Sunday, June 20, 2010

Flights of Fancy: Les Produits Regionaux

French cuisine is characterized by its extreme diversity and is considered to be one of the world's most refined and elegant styles of cooking in the world. Each region of France seems to have its own distinctive specialty, the north-east tends to use loads of butter and cream, while the south-east values plenty of fresh herbs and olive oil.

The south-west corner of France seems to be the archetypal french farming area, green and wooded and relatively flat, until you hit the Pyrenees. A rich agricultural region, producing some of the world's most famous wines and some of its prized gourmet delicacies – a veritable feast of a region for food enthusiasts.

Although certain areas within the south-west corner have their own signature foodstuffs, for example Bayonne is of course known for its ham and chocolate while Espelette is famous for its chili peppers; the general rule of thumb down here is that its all about the birds.

Fat ducks and geese tend to make their way into two very famous french delights: confit and foie gras. Confit is certainly a huge favourite and consists of meat cooked and preserved in its own fat. While foie gras, probably one of the most controversial foods among animal activists, is made from goose liver. This fattened liver is produced by using a traditional technique known as “gavage”, which entails force-feeding ducks and geese in an attempt to fatten them up.

Basically, it helps to be a carnivore around here, with geese, ducks, salted ham and beef all featuring prominently. Other popular dishes include sweet and sour stew made with rabbit and agen prunes; and cassoulet, which is also basically a thick stew made with white haricot beans, local dried sausages ana a choice of duck, pork or mutton with liberal amounts of goose fat.

Vegetarians need not despair! All is not lost for vegetarians though, at least for rich ones, because Perigord truffles are world famous, and a fresh truffle omelette is said to be the best way to bring out their earthy yet delicate flavour. Another fabulous choice is goat's cheese, a regional specialty often served grilled (chevre chaud) with a salad. You can also get preserved goat's cheese flavoured with herbs – delicious!