Let it flow

A few months ago, I discovered an olive mill near Beziers.  Domaine Pradines le Bas is just a few kilometers from Beziers town centre, in the direction of Murviel-les-Beziers.  Francine Buesa has been planting olive trees on the estate for more than 15 years, and her trees are now in full production.

Olive grove at Domaine Pradines le Bas

I visited again last week to watch olive oil being pressed.  The olive harvest starts as early as at the end of August, when the olives destined for the table are being picked.  The harvest can continue into January.  Once the table olives are picked, the rest of the harvested olives are being processed for oil.  Green, purple and black olives come from the same tree, but are at different stages of ripeness.  As olives ripen, their oil content starts to increase.

Olives ready for pressing

Olives ready for pressing

At Pradines le Bas, the table olives are picked by hand, whereas the olives destined for olive oil are harvested mechanically.  A special harvesting machine is used – the machine spreads what looks like a giant upturned umbrella underneath the tree, and then gently vibrates the tree, shaking off the ripe olives.  The upturned umbrella catches them all!  The olives are then loaded into large crates and taken to the mill for processing.  Here’s a picture of the machine:

Olive harvesting machine

Olive harvesting machine

At the mill, the olives are loaded into a machine which separates the leaves from the olives, and washes the olives.

Starting the milling process

Starting the milling process – the cleaning machine

The black box on top of the machine takes care of the leaves, a bit like a giant vacuum cleaner, whilst the ‘washing machine’ is below.  Once the olives are washed, they are transported to the room next door.  Stepping into the room next door was great!  There was a wonderful scent in the air – difficult to describe – somewhat herby but definitely smelling of olive oil.

From the hopper, an Archimedes screw takes the olives to the mill unit, where they are pulped, stone and all!

Arrival of the cleaned olives

The olive pulp then goes into a malaxer, a machine, which slowly mixes the olive pulp for up to 45 minutes.  This mixing helps the extraction process later on.

Malaxer with the lid closed, to avoid oxidization

Here’s a video for you – unfortunately you don’t get the smell, but you’ll get an idea of the noise!! 🙂  (Note: e-mail subscribers, you may have to visit the website in order to be able to watch the video)

The olive pulp being mixed.

From the malaxer, the pulp gets pumped into the extractor, where the pulp is spun to separate the liquid from the solids.  The solids end up next door and are later spread out in the olive groves, nothing is wasted!

Extracting the juice from the olive pulp.

The yellowish olive juice runs through a sieve into a container, from where it is pumped to a centrifuge.

Olive juice!

The centrifuge separates the water from the oil.  The golden coloured olive oil runs from the spout in a thin but steady stream!

Freshly pressed olive oil

When freshly pressed, the olive oil has a cloudy appearance.  The oil is unfiltered, so tiny particles of olive pulp are still in suspension.

The pressing plant

Once pressed, the oil is transferred to stainless steel tanks, where, over time, the particles slowly drop to the bottom, leaving the oil perfectly clear and sparkling!

Over 900 litres of olive oil!!

The bottom of the stainless steel tanks are v-shaped, and that’s where the solids collect.  A tap at the bottom of the tank allows the solids to be drawn off.  That part is sent to a soap factory for processing into soaps and cosmetics.

Stainless steel storage tank

The oil is now ready to be bottled and sold!  The shop is right next door to the mill.  Large windows in the shop allow the visitors to see the equipment throughout the year.

In the shop you can find a variety of olive oils (you can taste them all!), tapenades, table olives and cosmetic products, as well as a selection of products from partners (vinegars, jams, etc.).  You can also buy via the on-line shop, but nothing beats tasting the oils before you buy!  When you buy olive oil, bear in mind that up to 10 kilos of olives are used to make a litre of olive oil.  At Pradines le Bas, all olive oil is cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil.

Making olive oil is not the only activity at Pradines le Bas.  Up the stairs from the olive mill is a gallery for contemporary art.  Don’t miss it if you visit – the exhibitions change on a regular basis, and are always worth a look!!

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Aperitif anyone?

