Heaps of sheeps

Transhumance n. the seasonal migration of livestock to suitable grazing grounds [C20: from French transhumer to change one’s pastures, from Spanish trashumar, from Latin TRANS- humus ground]

The above definition comes from the Collins English Dictionary.  Transhumance seems to have been around as long as animal husbandry.  It is practiced wherever the seasonal conditions mean that it’s better for livestock to move to a different place.  For example, think of the alpine pastures that are rich and lush in the summer, but are under a thick layer of snow during the winter.  Or think of the coastal plains of the Languedoc, which grow lush during the winter but dry out during the summer months.

The village of Vendres is situated close to the coast, just beside a lagoon, and there is a lot of grazing land around it – the ideal area for a flock of sheep!  Grazing plays an important part in maintaining the ecosystems of the somewhat marshy lands, and in reducing the fire hazard that un-grazed land would present during the hot summer months.

For the past twelve years, the village of Vendres has been celebrating the occasion of the transhumance of the sheep with a fete.  The neighbouring villages of Lespignan and Nissan have also joined in, and so the Fete de la Transhumance has evolved into a three-day event!  I went to Vendres last Saturday, to enjoy a day at the Fete de la Transhumance!

The highlight of the day was the procession of the flocks of sheep through the village, accompanied by riders on horseback.  First though came the marching band!Closely behind them were the horses…

…and then came the shepherds and the sheep!  I’ve seen sheep before, but seeing a huge flock of sheep arrive in a village is something I’d never experienced!

The sheep seemed to be going round in circles, pushed one against the other, with the whole flock moving very slowly towards where I was standing.

The man standing to the left in the above picture was holding a branch, with which he blessed the sheep by sprinkling holy water over them.
Finally, the sheep made off down the road, but there were sheep as far as I could see!!

More shepherds and a couple of sheepdogs brought up the rear, and everyone followed them down the road and into the village.

We took a shortcut to get to the Place du Lavoir where a small market and a communal meal had been set up.  To my surprise, the sheep came right past that square – once more it was wall-to-wall sheep!!

By the old lavoir, the open-air wash house, barbecues had been set up, and people were preparing salads on long trestle tables.  On the bouledrome next to the lavoir, tables and chairs had been prepared for 600 people – they were expecting a crowd!!

Come 12.30, the tables were pretty much filled up and people were queuing to get their lunches.  The atmosphere was great – lots of laughter, families meeting up, strangers making new friends, children running through the rows!  Some people had even brought table cloths for their tables, along with real wine glasses!

On my tray I had the following:  green salad with tomatoes, onions and olives, grilled lamb with boulangere potatoes, a slice of sheep’s cheese, a slice of apple tart, a piece of bread (very important, we are in France after all!!) and, also important, a quarter of wine (in a plastic beaker).  Everybody else’s trays were the same, by the way!!

The food was all very good, and there was plenty of it!  The lamb was locally raised and the cheese was produced with milk from the flocks we had just seen.  The apple tart was divine!

The market stalls next door to the bouledrome had a variety of items on offer: wine, honey, plants, cakes, hams and sausages, cheese, knick-knacks, etc. My favourite pretzel lady was there too!!

It’s definitely a fete I’ll be going to again – the meal alone is worth the trip!  Keep your eyes peeled for details of next year’s Fete de la Transhumance.  You’ll be able to find details on http://www.ladomitienne.com

Advertisements

Food, glorious food

Of late I have neglected writing about restaurants.  It’s true that I’ve not been getting out all that much recently, but nonetheless I have a few meals to share with you, from restaurants that I have visited over the past few months, and whose delicious food is worth writing about!

First on is Les Cuisiniers Cavistes in Narbonne. If you have been reading this blog for a little while, you may remember the gourmet walk in Saint-Jean-de-Minervois last year.  Les Cuisiniers Cavistes provided the excellent food for that event.  The restaurant sits on a little square, just across the road from the Musee Lapidaire, where all the bits of Roman carved stone are exhibited (something for another blog post).  I visited on a beautifully sunny day last October.

P1000624

The lunchtime prix fixe menu was not extensive but offered a good choice.  Since it was autumn, I opted for the pumpkin soup with wild porcini mushrooms and foie gras.

P1000631 My dining companion chose an autumnal salad (Meli Melo), which contained celeriac, brussels sprouts, wild mushrooms, caramelized onions and Spanish ham.P1000629

There were two dishes to choose from for the main course – easy – we had one of each!! 🙂

Here is the filet of cod, served with haricot bean puree and whole haricot beans, veal gravy, and thin strips of cured lard:

P1000637

I went for the carnivore option and had the duck breast, on a bed of roasted vegetables:

P1000635

There were two desserts to choose from.  I opted for profiteroles, which were filled with vanilla ice cream:

P1000639

My dining companion chose the chestnut tiramisu, which was served with chocolate sorbet and gingerbread crumbs.

P1000638

The entire meal was very delicious, and as you can see, the portions were not on the small side.  On top of that, the autumn weather was glorious, so it was a pretty perfect lunch!

Another memorable meal happened more or less by coincidence, on the way back from visiting an art exhibition in Serignan (see post here).  It was getting late, and we were getting hungry.  I remembered that friends had mentioned a place by the marina at Port Chichoulet in Vendres, and since we were close by, we thought we’d have a look.

P1160737

There’s really not very much going on at Port Chichoulet, unless you have a sailing boat in the marina, or want to go birdwatching in the nearby marshland.  There is a large building at the end of the quay, and three buildings, which, for want of a better word, I will call shacks.  The shacks all serve food, and our friends had recommended that we try the one in the middle, which is called L’Etal du bateau Joel et Valerie III.

P1160725

Since it was a little chilly outside we opted for eating inside.  The restaurant was very charmingly decorated with all kinds of things maritime.

But we’d come for the food – the fish!!  Joel Rodriguez, the owner of the restaurant, also has a fishing boat, which is called Joel et Valerie III.  I am assuming that Valerie is his wife? All of the fish served at the restaurant is his catch.

P1160735

The razor clams looked very tempting, but I’ll have to try them another time…

P1160736

On the menu there is fish and only fish!  The way it works is that the diners select the fish they want at the counter, and then it’s freshly cooked for them on a plancha, a cast iron grill plate.

We opted to share a portion of grilled squid to start with, which came to the table perfectly cooked:

P1160727

With the food there were no accompaniments, no vegetables, no french fries!!  But there is plenty of good crusty bread, and some aioli and garlic and parsley dressing.

For our main course we ordered a duo of dorade – dorade grise (black bream) and dorade royale (regular bream).  Our waitress recommended that we start with the black bream. Again, the fish was absolutely perfectly cooked.  I got a little carried away and almost forgot to take a picture!! 🙂

P1160729

To compensate, I took some shots of the food for some of the other tables, just before it was taken to the tables:

So if you enjoy good fish, think about visiting Port Chichoulet in Vendres – it might be an idea to telephone ahead (+33 628 350 590), to make sure that Joel et Valerie will be open.