Our large (okay, huge) black truffles

One of the things I love about life in Daglan is that there’s life in Daglan.

Not that we’re one of France’s hot spots — far from it, especially at this time of year. But it seems that our village is not only attractive and clean and historic, but also continually changing for the better, little by little.

For this, I give a lot of credit to the elected village council. The village workers not only keep everything tidy (even sweeping up leaves that fall onto streets from trees and vines that are on private properties), but they also make changes that are useful (more handicapped-parking spaces) or attractive (more shrubs and vines, more flower beds).

Not long ago, Daglan moved up another notch in France’s Village Fleuri program (see “We’ve gone up by a flower!”, posted April 13, 2018.)  And the village is sometimes treated to special features that are both attractive and educational — like the giant insects that school children made, which were then placed around Daglan. (See “The village of art, of flowers — and of bugs,” posted July 25, 2016.)

Now we have another show-stopping feature that relates to the Greater Daglan Area’s love of winter truffles, but I’ll get back to that in a few moments. First, a report on today’s truffle market — where my wife Jan managed to snag the next-to-last black truffle. And here it is:

An apple, a lemon, and our new prize.

I photographed it alongside an apple and a lemon, to give you a sense of its size. It’s not huge, but it’s bigger than the truffle we bought last Sunday when the truffle market opened (see “Our own black (truffle) market,” posted December 14).

Last week’s truffle was a Category 2, and cost us 25 euros. Today’s prize was a Category 1 fungus, and cost 45 euros. Plans are already being hatched for its future.

But now to the “show-stopping feature that relates to the Greater Daglan Area’s love of winter truffles.” It’s the village’s own truffière, or truffle plot, located at one of the entrances to Daglan (from the direction of Saint-Pompon). And here it is:

Is that a bowling ball? A cannon ball? A truffle?

Daglan’s truffière has it all — rough soil, and an oak tree around whose roots the wee truffles could grow. And just to show visitors what a black truffle is like, it holds two gigantic model truffles. Here’s another, closer look:

What would these cost, if they were real truffles?

Can you possibly imagine what these babies would cost, if they were real? I can’t either.

 

 

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Our own black (truffle) market

Now I can truly say: “There was a fungus among us.” I refer, of course, to Tuber melanosporum,  the black (or winter) truffle, one of which was, until recently, at rest in our kitchen.

Yes, this past Sunday was the day — the start of the village’s weekly market for black (or Périgord) truffles, and of course we were there. (For a bit of background, see “Double your truffle,” posted on December 5, 2018).

Let’s do a quick tour, starting with the sign at the entrance to Daglan’s primary school courtyard, where the truffle market takes place:

Y’all come in!

In the courtyard were several groupings of people, either clustered in front of the vendors (as shown here) or chatting and enjoying free drinks and nibblies:

Shopping, chatting, nibbling.

My wife Jan and I made our way up to the vendors’ table, and eyed this offering of Category 1 and Category 2 black truffles, held in little baskets:

The baskets were not exactly over-flowing.

And our choice? Well, I figured the Category 2 truffles would be good enough (indeed they were), so we picked one out and the vendor placed it on his scale.  The price on the scale was shown as 26,40 euros, but the vendor said we could have it for 25 euros. (Did he know about possible publicity on Radio Free Daglan? Probably not. Just a nice guy.) Here it is:

This was our choice, being weighed.

Okay, it’s not a very exciting looking treat, but it’s definitely tasty. The proof is in the pudding of course, and so we decided that the “pudding” in this case would be pasta with truffle-infused cheese sauce, which we would have for lunch yesterday (Thursday).

Jan began by making the cheese sauce, using a combination of cheddar, a blue cheese, and some Parmigiano-Reggiano. Then she added most of our truffle, minced into tiny bits. Finally she saved a few slices to decorate the tops of our dishes. And here we go, with my bowl of truffled pasta:

Could I have another bowl please?

The verdict? Absolutely delicious — creamy, salty, cheesy, and full of that hard-to-define truffle taste and aroma. I said to Jan: “I could eat this for the rest of the day,” but of course the dish was eventually finished.

Of course, we’ll be back at the truffle market on Sunday morning.

 

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Double your truffle

I’m not sure that Daglan will become known as the Truffle Capital of the World, but our village is definitely taking the tubers seriously. This past summer, it opened a weekly market for summer truffles (see “Our new truffle market — Part I,” posted on June 2, 2018).

And now we’re not only doubling the fun, but upping the ante. Starting this coming Sunday (December 9) and running until the end of February, the village will host a weekly market for black truffles, also known as the Périgord truffle. (The Périgord is the old name for the area which is now the Dordogne département.)

Announcing the new market is this large sign, which is hanging above the small parking area as you enter the village on the Pont Neuf,  over the Céou River:

Coming soon — black truffles!

And here’s another sign, just before the Pont Neuf, which lists both markets — the winter market, for the Tuber mélanosporum, and the summer market, for the “white summer truffle,” or Tuber aestivum:

Describing both truffle markets.

