I’ve had quite a time of it during my little tour of France this summer. As well as seeing lots of towns and cities that were hitherto unknown to me, it’s also been a great opportunity to add to my knowledge and collection of local gastronomic specialities.
Earlier this summer, before the main holiday, we visited Rouen, which yielded Calvados (read: apple liqueur) chocolates, as well as barley sugar made with apple juice (yummy but messy).
In many places along the west coast of France you travel through some of the most famous wine-making areas in the world (chiefly Bordeaux) so of course the focus is on these. As you move further south, though, things get more interesting. We discovered mogettes, which are nougat chocolates that resemble green stones, and seem reasonably priced even if ordered online (see here). They are similar to the more widely available but still nonetheless different cailloux, which we found in Annecy: sweets made with chocolates or with almonds and then coated with sugar to more authentically resemble stones. Weirdly, though, the chocolate cailloux taste more like sugar than like chocolate. Available at $15/lb from FavorOnline, they are obviously much cheaper actually in France.
On the savoury front, we also went to the region of Savoie (near Annecy and Chambéry), which is very close to Switzerland and Italy and of course is fairly mountainous. This means they specialise in mountain food, which basically means fondue 😀 I had a ‘marmite savoyarde’ one lunchtime, which basically involves layers of melted cheese and meat. Couldn’t finish it all! Very rich but completely worth it.
In the Drôme and Ardèche regions, there is also much to be had in the way of local specialities (going back to sweets this time). Montélimar attracts plenty of foreign tourists not only for its castle but also for its most famous export – its nougat. This means there are nougat shops everywhere, and of course I bought some. It comes in chiefly soft and hard varieties, but also exists in a few other variants too (orange, chocolate…). All traditionally made and very yummy. There is also a nougat museum (!!!) – the Palais de Bonbons et Nougat – but I didn’t get to visit (this time).
I have still a few more days left down here, but also a few stops remaining on my gastronomic tour. I have visited them before, but perhaps this is just testament to their wondrousness. The first is Tain l’Hermitage, which plays host to the Valrhona factory. Valrhona is delicious local chocolate, which is even more delicious than Jeff de Bruges (reviewed in my previous post), and which is deemed to be so good that it is used by Heston Blumenthal (owner and head chef at the Michelin-starred Fat Duck) in his recipes. Despite being known worldwide (as shown by the queues of tourists that flock to the shop attached to the chocolate factory), it is actually not always that easy to find in physical shops, with it being almost easier to buy online. They probably do this to try to maintain their air of exclusivity, but no matter how hard you have to look, it’s always worth it.
Finalement, something even more difficult to find. Like the mogettes, the copeaux are a near-damn impossibility to buy anywhere, even online (they are fragile and don’t always travel well). Originating in the town of St-Péray, the copeaux de malavieille (to give them their full name) are delightful twists of biscuit flavoured with orange flowers. Incredibly moreish, they are rendered somehow even tastier by their secretive aspect. Made nowhere else in the world, the only chance you will have to taste them is if you go there or if someone brings you back some. I go there every chance I get 😀