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Monday, July 6, 2015

Mirabelle Plums

Our Mirabellier in Seine-et-Marne in early July 2014, about 3-4 weeks before harvesting

Mirabelle plums are one of those French products that receives comparatively little attention abroad with comparison to other fruit trees. Thought to have been brought to France during the Crusades, these fruit trees are common in the northeastern parts of France, especially in the region of Lorraine. Lorraine alone produces 80% of the world's Mirabelle plums!

The fruits are typically harvested in August, though last year (2014), due to a particularly warm spring, we began eating them in late July. To remove them from the tree, one simply places a tarp on the ground and shakes them from the branches! 

 About 3 weeks later. Almost ready...

The Mirabelle plum is delicious when eaten directly off the tree, or when used in desserts such as Tarte aux Mirabelles, but 90% of the Mirabelles are used to produce jams or brandy, simply called Mirabelle. Though some is produced and sold commercially, the plum brandy is usually made at home, or gifted from friends, neighbors, or relatives. Everyone who makes Mirabelle has a different recipe and while some can be relatively mild in taste (depends on the fruit and how much sugar is added to the eau-de-vie), some can certainly show off their might!


If you would like to learn more about French cuisine, culture, and enjoy exploring France, please feel free to check out our award winning food tours at We hope to see you soon!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lentilles du Puy

Auvergne might be one of the most overlooked regions for a foreign traveler coming to France. It doesn't have the highest mountains, though it does have some beautiful extinct volcanoes scattered throughout. It isn't a well known wine region, though there are some very good producers who have begun making organic and natural wine in recent years (Bouju, Dhumes, Tricot, and Domaine Miolanne are worth looking out for if you can find them). It doesn't have the ocean, but it has some clean rivers that are still home to wild salmon!

Some of the Puys, or high mountains and extinct volcanoes of central Auvergne

For a region that barely anyone knows of outside of France, many people are surprised to find out that in terms of restaurants in Paris that focus on the cuisine of a particular region, Auvergne is the region that is most commonly represented. A Bougnat (combination of the term charbonnier, a coal man, and Auvergnat, someone from Auvergne) is a term which originally signified an Auvergnat who came to Paris to sell coal, but eventually came to represent those that migrated to Paris to work in the restaurant industry in the 1950's and 1960's (my father-in-law is one of them). Auvergne restaurant owners liked to hire their own people (the Auvergnats used to even have their own train wagons on certain trains coming to Paris!), and the promise of a steady job and a new life prompted thousands of Auvergnats to immigrate to Paris to work in cafés, restaurants, and tabacs. Even as recently as ten years ago, more than 3/4 of the tabacs in Paris were run by Auvergnats!

Auvergnat cuisine is famous for being heavy- lots of pork, cheese, potatoes, cabbage, and as we will focus on here, lentils. Lentils have been cultivated in Auvergne, especially near Le Puy-en-Velay, for more than two millennia. They are planted in March and April and harvested towards the end of summer, though they can be kept in storage for a long time. Lentils provide high amounts of B vitamins, protein, phosphorus, zinc, and iron, yet are low in fat. Seemingly everyone could benefit from including more lentils in their diet!

Saint-Madeleine de Chalet, a 12th century chapel on the edge of a cliff above Massiac, about an hour's drive from Le Puy-en-Velay

The terroir of Auvergne adds to the mineral content of the lentils, and their taste for that matter! Terroir, while difficult to define in English, represents the natural factors impacting the outcome of the lentils. In this case, it could be the volcanic, mineral-rich soil, and the cool dry winters and hot summers.

Lentils are typically prepared in Auvergne by cooking some onions and carrots in olive oil, then creating a stock with water, salt, pepper, and a couple of bay leaves (some add nutmeg, thyme, and/or rosemary, but to each their own recipe!) and are served with saucisse d'auvergne, as seen below. The lentils retain their texture while cooking in this method, and are not as floury as other lentils that we have tried from abroad.

Saucisse d'Auvergne avec Lentilles Vertes du Puy

Auvergne is not the only region in France to produce lentils, as both green and blond lentils are grown in Franche-Comté, and blond lentils are even produced in the valley of Brie, just 50 kilometers east of Paris (where we offer our Countryside Tour. Click here to find out more!).

 A view up close of some high quality green lentils!

