Truffle time again!!

I’m sure you have eaten truffles – but did you eat chocolate truffles or black truffles? ūüôā

The black truffle, also called Perigord truffle, French black truffle, or, to give the Latin name, tuber melanosporum, is a native European truffle, and it ranks very high on the list of the most expensive foods!

It’s been prized for its flavour since antiquity, and it was regularly served on the tables of princes, kings and emperors. ¬†Towards the end of the 19th century, France produced up to 1000 tonnes of black truffles per year. ¬†Prices were much lower then than they are now, and black truffles were used in great quantities in classic French cooking at that time.

Since the end of the 19th century, France’s truffle output has fallen dramatically – at times it has been as low as 20 tonnes a year! ¬†A variety of causes have contributed to this fall in production: destruction during the 1st and 2nd world wars, deforestation, acid rain, general pollution, changes in farming methods, changes in climate…

For a very long time, the way truffles grew was not very well understood, but by the early 1970s a technique had been developed which allowed hazelnut and oak saplings to be inoculated with truffle spores.  The resulting trees could produce truffles four to eight years after planting, but the success still depends on many factors such as soil type, amount of rainfall, temperatures, etc.

Lucky for us, a good many of the truffle orchards which were planted in Southern France are now producing truffles. ¬†If you visit Languedoc at this time of year, you are in for a treat, as truffle markets in the area take place throughout the winter months. ¬†I’ve visited several of these markets over the years, and I have written about one of these visits here.

Below, I give you a list of the forthcoming markets in the area. ¬†Even if you don’t buy any truffles, these markets are well worth visiting, I promise you!

January 26, 2020 : 21es “Amp√©lofolies du Cabard√®s” √† Moussoulens
January 26, 2020 : 4e F√™te de la Truffe” √† B√©ziers (pourtour des halles)
January 31 to February 2, 2020 : 14e “F√™te de la truffe et des produits du terroir” √† N√ģmes, Place du March√©
February 1, 2020 : “Truffes en f√™te” √† Talairan
February 8, 2020 : March√© aux Truffes” et 15e “Nuit de la Truffe” √† Villeneuve-Minervois
February 9, 2020 : 25e Journ√©e Paysanne” √† Saint-Jean de Bu√®ges
February 14, 2020 : “March√© aux Truffes de la Saint Valentin” √† Narbonne, place de l’H√ītel de Ville de 9h √† 13h.
February 16, 2020 : March√© aux truffes” √† Castelnaudary
February 16, 2020 : 12e F√™te de la Truffe et du terroir” √† Claret
February 23, 2020 : 4e Carnaval des saveurs et de la truffe” √† La Digne d’Aval
March 8, 2020 : “Truffe et patrimoine” √† Trassanel

 

Bonne annee

At this time of year in France, when you see someone for the first time after New Year’s Eve, it is customary to exchange new year’s greetings. So, without further ado:

Bonne annee, bonne sante, meilleurs voeux to you all!!

This greeting is usually accompanied by a kiss on each cheek, not a real kiss but kind of touching cheeks and making the appropriate noise.  So please feel yourself virtually kissed!!

The new year’s greetings go on until the end of January!

Soon after Christmas, the galettes des rois or Epiphany cakes make an appearance in the shops and bakeries.  The tradition of the cake is closely tied to the three kings who came to Bethlehem bringing myrrh, gold and frankincense to baby Jesus.

Epiphany cakes come in one of two shapes:  there is the flat galette des rois, a frangipane filled puff pastry confection, or a ring shaped cake made with brioche dough which is often called a royaume and is decorated with sugar and/or with glacé fruit.  That same ring-shaped cake can also be found filled with cream!!

Common to all varieties is the fact that a favour is baked into them.  In olden days, the favour would have been a feve, a dried fava bean.  In France the favour is still called a feve and it is usually a tiny porcelain figure (watch your teeth!!).  Whoever finds the feve in their piece of cake is crowned king for the day.  Whenever you buy an Epiphany cake in any bakery or shop, a small cardboard crown is always part of the purchase!

