Landing in Hexagon (the affectionate term for France), I looked at the map again, Yes, France, appeared a wonky hexagon expressing the French love of abstraction and aesthetic pleasure in beauty and perfection, the six-sided hexagon, like a fine multi-faceted diamond: a French vision of the country. With a free week of vacation, my wife and I decided to revisit a favorite place of our youth: the south-west of France and its many delicacies. We wanted to both relax and enjoy the views and gastronomic delights of this unique setting, "deep France", where we can still capture the flavors and echoes of this ancient culture still alive: the France of the provinces, from the turrets of castles, splashing the fountains in the squares of the cities, inhaling in the markets the smell of fresh fruits and vegetables picked, passing in front of the shops spreading their perfumes of melting butter and sugar for delicious pastries or notes of rich local sauces bubbling with herbs, garlic and possibly truffles steeped in goose fat.
Driving from Paris southwest via the Loire to Poitiers and its Romanesque churches where troubadours once sang in noble houses, we approached the southwest of France, its own world, the magical Aquitaine of formerly, and further south Gascony from where the Three Musketeers emerged in literature... We arrived in the Périgord region, slightly northeast of Bordeaux, the main city in the southwest, famous for its great wines. We settled into a beautiful inn in Périgueux, a perfect town in the southwest steeped in history and rich in the traditions of Périgord, in particular its famous culinary traditions. We went early to the famous Saturday market and feasted on the colors of the different foods on display. We were in the heart of truffle country, the black truffle which is called the black diamond of gastronomy! But a whiff of well-heaped walnuts also caught my attention, followed by the sight of goose livers and duck foie gras, duck breasts, thighs, drumsticks, and gizzards on display. We were in the land of foie gras pâtés! What a variety! You could find canned pâté, pâté in glass jars shining in the sun, then semi-cooked and cooked liver, large pieces and special uncooked goose livers (very expensive), and liver duck, the most popular for modern tastes. Kind vendors offered tiny pieces of pate to taste and it was amazing. This special food, an art ancient from Egypt and favored in Rome, and spread throughout Europe by the Jews, found its best home here in southwestern France where for generations farmers carefully cultivated gray ducks and geese by carefully feeding them corn and letting them forage for grasses. and vegetables that nourish their rich livers that are uniquely flavored with unami flavors that make them the jewel in the crown of French cuisine. Foie gras pâté is a must at Christmas and New Year's Eve, the great traditional meal after midnight high mass, for New Year's Eve banquets, at weddings, baptisms, and graduation ceremonies, in other words, in the most human and happy moments: taste, pure affirmation of life itself. The melting slice of pâté on the tongue creates a quiet ecstasy, the taste of Heaven.
We bought two jars of goose pâté and two jars of duck pâté from local vendors who assured us they were from local Périgord farms. We would take them home but decided it was time for a good meal right now and went to one of the best restaurants in town and feasted on a classic cassoulet, one of the region's most traditional dishes, made with duck legs and drumsticks slowly cooked in their own fat. Naturally we drank a local wine which was delicious but frankly I don't remember, Could it be a Montbazillac? During our time in Perigord we made sure to take a slow boat trip down the beautiful Dordogne river in a flat-bottomed barge gazing at the chalky cliffs with limestone outcrops and beautiful castles, mansions and picturesque villages that reveal the long habitation of this beautiful cultivated landscape: a happy fusion of human labor and attractive nature.
We continued visiting some of the famous vineyards around Bordeaux and descended south-west to Les Landes, the Atlantic coastal region that is originally moors and marshes, but partly drained and planted with one of the largest pine forests in Europe; Here the towns are small but have a folkloric flavor. In this fairly flat sandy landscape, some of the best gray ducks are raised for pâté with a rich, more robust flavor than in Périgord.
We settled in the beautiful town of Castelnau Chalosse where in a local restaurant we ordered une garbure, another delicious soupy dish that is better in winter than in spring but was once again typical of the region. We visited several farms and bought local duck pâté with a cold white Sauterne and headed to the coast, where we found a stretch of dune beach above an old German bunker from World War II. Nearby, looking towards the beach and the white-covered sea, we spread a tablecloth for an impromptu picnic, enjoying the creamy duck pâté perfectly accompanied, as the French say, with the sweetest and most intense Sauterne we have ever tasted.
We were in such a good mood that we ran down the dune to the beach, stripped off like wild bohemians, and dove into the rather cold waters of the Bay of Biscay, splashing each other, and ended up hugging each other as the waves crashed around us; After a delicious kiss, with lips still wet from wine, duck pâté and seawater, we dressed again and then went back to being normal bourgeois. Ah, this south-west of France! What do these gastronomic pleasures contribute to human desire? I pulled out a chocolate truffle for my wife as we headed to our car, spent one last night at the local restaurant with a steak Périgourdine, and finished with the traditional Iles Flottantes.
We regret not having gone to Gers and Quercy, because there are also beautiful goose and duck farms there, excellent pâtés! but time-limited our options.
Our week was almost over, except for the trip back to Paris and one last big dinner overlooking the reconstruction of poor Notre Dame as the Seine flowed into the night.