In French, the word aperitif has several meanings.  At the base, an aperitif is an alcoholic beverage, taken before a meal.  The meaning also includes all the food and nibbles served with this drink, and it also means the convivial time spent with other people.    If you are invited for an aperitif (or apero) in France, there will be a selection of drinks of varying strengths:  whiskey, beer, pastis, vermouth, flavoured wines (more about those in a moment), kir (white wine with blackcurrant liqueur), straight wine, sparkling wine, muscat, cocktails – you name it!

Then there is the food, which can range from the simple – a few nuts and crisps – to the very elaborate aperitif dinatoire, which is a meal in itself.  I tend to go the middle road, below some pictures of aperitif tables laid out with a variety of food:  crisps, pate, cheese, sliced sausages, radishes, dips, crackers, cut up cucumbers and carrots, tapenade.

Last year, I was given a recipe for a  flavoured wine which is typically French: Vin d’Orange. Thank you Anne!!  This drink is made with Seville oranges, white or rose wine, clear spirit, sugar, vanilla beans and lemons.

The clear spirit is 40% alcohol and in France it is called Alcool pour Fruits. For the wine I used locally made chardonnay.  The oranges (also locally grown) and lemons were washed and cut up into quarters.

Gratuitous picture of cut-up Seville oranges 🙂

The wine, spirit and sugar were put into a large enough non-metallic receptacle, and the oranges and vanilla beans added.  The whole was given a good stir, covered and left to macerate for two months.  I gave it a stir from time to time – the aroma was heavenly!

After the two months, I fished out the oranges, strained the wine through a double layer of cheesecloth, and bottled it.  It is best served chilled!  Cheers!!

Below you’ll find the recipe in a printable format.  Please drink responsibly.

Vin d'Orange

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

A slightly bitter orange flavoured wine, perfect for a summer aperitif.

Ingredients

  • 5 litres of white or rose wine
  • 1 litre of clear spirit (40% alcohol)
  • 1.5 kg sugar
  • 1 kg Seville oranges
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 2 vanilla beans

Directions

  1. Prepare a non-metallic recipient, large enough to hold all your ingredients.  It should be scrupulously clean and you should be able to cover it hermetically.
  2. Wash and quarter the oranges and lemons.
  3. Add the wine, alcohol and sugar to the recipient and stir to dissolve the sugar.
  4. Add the fruit and the vanilla beans, stir and cover.
  5. Leave to macerate for two months, stirring from time to time.
  6. After two months, remove the fruit and vanilla beans and strain the wine through a double layer of cheesecloth.  Bottle and cork.

Notes: As I prefer my drinks dry, I only used 500g of the sugar for my vin d’orange.  You could start with that quantity and add more sugar later if you prefer.  If you are unable to find Seville oranges, you can use regular oranges and add 20 g cinchona tree (quinine) bark.

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More eating out

Over the course of this past summer, I’ve discovered a few new restaurants, and re-visited others.  Be warned, this post contains many food pictures!!

La Galiniere is in Capestang, which is not all that far from Saint-Chinian.  I don’t know why I had never been to this restaurant before, but I’m very glad that I finally I went!  The restaurant is located on a little square, not far from the centre of the village.  To one side is a wonderful mural, a real trompe l’oeil!  You don’t get the full sense of it from the photographs – it is amazing if you are there in person!

Just across from the terrace of the restaurant is this fountain.

The starters were all delicious and the portions were generous!

Crispy chicken salad

Gaspacho

Marinated salmon

The main courses were as delicious as the starters, and the portions were once again generous!

Salmon with almonds and tapenade (the little jar contains a ratatouille flan)

Steak with a red wine sauce

The “Galiniere” burger made with duck breast

Cod crusted with tapenade

The cheese plate was modest in size compared to the previous two courses, which was welcome at that point!  The cheeses were very good!

When it came to dessert the lights had come on.  My poor camera had trouble coping with the light, and hence the following pictures are a little below par.

Strawberry mille feuille

An original way of serving sorbet!

The chef’s take on lemon meringue pie

I’ve not been able to find a website for La Galiniere, but from a facebook page it appears that the restaurant is closed Monday and Tuesday.  Reservations can be made on +33 (0)4 67 26 14 77.