Another tradition attached to the eating of the Epiphany cake concerns the dividing of the cake.  The youngest person usually sits under the dining table.  The cake is then cut into pieces, and the person under the table then calls out the name of the person who is to have the piece which has just been cut.

If you’re tempted to make your own galette des rois, have a look at this article where I give the recipe.

So, here’s to the start of the new year – let’s hope it’s a good one for all of us!!

The photographs for this post were taken at La Gourmandise bakery in Saint-Chinian.  Thank you, Carole!!

Going crackers

A few weeks ago, I announced the date for this year’s¬†Cracker Fair Christmas market at the Abbaye de Valmagne near Villeveyrac. ¬†As luck would have it, I entered a prize draw and I was lucky enough to win a free ticket to the Cracker Fair. ¬†I don’t often win anything, so you can imagine how thrilled I was!

The Cracker Fair is a two day event, which takes its name from the traditional British Christmas cracker. ¬†If you are unfamiliar with the tradition, you’ll find the Wikipedia article here. ¬†Many years ago, when the fair first came into being, it was aimed at the British expat community, whose Christmas celebrations would not be complete without Christmas crackers! ¬†In the years since, the fair has caught on with locals and expats alike, and it is now one of the highlights of the area during the run-up to Christmas, for vendors and shoppers alike!

I went to visit last Saturday, on a gloriously sunny day.  It had rained (and stormed) the previous night, and many of the stallholders had not known whether the weather would be good enough for them to set up their stalls.  As it turned out, the day was perfect, almost too nice for a Christmas market!

The path from the entrance gates to the former abbey buildings was lined with colourful booths on one side.

Along the path on the opposite side to the booths was a stall selling garden ornaments.  No garden gnomes here!!  I was very taken by the guinea hens and the chickens!

 

A food court had been set outside the entrance to the cloister.  All kinds of foods were on offer:  fish and chips, burgers, roasted chestnuts, pumpkin soup, fresh oysters, onion bhajis, crepes, tapas, grilled sausages, pastries, and more.

The ‘prize’ for the most original looking stall went to the one selling fish and chips, which was in the shape of a boat. ¬†I treated myself to a lunch of fish and chips, accompanied by mushy peas, another British tradition. ¬†If you don’t know what mushy peas are, you can find a recipe here. ¬†In my excitement, I completely forgot to take a photograph of my lunch, but I can tell you that the fish was perfectly cooked, the batter was wonderfully crisp, and both the chips and mushy peas were delicious!

Before my lunch, I had visited the stalls inside the cloisters and the former abbey church.  Here are some of the stalls in the cloister:

There were many more stalls in the former abbey church:

Valmagne abbey was one of the richest Cistercian abbeys in Languedoc, and its church has almost cathedral-like proportions:  83 metres long and 24 metres high!  During the French Revolution, the abbey was dissolved and the buildings sold.  The church survived because it was used as a wine cellar!  Huge barrels were installed in the chapels.

The old refectory was turned into a living room during the 19th century.  And of cours, there were more stalls in there too!  The monumental fireplace was particularly impressive!!

The chapter house was off the cloister – it had the most amazing vaulted ceiling with a sawtooth pattern along the ribs of the vault.

Placed in the arcade that separated the chapter house from the cloister were some very ornately carved stone vases. ¬†The face reminds me of someone. ūüôā

In the cloister garden, opposite the door to the refectory, was a lavabo, a fountain where the monks would wash their hands.  Around the fountain was an octagonal structure which supported an ancient grape vine Рlovely and shady in the summer!

Only two of these lavabos have survived in France, one of them at Valmagne!

Here is a picture of the fountain:

The abbey might have been rich, but life for the monks must have been fairly harsh – no central heating, washing outdoors summer and winter, no thermal underwear or fleecy sweaters…

Here is a view from the cloister garden towards the church.

