in Sainte Lucie and try to sleep with the sound of them howling in the night. We spent about 2 hours in the park where about 5 different species of wolves are kept. Do not get me started on the French politics of conservation of wild animals such as wolves and bears and all that. We pretty much killed them all and every try to put some animals back in the wilderness is met with, let’s say resistance. Sigh.
However, we still had land to cover to reach our destination of the night: La Pointezie, a hamlet lost in the middle of nowhere, to meet with an old friend of mine. Lunch was uneventful in Saint-Flour (Cantal) with some nice trippoux and aligot (some sort of a large sausage made out of pig guts served with mashed potatoes mixed with melted local cheese, a delicacy from the area of course… some say that a real aligot has to be served with a fork and a pair of scissors to cut the melted cheese strings attaching the dish to the plate) and a sample of local beers. As a side note I was pleasantly surprised to see (and taste) more and more micro brews (bières artisanales) in France, and not only in the North close by Belgium and Germany but also in the South and Middle of the country…
We reached La Pointézie (do not try to find it on a map, useless…) just in time to go pick some green and yellow beans for the meal of the evening… My friend Laurent and his wife and daughter live with chickens and rabbits, some vagrant cats and Eole the dog. They help local farmers with their cows from time to time, they have a real bread wood oven in a small shed somewhere in the garden, the garden has everything you need: salad, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, beans, zucchini, eggplant, you name it… In short they have all the good stuff around. Granted, the place is fairly remote and during winter they could be isolated because of snow and bad weather but that is the price to pay to have fresh eggs, fresh milk directly from the cow (the farmer drops by on his way to milk them to get some containers and put said-containers full by the mail box on his way back… I recall some Xmas ago during my last visit giving hay to these very cows (or maybe their cousins.) That evening we had delicious oeufs cocotte (eggs cooked in a bain-marie in the oven with milk and cheese in little glass dishes) with potato and bean salad, whole wheat bread and, guess what, a nice piece of cheese… My friend even opened a bottle of Cahors 2002! He doesn’t drink wine himself but this is part of the French way of welcoming people, long time friends and possibly lost travelers. Well, not everywhere but hey, you choose your friends, right?
Read the Entire French Food Roadtrip
After a couple of train rides we will arrive at our second stop: Txot’s Sidreria in Figueras, city of Salvator Dalí for the ones amongst you readership with a fancy for psychedelic painting. To be noted that this rather small Catalan town sports the world famous Dalí museum (yes, the one with the bathroom sculpted on the ceiling of some room, go figure…) However we were there to catch a car ride to the South of France but not before stopping for some new-school tapas and Basque Cider! Basque Country cider in Catalunya, you got to be kidding me!
After dragging ourselves out of the Cider-induced madhouse of Dali’s Figueres,we venture to the third stop on the French Food Roadtrip: a small house in the Pyrénées.
What could be better than that – A small house in the mountains? Oh yes, stop 4 on the French Food Roadtrip: Roussillon and the Sea.
Once you have a taste of the city, nothing but the best will do. This is where we take the French Food Roadtrip 6: to Lyon & Grenoble.
This is getting intense people & I think you can feel it. Now that we survived Lyon by protecting ourselves with some of the best local cuisine, wine and beer we venture to French food roadtrip – stop 7: le Buget and Montbéliard in le Jura.
What is Choucroute? Come with us and find out on the French Food Roadtrip – stop 8: la Maison de la Choucroute in Strasbourg.
And finally–though this is not the end–we must finish our Mostly French Food Roadtrip with the last stop 9: En passant par la Lorraine.