Savour the culinary classics of the Charentes this spring!
Make the most of the sun and the milder weather to tantalize your taste-buds with regional produce.
Out on the café terraces
Food tourism begins in the marketplace. Some cafés will let you eat food purchased at the market on their outdoor terraces.
Ask the café-owner for a tray and head off to a local oyster seller (oysters being a long-standing speciality of the Charente-Maritime). They will open the oysters for you at their stall and you can bring them back to the café and enjoy them on the terrace straightaway. The café will provide you with the cutlery, bread, butter and wine to go with your meal.
Butter that’s certified ‘Appellation d’Origine Protégée Charentes-Poitou’ is only ever made from cream from locally-produced milk. This butter is matured more slowly than others, giving it a tremendously creamy, smooth character and a hint of hazelnut flavour.
Lunch on the lawn…or the beach
Picnics are a great way of making the most of the early spring sunshine. Whether you’re by the sea, on the banks of the River Charente or in the Marais Poitevin, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful countryside. On a pine-bordered beach, with the soft lapping of the waves in your ears and a lush green backdrop, why not go on a journey of discovery of the local area through its culinary specialities?
You could try the various local pâtés: farci charentais, farcis Poitevin, farci saintongeais, farci de Confolens and pâté aux herbes. These all have in common the fact that they’re largely green vegetable-based. They can be eaten hot or cold and may include eggs and bacon.
Round off your meal with some local cheeses: Chabichou, Mothais sur feuille (goat’s milk cheese wrapped in a leaf), Chèvre-boite du Poitou, Manslois, Jonchée, Taupinette and more… Enjoy a little Marsh Samphire, a salty-tasting wild plant that grows in salt-marsh habitat and by the seaside. And then finish things off with the sweet taste of candied Angelica, used in many kinds of desserts and confectionery.
If you’re lucky enough to have the use of a garden, you have the makings of a great evening in front of you – a traditional, filling meal you can prepare with your friends and then enjoy outside is ‘éclade de moules’ (mussels cooked on a fire of pine needles).
Take a plank of wood and hammer in two nails around which to wedge the mussels, balanced lengthwise on their edge. Create a spiral pattern, working out from the centre, one shell at a time, ensuring the hinged part of the shell faces up (so they open downwards). Next, cover them with a thick layer of dry pine needles. Light the opposite ends of the layer and let it burn. Fan the ashes away, wait until the mussels are no longer scalding-hot to the touch and enjoy! Please be very careful to prepare this Charentes culinary speciality in an appropriate place from a safety point of view – and definitely not in a forest!
If you have no outdoor space available to you, you could still do your own mouclade (another mussel dish with saffron) in a large saucepan, or try a dish based on the local garden snail (La cagouille).
Home cooking for the family
Why not cook up a delicious dish for the whole family using traditional Charentes produce?
If you like meat, you’ll love ‘grillon charentais’, a pork-based pâté rather like rillettes; Poitou black pudding (with spinach and semolina) and ‘daube saintongeaise’ (a beef and carrot stew).
Don’t forget about the early potatoes from the Ile de Ré, which have their own Protected Designation of Origin label. Harvested young, these potatoes are small with a hint of sweetness, as the carbohydrates they contain haven’t yet turned into starch. They boast a firm, delicate flesh and a subtle flavour.
For the dessert course, savour the ‘tourteau fromager du Poitou’, an almost spherical cake made from goat’s cheese, characterized by its burnt upper crust. Try out the galette charentaise shortbread-style cake with Garden Angelica and ‘Marguerite d’Angoulême’, chocolates shaped like a daisy, flavoured with candied orange peel. Other delights include la Pichotte artisan chocolates from the town of La Rochefoucauld and Kroumirs, marzipan and chocolate sweets from Confolens. Both chocolates contain marzipan, but the first contain pure cocoa and the second are dipped in a chocolate and barley sugar mix.
Top quality produce that will give you a real taste for food tourism
Enjoy sophisticated dishes prepared by top chefs using amazing ingredients. The region is full of locally-produced luxury food products, including saffron, caviar, truffles and Kuruma shrimp.
Charente-Maritime also has lots of salt-marshes, in Mornac-sur-Seudre and on the islands of Ré and Oléron. Salt has been harvested in the traditional way in these areas for hundreds of years. Enjoy the fruits of the labour of this long process, which includes coarse salt, flavoured salt, fleur de sel and salted butter caramels.
Wines and liqueurs are also part of the fruit of the land and feature amongst the culinary specialities of the Charentes. Uncover the secrets of how cognac, pineau and local wine (vins du pays charentais) are made and aged during tours and tasting sessions in the cellars of the Jules Gautret distillery. This long-standing establishment was founded in 1847. Its 3 premises (Siecq, Saint-Sulpice-de-Royan and Saint-Georges-de-Didonne) are all open to the public.
Your taste-buds are guaranteed to have a great time in the Charentes region. The local produce is a winning combination of sheer variety, respect for tradition and distinctive flavours bringing land and sea together.