The summer market was quite the success, and so it will be interesting to see what crowds the winter market attracts. The black truffles are much more flavourful than their summer cousins — but also a great deal more expensive.

How expensive? I’m not sure yet, but my wife Jan and I will see for ourselves, come Sunday.

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Today’s fabulous feast (boo hoo!)

“Well, I guess this is the beginning of winter,” said my wife Jan as we drove home this afternoon, “now that Sawadee is closed for the season.” Yes, sad as it is to report, the Thai restaurant in Cénac  today served its last meal of 2018. (Hence the “boo hoo” in the title.)

On the plus side, we were there for lunch and it was what you might call a feast. We knew in advance that the menu would be special, because a special menu has been standard practice at Sawadee for its last day before the winter shutdown. But we weren’t prepared for just how special the meal would be.

I should point out that the restaurant is just a 15-minute drive from our home in Daglan. And further, I’d say that in our immediate area, it’s probably our favourite “normal” place (that is to say,  a restaurant without a Michelin star).

So let’s start with the menu du jour, as our waiter described it as he placed it at our table. Naturally, I wondered what the choices were, and figured that the salad would be the entrée, while we could pick from among the three principal dishes. It turns out there were no choices — we got the entire menu, for just 30 euros.

So much choice! (Or maybe none!)

And so it began, with an incredibly fresh salad of raw gambas (large shrimp) placed on a bed of mixed shredded vegetables and herbs, including dill and mint leaves. The glistening morsels of shrimp were perfect with the tart dipping sauce. Here’s my salad:

Fresh, tangy, sharp — delicious.

Next came tender bits of grilled chicken, served on slices of fresh pineapple, accompanied by a rich sauce saté (although satay is the more common English spelling).  Here’s my plate:

Chicken and pineapple slices — yum!

Next came the Thai curry dish — a plate of mixed rices (Thai and wild rice) with a nice piece of my favourite fish, rascasse, cooked in a coconut curry sauce. Absolutely as good as it looks:

They had me at “rascasse.”

The final plat principal was a plate of thin grilled slices of veal, served with crispy coated slices of vegetables, including enoki mushrooms and onions. An example of the chef’s imaginative approach to cooking was the addition of tiny wedges of raw lime, which added a tangy touch to the dish. Here’s my plate:

A surprising treatment of the veal.

Finally we were offered our choice of desserts off the regular menu, but by this point Jan had had enough (well, almost). I, on the other hand, bravely ordered a sundae consisting of one scoop of coconut ice cream, one scoop of chocolate ice cream, a nice drizzle of chocolate syrup, and a pile of crème chantilly (whipped cream).

Fortunately there was a lot of chantilly on top, which worked out well for Jan, who strongly supports sharing when it comes to having some of my whipped cream. Here’s my dessert:

Enough chantilly for sharing. (Thankfully.)

Then, after our coffees, we headed back to Daglan, pretty confident that we wouldn’t be having dinner this evening. But we’re still a bit sad that we can’t return to Sawadee until next March. Boo hoo.

 

 

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100 years on — Daglan remembers

Yesterday was Armistice Day, and ceremonies were held around the world to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. Based on news coverage, I know that many were grand and impressive and memorable. But our village put its heart and soul into its own ceremony, and made it quite an event.

Thankfully, the day was sunny and a bit cool, but not cold. The weekly Sunday market took place as usual — certainly scaled down from its size in the tourist season — but still useful. It included a wine stall, a chèvre (goat cheese) stall, the vegetable man, and the flower lady. Here’s a look:

A relatively quiet market day.

Across the street from the market, beside the war memorial, the November 11 ceremony began quite promptly at 11 a.m., as the bells in our church spire started to toll the hour. In fact, they kept tolling through much of the ceremony’s beginning, including the playing of The Last Post and the address by our Mayor, which included a lengthy message from France’s President. Here’s our Mayor (with the blue, white and red ribbons of France) as the trumpet played:

A trumpet begins the ceremony.

A key feature of the ceremony each year is the reading of the list of the war’s victims from the Daglan area. Here is the veteran reading the list, and after each name is called, all of us say: “Mort pour la France” (that is, Died for France):

The names of the fallen are read out.

This year’s extended ceremony included major participation by the students at Daglan’s primary school. They sang, recited poetry, and read stories that detailed the exploits of family members who had taken part in World War I. Here are some of the students:

The students performed wonderfully.

As the ceremony came to a close, our Mayor asked us all to step around to the other side of the war monument. And there was a new plaque on the side of the monument, covered over with a plastic sheet. Here is the unveiling:

The plaque was covered.

And here is the plaque — the text of which appears first in Occitan (the old language of the area, and a few other spots in Europe) and then in French. The author was Jacques Coudon, modestly listed on the plaque as Paysan-Poète Daglanais, and M. Coudon himself read out his text to the crowd:

The plaque, in both Occitan and French.

Once the ceremony at the war memorial had ended, many of the crowd followed the village officials up to the cemetery, to place flowers on the tombs of World War I victims.