And this is what the buildings of the abbey look like from the road:

I’ll be going back to visit Valmagne next summer, when I’ll be able to visit the mediaeval herb garden, and discover the buildings with fewer other visitors there. ¬†I’ll report back, promise!!

Feeling festive?

As the days get shorter, my thoughts are turning to the festive season. ¬†There’s quite a bit happening in and around Saint-Chinian, and things kick off with the Cracker Fair at the¬†Abbaye de Valmagne. ¬†The Cracker Fair is a two-day Christmas market on November 23 and 24, 2019, where you can find all your presents and more. ¬†I’ve visited this Christmas market before (and I have written about it here) and will be heading there again this year!

Hot on the heels of the Cracker Fair comes the Christmas market in Saint-Chinian on December 1, 2019. ¬†The market takes place in the¬†Salle de l’Abbatiale¬†(the former abbey church), the cloisters and in front of the town hall building.

Larger towns such as Montpellier and Carcassonne have Christmas markets which run for most of December.  The one in Montpellier (pictured below) runs from November 28 to December 28, 2019, and the one in Carcassonne is open from December 6, 2019 to January 5, 2020.

In the run-up to Christmas, stocking up on festive provisions is important! ¬†The¬†Foire au Gras, literally translated to “Fat Fair”, aims to fill the need for¬†foie gras, duck fat and other poultry products. ¬†Coursan holds such a fair on November 17, 2019; in Castelnaudary you can buy similar goodies on December 1, 2019; Limoux holds a¬†Foire au Gras on December 23, 2019, just in time for Christmas!!

Truffles are also essential for a Christmas feast, so the truffle markets start just in time for the festive season.  You can find fresh truffles in Moussoulens on December 14, 2019, and in Talairan on December 21, 2019.

For those wishing to stock up on wine in time for Christmas, some of the Saint-Chinian winemakers are holding an open day on December 8, 2019!  For more information visit this site.

I’m saving the best for last – the highlight of the run-up to Christmas in Saint-Chinian!! ¬†On December 11, 2019 at 6pm, there’ll be a concert in the parish church! ¬†The chorus from the Montpellier opera house will be singing a programme of French music and ‘hit tunes’ from various operas! ¬†Full details can be found here.

Coming up

I know I promised you last week that I would continue the story of my visit to Beziers, but I realised that you might miss a lot of the events in this present post if I waited another week. ¬†I’ll continue with Beziers as soon as possible – ¬†I promise!!

You could be forgiven for thinking that this area falls into some Sleeping Beauty like slumber after the busy summer months.  Far from it!!  Fall has a lot to offer with festivals and activities all over!

The whole area is busy with the grape harvest during the month of September, and sometimes into early October. ¬†You’ll see small tractors pulling trailers that are heavily laden with grapes. ¬†People are out in the vineyards, picking grapes by hand. ¬†In other vineyards the grapes are harvested with enormous machines. ¬†Stop by any cooperative winery at this time of year, and you’ll see the grapes being delivered and tipped at the ‘quai’, where the transformation from grape to grape juice to wine starts. ¬†I wrote about the process some years ago – you can find my article¬†here.

Music is something I enjoy a lot, so I’m very glad that the pianist Conrad Wilkinson will continue his successful series of concerts here at the abbatiale in Saint-Chinian on October 6, 2019 with a concert showcasing very gifted young musicians – watch out for tomorrow’s stars!

The final concert in the series takes place on November 3, 2019.

For lovers of Jazz, the line-up has just been announced for the Jazz festival in Conilhac Corbieres which takes place from November 2 to 30, 2019.

Fall is also the time for the harvest festivals near and far.  The following list is in no particular order!

In Cessenon-sur-Orb, the Fete des Vendenges d’Antan takes place on the first weekend of October. ¬†There will be stalls with local produce, music and the traditional pressing of grapes!

