Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Banon: Rotten Cheese but Sausage Heaven for Bookworms

Banon is a small village situated on the “Route de la Lavande”, the Lavender trail in the mountains of the Haute Provence. Banon is famous for its goat cheese wrapped in chestnut leaves and tied with a raffia ribbon that was awarded AOC (Appelation Origine Controllé) status in 2003. And it is famous for “Le Bleuet”, a bookshop you'd be happy to find in a town like Aix-en-Provence or Avignon. “Le Bleuet” is a bookshop with personality, any serious book lover's dream – extremely well stocked (also with books in English and German), the salespeople are knowledgeable and charming and there are little corners that invite you to sit down and properly look at a book before buying it. Bookworm heaven!
The wonderful Le Bleuet bookshop

So when I heard that Banon was about to hold its annual cheese festival and “Le Bleuet” would have some authors lined up for a book signing that same day and that my favorite Provence author Pierre Magnan who writes detective stories that play in the villages around Banon would be there - well I made sure to get up early that Sunday morning!

When the French do a village fête, they do it properly – we were greeted by marching bands, made to try I don't know how many variations of goat cheese and wines, ate deliciously roasted sucking pig and I even got to meet Pierre Magnan who signed his new book for me! What a lovely gentleman!

Pierre Magnan

One thing though dear Banon cheese producers you really should not do: use the festive spirit of this lovely festival to flog off your old cheeses. We were well and truly ripped off – the famous Banon AOC's we were sold (and we bought six to bring home to friends and family) were all old and inedible. So much for fancy wrapping, from now on I'll only buy cheese I can see first.

What you see is what you get: Brindille sausages

Seeing what you bought was no problem at Maurice Melchio's Charcuterie: he makes handmade “brindille” sausages that are very thin and very long and utterly delicious. Don't you just love his shop? And the delighted faces of his customers?
Happy customers in sausage heaven

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blown away by the Mistral - Fête du Vin in Provence

Today the wine growers of the Côte du Rhône region in Provence celebrated their “Fête du Vin”. Besides tasting a lot of wine you can go on guided tours through the vineyards, listen to concerts being held in the wine cellars, profit from special offers when buying wine or share lovingly prepared rustic meals. We gave that a miss this year because the dreaded Mistral wind was blowing full force and these lunches are traditionally held outdoors.

Our hosts at the Roaix/Séguret Winery

Here buying wine does not necessarily mean buying bottles. In Provence wine is often sold in special “filling stations” - your bring your plastic container and get your five or ten liters (approx. one or two gallons) of the local red, white or rosé wine for “every day”.
Wine Filling Station

Red, White or Rosé: Price per Liter

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How to grow your Herbs in Style

Just one more post from the Loire Valley before I will return to Provence: until now I thought I was doing pretty well with my "potager" (kitchen garden), but that was before I went to Villandry. The formal garden of this lovely Castle is designed with salads (photo above), herbs, and fruit bushes.
And this is how it looks when you grow your parsley in style!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Broken Promises

Last week I broke a promise I made to myself – to never take photos in restaurants. I simply can't stand it when people start snapping away as soon as their plates are being served – can't you just eat your food and drink your wine and be happy and civilized?
I have one excuse though – it was early and we were the only customers and I didn't take photos of the food (which was delicious) but of the beautifully painted walls of this 16th century house.

And just in case you want to know where this was: no it is not in Provence! We went on a little vacation to see the castles (well, some of them) of the Loire Valley and this is the restaurant  “Au Rendez-Vous des Pêcheurs” in Blois. Lovely place, lovely food, charming service – if in Blois do go there!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Garlic - the Perfume of Provence

The new garlic has arrived! I tried growing it myself some years ago and although garlic is even growing wild around here it wouldn't in my garden. So I always get all excited when it starts to appear at the farmer's market and throw out whatever old garlic I have left because the new one is so much more delicious and very mild. And what is Provençal cuisine without garlic? A little clove minced up to go into “Caviar d'aubergine” (a heavenly eggplant spread), a whole head of garlic thrown into the roasting bag with a chicken, some crushed garlic stirred into a lamb marinade – I wouldn't know how to cook without it!