My visit to the Auberge de Madale was a re-visit – I had eaten there a number of times but the last time was several years ago.  It was wonderful to see the (positive) changes which had happened in the intervening years!  The dining room had been given a total makeover and is now very stylish.  The big and airy room has whitewashed beams, very comfortable chairs and a lovely feel.  Sound deflectors are suspended from the ceiling, and that means that the restaurant isn’t very noisy, even when it is full.  On the day I visited, the weather was a little ‘iffy’ so we could not sit out on the terrace, but that was fine!

The concept of the menu is very simple:  The price of 32 Euros per person includes everything – the aperitif, starter, main course, dessert, wine, coffee and petit fours.  There are no choices to be made – no agonising over which wine to select, or what to choose for dessert!!  The menu is posted on the website and it changes every two weeks!

Here is what I ate on recent last visit:

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Nibbles Cherry tomatoes marinated in vinegar, wrapped in a slice of radish, air cured ham on a crouton,  wonderful crisp bread with a tomato and pepper dip.

Rape de carottes des sables sur un yaourt au citron vert. Creme glacee saumon fume / Yuzu
Grated carrots on lime flavoured yoghurt. Smoked salmon ice cream with yuzu.

Tomate ‘Noir de Crimee’ / framboise. Cremeux pomme de terre/raifort racine, assisonne d’une vinaigrette betterave xeres
Black Crimean tomatoes / raspberries. Potato puree with horseradish; seasoned with a beetroot and sherry vinaigrette.

Pannacotta vanille, rhum et jus de melon. Sorbet abricots / basilic
Vanilla panacotta, rum and melon juice. Basil and apricot sorbet

Mignardises
Home-made marshmallows and dried fruit ‘sausage’

As you can see, the food is beautifully presented!  It tastes even better than it looks!!

The Auberge de Madale is open for lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday.  Reservations are by telephone only on +33 467 230 193 – be sure to book well ahead.  Something else to be aware of:  the restaurant does not accept credit cards, payment is by cash or cheque only.


The restaurant Parfums de Garrigues was another re-visit earlier this year.  I went to eat there not long after it had first opened many years ago, and then it somehow dropped off my radar!  When I went to eat there early this year, I enjoyed it so much that I went back two more times!!  The food was delicious each time I ate there.  Chef Jean-Luc Santure gained his experience working with such gastronomic luminaries as Jacques Maximin, the Troisgros brothers and Eckhart Witzigmann.

I’ll share with you the pictures of my latest meal in August at Parfums de Garrigues.

Nibbles!

Starter: terrine of foie gras

The fish course: razor clam, mussels, scallops, king prawn, white tuna, seabass

Fricassee of wild mushrooms

A palate cleanser – muscat sorbet with muscat eau de vie

A mixed grill with summer truffles

The cheese course – all perfectly ripe

Dessert was a mixed platter of home-made desserts and ice creams

All three meals at Parfums de Garrigues were delicious, and the food changed with the seasons.  I won’t wait all that long before I return there!

Do make sure that you book a table, you’ll find details on the website for the restaurant.

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Apples aplenty

I would like to dedicate this blog to the memory of Nadine Holm, a dear friend who passed away on September 4, 2017.  She would have enjoyed our outing to this event tremendously!!

There are several villages by the name of Aigues Vives in France – I’ve counted eight of them on the ViaMichelin website!  So it’s important to pick the right village!  The one I visited recently is near Carcassonne, and the postcode is 11800, just so you know.  This village has been holding an apple, rice and wine fair for some time – this year was the 20th time!  Why I’ve never visited before is a mystery to me, but I’m glad I went this year!

Aigues Vives is located on the edge of the Etang Asseche de Marseillette, a drained marsh, where the apples, rice and wines for sale at the fair are grown.  More about the Etang a little later in this post.

The village was beautifully decorated for the occasion – the entrance arch to one of the streets was made from apples and rice straw.

In one of the squares, the iconic Citroen 2CV car had been recreated with apples:

Signs had been specially made to direct visitors:

The rock on which the church stands was decorated with strands of apples:

Near the entrance to the church stood a windmill decorated with apples – the thatch on top was made with rice straw, and the sails were turning!!

There was even a lady with an apple skirt:

Apples were for sale at almost every corner:

Other stalls sold a variety of delicious edible goodies:

In the village hall, a communal meal was served by a caterer – I didn’t go to that.  I did go to the village park, which had been set up as a “food village” with a number of food stalls and tables and chairs under the trees.  A group of musicians were providing entertainment!