In Azillanet, the¬†Fete Paysanne d’Automne takes place over two days, October 4 and 5, 2019. ¬†It’s going to be an interesting event, with a producers market on Saturday, and lectures about different topics such as how to collect wild herbs, sustainable farming, producing your own seeds, etc. ¬†There’ll be food and music too!

The Fete de La Lucques Nouvelle at the Oulibo Cooperative in Cabezac is on October 20, 2019.

I’ve written about the¬†Foire de la Pomme, du Riz et du Vin¬†a couple of years ago. ¬†This fete takes place in Marseillette on October 13, 2019 and you can find details of this year’s programme here.

I will try to visit the Fete des Vendanges in Banyuls this year Рit takes place over several days from October 9 to 13, 2019.  The full programme is available from this website.

The¬†Fete de la Chataigne in Saint-Pons de Thomieres is one of the biggest festivals in the area – this year it takes place on October 26 and 27, 2019. ¬†I’ve visited this fete many times, and have written about it here, here and here.

While I’m on the chestnut theme, the Fete du Marron et du Vin Nouveau in Olargues takes place on November 2 and 3, 2019. ¬†Although it’s a smaller fete than the one in Saint-Pons, it’s nonetheless well worthwhile a visit – the combination of roasted chestnuts and new wine is very delicious!! ¬†The program will be listed on this site shortly.

The flea markets continue in the fall, they are fewer in number than in the summer, but there are still great bargains to be had!! ¬†In Murviel les Beziers on October 20, 2019 there’ll be a big flea market, along with a market for regional produce, food stalls, and there’ll even be a concert at 11.30am!

Pezenas hosts the mega antiques market on October 13, 2019 – a great event for anyone who loves to find a special piece or keepsake! ¬†I’ve been to this event several times, and there is a post on the blog about this event here.

This is just a small selection of events which are taking place in the area – great for a visit at any time of the year!

 

Summertime, and the living is busy…

Summer is on the way, and in Saint-Chinian that means that there will be lots going on!!  We started with the festival Jazz au Cloitre last Wednesday and there are three more concerts: tonight, tomorrow and Sunday!

Hot on the heels of Jazz au Cloitre is the Fete de la Musique, which is a Europe-wide event, taking place on June 21.  I wrote about the Fete de la Musique back in 2014 Рyou can find the article here.

Throughout July and August, there are lots of things going on in Saint-Chinian: night markets are held each Tuesday evening…

… open-air cinema screenings are programmed for Wednesdays…

… there are free concerts in the cloister gardens each Thursday, and on Fridays there are circus shows, also in the cloister gardens!

The Bastille Day celebrations are always worth a visit to France!  In Saint-Chinian the party is held over two days Рon July 13 and 14, with big fireworks on July 14, followed by a concert on the main square.

A week after Bastille day, on July 21, the main square in Saint-Chinian will be filled with rows of stalls for the annual Fete du Cru, the winemakers’ festival, where you can taste all kinds of Saint-Chinian wines!

The Festival MusiSc takes place this year from July 22 to 28 – you can find the full programme here.

For wine lovers, the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian will be unveiling a new painting on the walls of one of the wine tanks in the winery on July 26. ¬†I’ve written about the Art en Cave project here. ¬†A special cuvee, with a reproduction of the new painting on the bottle label will also be available that day!

On August 22, there’s more music with a concert by the Sinfonietta Bardou in the parish church of Saint-Chinian. ¬†A programme can be found via this link.

If you are tempted to visit any of these events in Saint-Chinian, do let me know!  And if you are planning a holiday to the area, please have a look at www.midihideaways.com .

I hope you’ll understand that I’ll be hard pressed to write blog posts with so much going on. ¬†So I’ll be taking a little break for the summer months, and I will be back with more stories in the fall. ¬†In the meantime, I’ll be taking many photographs and will gather new material for new posts!!

I hope you’ll have a great summer too!