Gascony food and cuisine: Gascony for foodies
France is famous throughout the world for its cuisine, but perhaps there is no other region quite so renowned for its authentic, locally sourced food as Gascony…
Over many years, Gascony has developed quite a reputation for its distinctive cuisine and local produce. The flavours are generally rich and traditional, with hearty wines, its signature brandy Armagnac, gently-reared tender red meat, really tasty chicken, the famous Toulouse Sausage, ‘Cassoulet’, and a vast range of patés and ‘charcuterie’. However, beyond the stereotypes of the region such as ‘foie gras’ and ‘magret de canard’, there’s plenty of other options to explore.
From Lectoure with its Charentais melons in the north, to the Black pigs of Bigorre in the foothills of the Pyrenees in the south, from the Basque Country and the fish of the Atlantic coast in the west, to the restaurants of the city of Toulouse in the east, a culinary tour of Gascony will not disappoint. The strong flavours of the south-west should not put you off – for the squeamish eaters amongst us, it’s not all about frogs legs and snails – rather the food has real taste and doesn’t shy away from plenty of ingredients and flavour. Think deeply traditional French cuisine, but with plenty of warmth and aroma.
To start off with, ‘Le Gers’, the department that makes up the majority of Gascony, is home to a lot of livestock, in fact livestock greatly outnumbers human residents in this area! Particularly popular are duck and goose. Although well-known for the controversial delicacy ‘foie gras’, no part of the bird is wasted, with portions of the breast meat known as ‘magret’ served in a variety of different ways, while the legs and wings are often preserved as ‘confit’ and the gizzards used in a ‘Salade Landaise’. Goose and duck fat is never wasted, and is traditionally a corner stone of Gascon cooking – potatoes roasted in duck fat are delicious! Gascony also produces some of the finest ‘White Garlic’ in France, perhaps in the world!
When it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables, you’re spoilt for choice thanks to our warm Mediterranean climate with its long growing season and lots of sunshine. There is a market somewhere nearby every day of the week, even in the smaller villages, and the displays of fresh fruit, vegetables and cheeses are a marvellous sight, guaranteed to get you cooking! Root vegetables are the order of the day when it comes to hearty stews and soups in winter, whilst the appearance of new crop asparagus tells everyone that summer has arrived. And then we start on fresh summer fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, plums and the famous Pruneaux d’Agen, followed later by figs, apples and pears.
Last but not least, no corner of France is without its own native cheeses. Roquefort to the north-east of Toulouse produces its world-famous blue cheese, but Gascony has its own excellent local (especially goat and sheep) cheeses, less well known but also delicious, such as these three farm cheeses selected by ‘Fleurons de Lomagne’.
· Ferme Baylocq, from near Fources, a pure sheep’s cheese
· Fromagerie Arribe, in the Pays-Basque, a pure sheep’s cheese
· Ferme du Serré, close to Auch, a pure goat’s cheese
Of course, as with any area in France, drink should not be overlooked – the French believe that food and wine should always be enjoyed together. Historically, Gascony included Bordeaux and the wines of that area deserve a chapter on their own. Gascon wines today are less pretentious - often described as ‘authentic country wines’ – and often made by small independent producers following a tradition begun in Roman times. The best local wine to enjoy with the richness of duck is Madiran. This is a dark earthy red with tones of cooked plums made mainly from Tannat grape in a small appellation to the west of Auch, while Pacherenc is our dessert wine of choice. Gascony’s famous brandy Armagnac is also a must-try while you’re in the region, learn more about it here and “Floc de Gascogne” (‘Flower of Gascony’), an aperitif based on Armagnac, is another local discovery waiting to be made.
If you want to learn more about Gascon Cuisine have a look at the website of The Gascony Cookery School which, as its owners say, is:
“…situated as it is in the heart of Gascony, famed for its famed gastronomic repertoire. Home to duck foie gras, cassoulet and Armagnac, Gascony’s culinary prestige is long established, making it, in our opinion, an unmissable stop on any true foodie’s tour of France.”
Our 2020/21 Restaurant Recommendations in Gascony are:
These are ‘six of the best’ in Gascony, which will compare well with some of the best in Toulouse, Bordeaux, Paris or London. In addition there are hundreds of small bistros, brasseries and restaurants around Gascony where you may find a gastronomic surprise!
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