If you would like to learn more about French cuisine, culture, and enjoy exploring France, please feel free to check out our award winning food tours at We hope to see you soon!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Andouillette de Troyes

Unlike many of the French specialties which we discuss on our blog, this one in particular could be considered an acquired taste. I have even had friends that have said that you need to be born French to enjoy Andouillette, or at least to have been raised in a culture that enjoys eating pig intestines and stomach!

Andouillette is a sausage that is prepared by taking the pig intestines and stomach and cutting them into long strips, shoving them into a tube casing, and seasoning it with salt, pepper, onions, and white wine (Champagne could be used as well, as it is the wine of the region in which Andouillette de Troyes is produced). It is cooked in a stock for several hours, after which it may be served hot or cold, though in Troyes it is almost always served hot, and many times grilled after its preparation in the stock.

Grilled Andouillette de Troyes, served with melted Chaource cheese, which comes from 30km south of Troyes

Andouillette supposedly gets its name from the abbot of St. Loup named Guillaume Andouillette, who came up with this creation in the 15th century. The abbey of St. Loup can be found in the city of Troyes, in the southern part of Champagne. If you don't go for the sausage, you should at least go for the beautiful timbered houses (many of which date back to 16th century) or for the high quality champagne that comes from the Côte des Bars, just southeast of the city of Troyes. Fleury, Drappier, Schreiber, Domaine Marie Courtin, Vouette et Sorbée, and Lassaigne are just some of the great producers that can be found within an hour's drive of Troyes (and found at restaurants and bars within the city limits of Troyes itself).

Just a couple of examples of the well preserved/restored timbered architecture found everywhere in old town Troyes

Personally, it took me a few years to come around to Andouillette. However, after enjoying a beautiful grilled Andouillette in Troyes last year, it is easier to understand why there is an Association (Association Amicale des Amateurs d'Andouillette Authentique, or AAAAA) dedicated to protecting and awarding diplomas to high quality Andouillette!

If you would like to learn more about French cuisine, culture, and enjoy exploring France, please feel free to check out our award winning food tours at We hope to see you soon!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Asperge des Bois

Asperge des Bois, also known as aspergette

I first came across asperge des bois in Paris in April or May of 2014, when I saw it for sale at a marchand of fruits and vegetables being sold in bundles under the name of asperge sauvage, or wild asparagus (this is not the appropriate name, but I didn't know better at the time as I had never seen it before). I bought a bundle of it with really no idea what to do with it, but fortunately enough for me, when I stopped by one of the restaurants that we use for our tours on my way home, the chef was preparing some asperge des bois and cooking it with risotto. As I really had no other ideas, I decided to follow his lead and try my hand at making his recipe at home. While the resulting dish turned out good, the taste of the asperge des bois was different from what I expected. In no way did it taste like asparagus; the taste is subtle and more than anything just added some crunchiness to the risotto which I had prepared at home.

The origins of Bath Asparagus in France are mysterious. It seems the only suggestion to be found is that it was brought by the Romans to be cultivated, but even then, most sources which I cam across appear to suggest that it is an educated guess. It is not related to asparagus, but gets its name due to its resemblance to asparagus.

 This photo is just to give an idea of how much asperge des bois could be found in this spot- it goes deep into the woods here as well

No more than two days later, I was taking an early evening walk in the woods behind my mother in law's house in Seine-et-Marne, about 50 kilometers east of Paris. As I cut through an apple orchard to a small path that passes through the woods, I noticed what looked like asperge des bois growing in abundance in one spot that was maybe 50 meters wide and at least 75-100 meters deep into the woods, if not more. After reflecting on the price in Paris for a small bundle (5 Euros for maybe 15-20 small shoots), I thought about bundling up as much of this valuable plant as possible and giving some to friends. However, as I had only known of the existence of the asperge des bois for 48 hours maximum, I decided it would be best to wait for some to bloom just to make sure that it was indeed Bath Asparagus (named due to its former abundance near the city in England of the same name), as I did not want to poison myself and my friends with some mystery plant that I picked out in the forest.

 Asperge des bois in bloom

A week later, I decided to retrace my steps to check on my patch of asperge des bois, and to my delight and dismay, the shoots had bloomed and the flowers proved that I was correct the week before. Unfortunately, the shoots are at their best when they are smaller and no longer consumed once the flowers have bloomed (though they did make a pretty bouquet of flowers for my wife). Nevertheless, I know where they are for next spring and will be sure to collect as much as possible!

This apple orchard was nearby where I found the asperge des bois. That is the only hint I am giving!

If you would like to learn more about French cuisine, culture, and enjoy exploring France, please feel free to check out our award winning food tours at We hope to see you soon!