Think of the Dordogne and one tends to think of food and wine. From the truffles and ceps that grow in plentiful supply, to the walnut trees and vines that adorn the countryside, to its infamous foie gras and its top-quality beef, there is much to keep the foodie happy here.
The Family Slack has long considered itself well and truly entrenched in the food-lovers camp. Food and drink forms a major part of our lives, and whether we are at home or away, a good spread is essential!
So when my folks came to visit, it was only right that we spent some time trying out some of France’s finest cuisine. We’re also big believers in knowing where your food comes from, and trying where possible, to consume in a sustainable way. As such, when we saw the advert for the Balade de ferme en ferme, promoted by L’Office de Tourisme in Hautefort, we knew this was the excursion for us.
Even if it was conducted entirely in French. A language we haven’t quite yet got to grips with.
Our journey started outside the Tourist Office in the beautiful village of Hautefort at 9.30am where we were given our instructions for the day. We were to travel in our own cars, in convoy, with yellow ribbons tied on our vehicles so we could all identify each other. Our guide would take us to five different locations where we would learn about the local produce – and, of course, sample it for ourselves. All for 13 Euros. Bargain.
Our first stop was Saint Orse where we met the jolly Monsieur and Madame Devaux in a field to learn about truffle production. Despite our lack of French language skills, we were able to get the gist of what was being said.
Some 20 per cent of black truffles come from the Périgord, where the majority of farmers still rely on centuries-old methods of uncovering truffles using pigs or dogs – although according to Madamde Devaux, divining rods are also a useful tool in detecting the trees under which truffles can be found. We were somewhat dubious of this claim until we attempted to use the rods ourselves and discovered much to our delight that they do actually work!
Black truffles are harvested November through to March, so there was a certain amount of theatre and magic involved when Madamde Devaux and her dog dug into the ground to find some of the le diamant noir for us tourists to marvel at. Nonetheless, it was very interesting to learn how this delicacy is sourced.
From here we went to Monsieur Mouret’s walnut farm in Nilhac. By now the sun was high in the sky, and so the shade from the farm buildings and trees was most welcome as we heard about the journey that walnuts take from seed to shop. There is a huge amount of work – and risk – involved in walnut farming. Some 20% of the nuts are often destroyed by insects and poor weather also has a negative impact on volumes. Those nuts that do survive, fall to the ground when ready, only to be swept up by the walnut-guzzling tractor that has been specially designed to suck up them up like a giant vacuum cleaner. From here, their green husks are removed, and the nuts sorted by size.
Those that make the grade are transported through the farm to the ‘nut cracking’ area and are then turned into a variety of delicious food stuffs, be it oils for salads, nuts for snacking on, or even a very delicious wine that tastes similar to sherry – and which certainly warms the heart!
By now, our bellies were rumbling and lunch was calling and so we headed to the auberge in Nailhac. Two hours later, we crawled back to our cars, full to the brim with four fantastic courses: fois de canard; roasted duck with cassoulet; cheese and walnut cake, all washed down with several carafes of red wine. Delicious and totally unexpected.
The large quantity of food consumed over lunch and 37-degree heat were not particularly conducive to high-levels of attention so the afternoon tours of the cow and duck farms were harder work than the morning’s activities. Thankfully the two-day old calf and her mother were particularly cute, which provided enough of a distraction from the farmer and his very lengthy explanation of how difficult farming is in France at the moment, thanks to politics and global competition.
Just when we were about to keel over with exhaustion, the farmer announced that it was time to go for a drink. And more food! Four different canapes made with duck and a refreshing cold rosé (all of which could be purchased from the farm shop) completed the tour, along with a slightly grotesque video depicting the farmer transforming his duck from duckling into pâté. We wanted to know where our food came from. We certainly did after that!
Balade de ferme en ferme cost 13 Euros per person and was worth every cent. However, we understand that the farmers do not receive any payment from the Tourist Office for their contribution to the tour, and instead rely on tourists purchasing items at their shop – so we urge you to buy from them. Given the quality of the foods on offer this not exactly a hardship!
Right, time for some more of that walnut wine!