Around the park, a number of signs had been put up.  The one below shows the names of all the apple growers in the Etang de Marseillette:

This sign gives the names of the wine, plum and rice growers:

A few sayings:

One grain of rice can tip the scale

Three apples a day – everlasting health

Wine gets better over time, and we get better with wine!

A cider press had been set up on a stage in the village.  The apples (granny smith, golden and gala) were first pulped:

The pulp was collected in buckets lined with large squares of fabric:

Once the buckets were full, the cloth was tied up and the bags were put into the press – soon the juice started to flow.

The apple juice was poured into plastic cups, and everyone could have as much as they wanted!  It was very delicious!!

In order for visitors to find out more about the Etang de Marseillette, a number of guided visits had been arranged.  Two “little trains” were taking groups of people on the guided visits.

The Etang de Marseillette is left over from the time when the Mediterranean sea covered large tracts of land about two million years ago.  When the water levels dropped and the sea receded, a number of lakes stayed behind, and one of them was at Marseillette.  In time this became a marshy salt lake, covering an area of around 2000 hectares (20 square kilometers or 7.2 square miles).  Three small streams fed the lake, and it was often deemed to be the reason for outbreaks of local epidemics.

In the Middle Ages, attempts were made to drain the lake, which were more or less successful, but the drains silted up and nature reclaimed the lake.  In 1804, Marie Anne Coppinger, the then owner of the Etang, carried out immense works and drained the lake, but the returns from the land were insufficient, and she bankrupted herself with the project.  The next owner carried on with improvements.  He built a tunnel to bring water for irrigation from the river Aude.  The tunnel is over 2 km long and in some places it is 60 metres below ground!  In 1852 the Etang was sold once more, and the new owners decided to divide the land and sell off smaller parcels.  With no overall owner, the maintenance of the irrigation and drainage canals was soon neglected again.

In 1901, Joseph Camman, an engineer, bought 800 hectares of land in the Etang and started a campaign to improve the irrigation.  One of the main problems is the fact that salt left in the soil will come to the surface if the land is not sufficiently irrigated.  Plants which grow there, produce only very shallow roots of about 35cm, partly because of the heavy clay soil and partly because of the salt.  Keeping the soil well hydrated is the key to successful cultivation!

Joseph Camman also built a hydroelectric power station, to harness the power of the water coming from the river Aude.  Unfortunately, the power station has long since been abandoned, and the building is in a very poor state of repair.

The pond on which the power station stands serves as a holding tank for the distribution of water to the three main irrigation channels.

In order to keep the canals from silting up, Joseph Camman designed “cleaning boats”, which increased the current in the canals as they travelled through and flushed the silt away.  These days, modern diggers are used.

As we travelled through the Etang, we saw orchards, vineyards and a rice field.  The rice had mostly been harvested, but a little bit had been left standing for us to see.  The apple trees were heavy with fruit, and of course all the fruit you saw earlier in this post was grown here.

There is only one grower of rice active in the Etang.  He produces a number of different kinds: red, long grain, short grain etc.  I bought several different kinds of rice, and I have already tried the mix of red and white rice which was delicious!  And of course I also bought some apples!!

 

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Garden fresh

During my recent blogging holiday, I had many delicious meals: at home, with friends, in restaurants, and at festivals …

On a day out with friends in Perpignan, I went to Restaurant La Galinette, following the recommendation of one of my guests (thank you, Tove!!).  Christophe Comes, the chef proprietor of the restaurant, has a potager of 3 hectares which he cultivates with the help of his father.  The produce from this vegetable garden plays a starring role on the menu!

La Galinette has a star in the Guide Michelin – my friends and I decided to order the tasting menu!  Without further ado, here are the food pictures – :

Salmonejo de tomates “Green Zebra”, basilic pourpre, feta.

For the Salmonejo, a cold tomato soup was poured into the plate – it was so tempting to eat that I totally forgot to take another picture!! 🙂

Collection de nos tomates anciennes; huile de l’hort et condiments

The collection of heritage tomatoes included Black Krim and Ananas, and the plate was as pretty as a picture!  It also tasted divine.

It still looked like a (modern art) picture when there was nothing left!!

Saumon sauvage a peine cuit, oseille de Belleville, concombre epineux et pain noir.

