A Gastronomic Trip to The Tarn:
Although I have travelled widely in France, I continue to find new and unique pockets of the country which surprise and delight. The Tarn, a Departement in France that is situated to the North East of Toulouse is part of Occitanie – a region with its own cultural heritage and language. I’ve been to a few other parts of Occitanie before – to the Causses and Cevennes and to Aveyron so I had some idea of the kind of landscape to expect. But, as is often the case, this particular trip had an altogether different flavour;)
Albi, the capital of the department, is a charming place, with a stunning Cathedral. The old city is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and although the Cathedral is older than the Palais des Papes in Avignon, the city and the entire region is quiet and almost undiscovered. We stayed in the City for the first few days of our trip, enjoying food and wine in the local restaurants, visiting the market and exploring a little.
At the market, local farmers were selling cherries and strawberries, white asparagus, confit of duck and foie gras in addition to a huge range of cheeses. While you’ll find plenty of contemporary European cuisine in the restaurants, keep an eye out for local influences. Pork is a speciality – salt ham, sausages, black pudding and
While you’ll find plenty of contemporary European cuisine in the restaurants, keep an eye out for local influences. Pork is a speciality – salt ham, sausages, black pudding and melsat (a type of white pudding made with meat, bread and eggs) which we tasted at La Voie Gourmande as part of a traditional lunch.
Local cheese are particularly fine – we travelled to the Black Mountain to meet the Poussines-Dubouchaud family.
Marie’s parents already farmed the lovely brunes des alpes cows for their milk but when she and her husband, Sébastien decided to quit their day jobs and return to the farm, she decided to focus her attention on cheeses which would provide a value-added product. Surprisingly, they make a fine unpasteurized camembert in addition to traditional local tommes and a mild naturally produced blue cheese, despite this requiring some care to avoid contamination of the camembert.
Marie explained that by mixing production of milk which is sold to the local co-operative and of fine cheeses, her family had the opportunity to take the occasional holiday. If they are not there themselves, either her parents or a locum dairy farmer will milk the 45 cows and supply 100% to the co-operative. But, when they are in situ, 30% of the milk is used for a daily cheese production.
Later, we enjoyed learning to cook some local and not so local dishes with Chef Franck Auger. Albi is famous for being the birthplace of Toulouse-Lautrec, who, although better known for his art, was also a fine cook who wrote his own cookery book. It’s fair to say that the version of Mulligatawny Franck produced with a little help from some of the team, was not exactly faithful to the original rather heavy recipe!
We also learnt how to make a wild cherry clafoutis – a dessert I’ve been planning to make myself for some time. Once I get the chance to try at home I’ll share the recipe and more about the dishes we cooked at La Boutique Des Secrets Gourmands – a shop and cookery school which appears to be responsible for encouraging every local family to cook and eat well.
We travelled to Lautrec to find pink garlic, a local speciality which is famous for being sweet and delicate and for its longevity. Needless to say a large grappe made its way into my suitcase, carefully wrapped up in a series of brown paper bags to try and avoid infusing all my clothes with the scent of garlic. And, walked up the hill to see the medieval windmill, dating back to the 17th century and still used to produce flour today.
Of course, we tried the local wine. This part of France has its own appellation, Galliac, and the region is claimed to be one of the earliest wine producing centres of ancient Gaul, dating back to the 2nd century BC. The wines went through various phases and at one time the region had a reputation for producing large quantities of cheap wine. But, by the 1980s EU policy changes meant that quality not quantity because more economically viable and local producers focussed on smaller quantities of high-quality wines.
Some of the local wines use well-known grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Cabernet Franc for the reds and Sauvignon Blanc for whites. But the region has its own old grape varieties too such as Mauzac, Muscadelle, Len d’El and Ondenc whites, Duras and Fer Servadou or Braucol for reds.
At the biodynamic wine producer, Chateau de Mayragues, we learnt about Brut de Mayragues, a 100% Mauzac sparkling wine which is made using the Methode Gaillacoise or Methode Ancestrale. Unlike champagne, the bubbles come from bottling the wine before the end of the primary fermentation so that all the flavours of the grapes are conserved. The charming ex-Parisian, Anne Geddes, runs the vineyard along with her Scottish husband and offers an excellent introduction to the wines of the region.
Then, at Chateau de Salettes we enjoyed a wonderful lunch before strolling round the grounds, right into the vineyards
First impressions of The Tarn? What is there to dislike about a region rich with heritage and culture but seemingly ignored by the majority of tourists. A region with its own cuisine, with its own fine wines and with some of the most stunning and unspoilt landscapes of France. I hope I’ll get the chance to return soon and I’ll certainly be sharing more about where to stay, where to eat and what to do in The Tarn in later posts.
- For further information regarding holidays to The Tarn, visit Tourism Occitania
- Wine tasting is available at Chateau de Mayragues upon request and starts from €9 (£7.50 approx.) per person. The Chateau also has a small chambre d’hotes with rooms from £115 approx (€150) per night including breakfast, based on two sharing
Cheese tasting and a tour of the family-owned cheese producing farm Ferme du Rodier is available from €4 per person
A two-course cooking class with Chef Franck Auge at Les Secrets Gourmands costs from €50 per person
- Chateau de Salletes offers accommodation, fine dining and a selection of their own wines for sale. A room at Chateau de Salettes starts from £112 approx (€145) per night based on two people sharing
We stayed at two hotels:
- The Mercure Albi Bastides, where a standard room starts from £71 approx (€81) per night excluding breakfast based on two sharing +33 (0)5 63476666.
- Domaine de Perches where a room starts from £115 approx (€150) per night including breakfast, based on two sharing +33 (0)5 63 56 58 24