The poster read: “Ne dites pas ail avant d’avoir goutte”, loosely translated as “Don’t shout before you’ve tasted it”. After many years of planning to go but never quite getting there, I made it to the “Fete de l’ail rose” in Lautrec this year. The fete takes place the first friday in August each year, and has been taking place since the 1970’s. As the name says, the fete is all about celebrating pink garlic, and the people of Lautrec are proud to market the garlic under Label Rouge and IGP (l’Indication geographique protegee), both of which guarantee quality and place of origin. There is a prize for the best garlic in terms of quality and presentation, a prize for the best artistic arrangement using pink garlic and a prize for the best garlic tart. The garlic in the above picture had won first price and it was beautiful to behold – unfortunately it had all been sold already, but I got to see the grower later on in the market and they had more of a very similar look. Cultivation of the garlic starts in December, when the cloves are planted in the prepared ground; planting can go on until the end of January. At the beginning of June the flower buds have to be cut so that the plants produce larger cloves (the flower buds can be used in cooking!), and at the end of June the garlic is ready to be lifted. A lot is still dried the traditional way, with the leaves tied up into bunches and suspended on drying frames in the open air. After a minimum of two weeks drying the garlic does not look all that pretty and has to be prepared
First the roots have to be cut along with part of the leaves, then the outer layers of the papery skins are removed to show the pink colour of the cloves and finally the garlic is tied into bundles (manouilles), not plaited! There’s a fair bit of skill involved in the tying of the bundles as you’ll see in the video.
The fete was visited by a large number of Confrereries from the region, including a deputation from Saint-Chinian, but the procession around the village was proudly led by the Confrererie de l’Ail Rose de Lautrec, very fetching in their green and cream robes.The town of Lautrec itself is very beautiful with half-timbered buildings and ancient front doors; I even spotted some more impressive door knockers. Being on a hill-top there are some amazing views on one side of the village, where the former defence walls have been taken down to create an amphitheatre.
The highlight of the day without any doubt (for me anyhow) was the garlic soup, which was served to all visitors at midday. The volunteers had prepared 1000 litres of the soup, and the smell of it was wafting around the central square, as we were waiting, listening to the sounds of the jazz band “Les Copains d’Abord“. The central square in Lautrec is surrounded by arcades on three sides, and all the way under the arcades tables had been set up to distribute the soup, and a kir to go with it. The crowds were thick and impatient, and you got the impression that nobody had had anything to eat for ages. Once I had tasted the soup I knew why those in know were in a hurry to get served 🙂 . If you wanted you could go up for seconds, and I must admit that I did – it was just too good not to.
One of the ladies serving let me in on a few of the tips about the soup. You use 10 cloves of pink garlic, crush it and add it to two litres of water, which you season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Leave to simmer for three minutes and if your garlic is in large pieces you may blend it for a smoother texture. Add 150g of vermicelli and cook for another three minutes. Prepare a mayonnaise with 1 egg yolk, a teaspoon of dijon mustard and some oil (colza or sunflower), or use some bought maynnaise. Take the soup off the heat, in a bowl mix some of the soup with the mayonnaise then add to the soup, stirring well and serve right away. The soup must not boil again after the addition of the mayonnaise.
After the soup we had a wander round the market, bought some more garlic and honey and ate some aligot – Aligot is another delicacy, prepared with potatoes and Tomme Fraiche. When prepared well the puree pulls in great strings, and has a wonderfully buttery flavour! We had it together with grilled sausage, and to finish off we found some artisanal made ice cream.
After lunch we inspected the creations made with all things garlic, walked round the village some more, before heading back home.
Sadly I did not have a chance to taste the garlic tart, another year perhaps? If you want to find out more about the pink garlic from Lautrec visit the website at www.ailrosedelautrec.com