J’ai Faim: Voyage à la Vallée de la Loire

Photo by Chance Huskey

Travelling to the Loire Valley was like taking a step back in time. The landscape – filled with hidden châteaux, small stone and half-timbered villages, vineyards, and hand-maintained gardens – envelops you in the folds of its hills. You are inside a world that is most often described as fantastical, free to forget modern-day worries and focus on the simple pleasures of life.

A big part of those simple pleasures is food. Even more impressive than the chateaux are the community gardens, outside just about every village. The gardens are small, but meticulously cared for by many hands. Despite their size and time of year they were obviously flourishing – from the bus windows I could pick out grape vines, squash plants and fruit bushes. And if the community gardens weren’t beautiful enough, dotting the hills were small pockets of grapevines, evenly and carefully planted and cared for.

Photo by Chance Huskey

The Loire Valley has capitalized on its rich gastronomical history and abundance of local products. We visited Les Caves Monmousseau, a winery near the town of Blois, and la Distillerie Giradot, a liqueur distillery in Chissay-en-Touraine, both of which are historical businesses. La Distillerie Giradot originated in 1900 and is still run by the same family of master distillers. They still use many of the traditional techniques and equipment giving their products a unique and very high quality flavor. The small size of the business (only three employees) means that customers are personally cared for – we were given a tour by the owner and allowed to choose among a wide array of their products during our tasting.

There is a focus in the Loire Valley on community, and its businesses are all interwoven. The distillery bought their fruit from other small producers in the region, and then sold their product directly to tourists and to restaurants in the region. The regional restaurants highlight these local products in their menus.

Photo by Chance Huskey

We visited one such restaurant for lunch. The restaurant was troglodytique – which means it is built into the side of a cliff, with the dining room housed in a cave. The meal was a modern interpretation of the feasts French nobles would host in the same region during the 16th and 17th centuries.

The meal was centered on fouées – warm little breads that are always served right out of the oven. A cross between pita bread and naan, they are fluffy and hollow in the center. They are cooked traditionally in a clay or brick oven, until they are perfectly browned. To accompany the bread we had rillettes (a cross between chicken salad and pâté). The main course was stewed turkey meat with vegetables and lentils. The cheese course followed, highlighting a great regional chevre (goat cheese). Finally, we finished with an apple and butterscotch tart.

Photo by Chance Huskey

Visiting the Loire Valley was an amazing experience thanks to the businesses and people who work every day to highlight and maintain the agricultural heritage of their region.

Alexis ZK studies French and Food Studies at New York University. She loves travel, dinner parties, digging in the dirt, ballroom dancing, foodie adventures and creating tasting menus in the shower. She recently ran away to Paris on a mission to discover France through food.

Originally posted on Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

One Response to “J’ai Faim: Voyage à la Vallée de la Loire”

  1. Zimmie

    November 9th, 2011

    Thank you so much for sharing your latest foodie adventure. The food, the landscape, the community — all sound so amazing. And the apple and butterscotch tart? You’ve got to be kidding! YUM!!

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