Wild salmon served on a sorrel puree, spiny cucumber and black bread.

Vive sauvage de Mediterranee, fine brandade de morue, jus de piperade au chorizo.

Wild sting fish (greater weever), served with salt cod puree and piperade sauce (made with sweet bell peppers and chorizo).

Epaule d’agneau catalan confite, pulpe d’aubergines “di Fierenze”

Slow-cooked shoulder of Catalan lamb, surrounded by various preparations made with aubergines: roasted, deep-fried in panko crust, braised, and puréed.

Pasteque rafraichie d’agastache anisee, sorbet melon “piel de sapo”

A generous slice of watermelon topped with candied melon and melon sorbet – very refreshing!

Peches “duras” d’Ille sur Tet, idee d’une melba

A take on peach melba, made with “duras” peaches from Ile sur Tet, with raspberry sauce and peach and vanilla sorbets.  The berries at the front of the picture are sugar frosted redcurrants.

This was a very memorable meal, every course as delicious as the previous/next!  If you are in Perpignan you should definitely try this restaurant!  If you are not already there, perhaps you want to plan a visit – it’s a wonderful town to explore!  The lunch menu is priced at €25 for three courses, the tasting menus are €48 for six courses and €54 for eight courses, served for lunch or dinner.  La Galinette is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Saturday.  Reservations are recommended!

I leave you with a few random pictures taken in Perpignan:

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I’m back!

It’s been a wonderful summer – very busy with one thing and another, but wonderful all the same.  Now that I’m sitting down again to write, I don’t know where to start!!  Perhaps I’ll start with my most recent outing, as it’s still so fresh in my mind.

This past weekend, the village of Bize-Minervois hosted a festival called Tastes en Minervois.  It billed itself as a wine and gastronomy festival, and this was the third time it was being held.  I had completely managed to miss the previous two festivals, which took place in Homps in 2015 and 2016 – quel dommage – I was thrilled that I was able to go this year!

For the festival, the old centre of the village had been closed off.  The entrance fee was 15 EUR, which included a wine glass, a voucher for a meal at one of the four restaurant tents and free wine tastings throughout the village.  A fifth restaurant spot was reserved for children.

It was all incredibly well organised – and it had to be!  The organisers were expecting around 10,000 visitors over the two days!!

About 100 winemakers from the Minervois AOC area participated.  Each winemaker was assigned a wine barrel, and allowed to showcase one wine for tasting.  Orange polo shirts denoted volunteer stewards or wine makers – their names were printed on the back of the shirts!

The restaurant tents had been set up in four different places around the village, and each had its own distinctive theme.  Cuisine du Monde was on the promenade along the river,  and its musical accompaniment was by a flamenco guitar group.

Cuisine traditionelle had been set up near the Mairie, and the music was provided by a group of three women, calling themselves USB – a play on words – they are super branchées, which means either connected or trendy.  Their music was great: festive and rhythmic, it really made you want to move!

Cuisine Carre Vert was near the church, and the musical entertainment there was very original!! Eric van Osselaer makes music by using vegetables as his instruments!!  He made flutes from carrots, a kind of clarinet with a carrot, a cucumber and a mini pumpkin, leaves of Belgian endive served as reeds – it all was highly original.

Cuisine Street Food was in a newly created square in the heart of the village, and the music was provided by a group of DJs.

Here’s some of the food:

On the tray with the small bottle (milk shake) is Cuisine Street Food, and on the other tray you see Cusine du Monde.  Both were very delicious!!

It was great wandering around the village, glass around my neck and stopping for a sip here and there!!  Here are my favourite wines from the evening:

As the evening went on, the lights came on, and the atmosphere became even more magical!

In a courtyard, a little tucked away, a coffee bar had been set up.

The coffee was delicious, and accompanied by a few mignardises, small sweet bites, each of the four chefs of the evening having contributed one.

Darkness fell and people were still arriving, the numbers swelled perhaps by the inhabitants of the village, who had all been given passes.

With the fading light, the decorations in various places also came into their own!

For me it was time to head home, but here’s one last look, from across the river:

The festival is due to take place again in Bize Minervois in 2018.  More information on http://www.leminervois.com .  To book your stay in Bize, visit http://www.midihideaways.com/figuier

 

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