What a difference a week makes! As I am writing this (Sunday March 3) the weather couldn’t be more different to what I experienced last Sunday in St Pons! An arctic wind, blasting the falling snow horizontally at the Fete du Cochon, chilling me to the bone. I’d decided to go come what may, so that I could write about it, and I’m very glad “you” made me go :-)!
The fete has been going for some 20 years, and this year the organisers had wisely commandeered the covered bouledrome for the market and the show. It had been billed as a pig fest and truffle market, and it lived up to both. I’ll spare you the truffles, you’ve already read about them no doubt. Suffice it to say that there were a good number of producers, selling some wonderful truffles, and that I bought another one, this time to have with scrambled eggs, and very delicious they were too!
As I got to the bouledrome a sheep dog show was underway. It really was amazing to watch the dogs herd the ducks and geese, especially the ducks.
I met up with some friends from St Chinian and we decided that we would see if there were any tickets for the big communal meal in the Salle des Fetes next door. Usually it is completely sold out in advance, but that day was our lucky day and we got four seats. The food here is always cooked the old-fashioned way, in big cauldrons set over a blazing fire. That alone is worth the visit!
Just across from where the cook-house was set up, a whole row of shops had been created with printed canvas – great job. And there were volunteers showing how to make sausages and bougnettes! They really deserved a medal for braving the cold!
We traded the cold for the relative warmth of the Salle des Fetes and found our alloted seats – there were probably about 300 other patrons in the hall with us – and sat down to be entertained for the aperitif by a local band.
The tables had all been set beautifully, and judging by the plate we figured there would be some kind of soup for starters.
And we were right!! After a brief introduction and welcome by one of the organisers, an army of young helpers arrived with cauldrons and ladles to serve the first course – a beautiful vegetable soup.
Then came a brief interlude, while the bougnettes were prepared. The bougnettes are a speciality of the bougnette triangle, which is formed by the towns of Mazamet, Lacaune and at the southern tip by St Pons of course. It is a kind of large dumpling, made from stale bread, pork, eggs and seasonings. The pork is meat from the neck and head, which is simmered in stock and when tender the meat is picked off any bones. The bread is cut into cubes, moistened with some of the seasoned broth, the egg and meat added, and well seasoned. Balls are formed and wrapped in caul fat, and they are then slowly simmered in fat. A bougnette is cut into slices and either eaten cold or the slices fried or grilled and eaten hot. Either way it’s delicious – you can buy them at Boucherie Peyras in St Chinian. In honour of the bougnette the brotherhood formed to promote this delicacy, had prepared a song-and dance routine. I took a video of it for your enjoyment:
The bougnettes were delicious and again served by a small army of helpers. By this time some of the other helpers had come by to replenish the bottles of wine and water on the table, and so we waited for our main course. I’d seen the hams being grilled outside, so knew what was coming. When our compere told us there would be a little wait he offered to sing a few songs for us! And he did sing them very well. Before we knew it the next course was being served. The cauldrons came out once more, this time filled with a wonderful bean stew. Almost like cassoulet but without the meat, and I’m sure that the flavour owed some to a liberal use of garlic.
The roast pork came along a little later, and because I was so busy with the beans I didn’t get a picture of it – sorry! But then you’ll probably know what roast pork looks like, and you wouldn’t be able to smell the flavour – unfortunately! There was just a hint of smokiness and the meat was juicy and tender. There were seconds of both beans and pork for those who felt the need 🙂
And so on to dessert, which was rather simple and just as well really! Oreillettes were really rather apt, being that it means ear and that the colour is not unlike a pig’s ear. But they are made of pastry, deep-fried and sprinkled with sugar. When they are well made, as they were in this case, they are light, crunchy and not at all greasy. Ours were flavoured with orange flower water – yummy!!
Once we’d had our coffee we headed back to the bouledrome, where the afternoon’s entertainment was about to begin. But first there was the piglet race: four cute looking piglets, each with a different colored ribbon round its belly were put into a ring made of straw bales. Somehow, the piglets were then motivated to go around the course – I couldn’t quite figure out how – and then the order of the colours was announced. I’d missed the bit where I could have bought a ticket or a betting slip, but a lot of people were there checking theirs to see if they had won!
The piglet race over, the next spectacle was set up right away. It was a re-enactment of the day the pig was killed in the olden days, by the Compagnie de la Source, a local amateur dramatics society. The backdrop had been installed already and the scene was set very quickly, and so the play took its course. From the farmer having breakfast with his helpers, to the arrival of the postman, then the farmer finding that the pig has gone missing, to the neighbour telling him that it’s eating his crops. Then the priest comes along, having heard that someone has died, and so it went. They did a pretty convincing job of wrestling with the pig, which was of course already dead. I heard from our friends that they carried on for some time, cutting it all up, but by then I had left – the cold was getting to me.
If you’re of a squeamish disposition don’t scroll all the way down!
Please don’t scroll past this picture if you are squeamish.