And then it was off to the school yard, for the traditional vin d’honneur — which is to say, drinks and snacks. Finally, there was a lovely lunch at Le Petit Paris — heavily subsidized by the village, because my wife Jan and I had to pay only 10 euros each. Here’s our long table (other guests were up on the next level of the restaurant):

Our long table, ready for lunch.

At each place setting, there was an attractive card for the Repas du Souvenir (or Remembrance Meal), which included the text of M. Coudon’s plaque, as well as the menu for lunch. Here’s my card:

A card for each place setting.

Also at each place with this attractive badge, which we all pinned (or tried to pin) to our shirts, sweaters or jackets:

Our special badge.

And now for the food: We began with a salad of warm lentils and lardons, topped with a poached egg and a crunchy crouton; it was delicious, but far too large for Jan and me, so half was left un-eaten. Then came the main course — Limousin beef that had been slow-cooked in Bergerac wine, and served with a variety of légumes oubliés, or forgotten vegetables, like white beets and yellow carrots. Deliciously tender. And here’s my plate:

The beef was incredibly tender.

For dessert, we had a baba au rhum maison, which was sweet and sloshed with rum, and quite good. Here’s mine:

A seriously sweet — and rum-soaked — dessert.

And then it was off to home — for us, just a short walk from the restaurant. We were both so satisfied after the lunch that neither of us ate anything for dinner. A very good, very impressive day: So some congratulations are due to the organizers, but also to the many Daglanais who turned out to mark the occasion.

For the next really big memorial event, we will have to wait until 2045 — the 100th anniversary of the end of World War II. And let’s just hope we don’t have any other major wars before then. Two were more than enough.

Posted in Food, French food, History in France, History in the Dordogne, Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in France, Restaurants in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Back to a former school house (for lunch)

My wife Jan and I had eaten many times at La Récréation in the past, but hadn’t visited there in a few years. However, we made up for the omission a few weeks ago, when we headed south to Les Arques for lunch there with our Daglan neighbour, Babs. And all three of us were really pleased with the experience.

Before I show off the food, here’s a look at the restaurant, which is located in a former school house. This photo was taken just outside the gate that opens up to a large courtyard:

Our table was just inside the courtyard.

For some useful background, here’s an excerpt from the posting called “Sweets for the sweet,” that I published a full seven years ago (October 2010):

La Récréation is a marvellous little restaurant in the tiny village of Les Arques, about 40 minutes south of Daglan. Its fame has grown because of a book called From Here, You Can’t See Paris by the American writer Michael Sanders. And while the book is ostensibly about spending a year in the restaurant business in the southwest of France, it really offers a rich description of the area’s people, landscape, politics and history. If you’re interested in France at all, I think it’s worth a read; you can find out more at http://www.michaelssanders.com/fromhere.html … The restaurant’s name means “recess,” referring to our favourite period in school, when we ran around the school yard like maniacs.

And now we can move along to the food itself, at our recent lunch. To begin, we were offered fresh marinated anchovies, served on thin strips of toast, as an amuse bouche. Then, as a standard part of the 38-euro menu, we each had a bowl of soup that was billed as gazpacho, but which was more like a normal tomato soup. Wrong billing, but warming and delicious in any case.

Then came our entrées, and I (wisely) chose my long-time favourite at La Récré — the lobster-filled ravioli, with sauce corail, which is a rich sauce made from lobster eggs, known as the coral in English.  I believe this has been on the menu for years, and for good reason. Here is my plate:

The sauce must be consumed!

Fortunately a large basket of fresh bread was on the table, as the sauce simply had to be mopped up after I finished the ravioli themselves.

Next, for my main course, I had a filet de bar (sea bass) served with a variety of vegetables, and yet more sauce corail:

A lovely dish of fish (and veggies).

My dessert was a nice concoction, bringing together the flavours of chocolate, raspberry, and a pistachio foam. Here it is:

My yummy dessert.

Aside from the food, a few other factors contributed to our good experience. For one, it was a beautiful sunny day, with barely a whisper of wind. Sitting in the courtyard gave us that taste of summer, even though it was autumn.

Another reason for happiness was the excellent, prompt service — which was all the more surprising because the courtyard was crowded with diners. We had feared long waits between courses, but were delighted with the quick (but not rushed) service. All in all, a place to visit again.

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My vote for Best Tourist Attraction

We are now well into autumn in the Greater Daglan Area — days are cooler;  shops, campgrounds and restaurants are closing for the season; traffic is lighter; and tourists are increasingly rare. Tree leaves have turned from green to golden and then to brown, and now are simply succumbing to the force of gravity. (Pure poetry.)

But a few weeks ago, on a wonderfully sunny day, my wife Jan and I decided to take our visitors — her cousin David and his wife Christine — to a place that I’ve now decided is probably the No. 1 tourist attraction in our immediate area: Château des Milandes.

You reach it by heading north from Daglan, passing through St. Cybranet. Then you continue north when you reach Castelnaud. (Bear left, instead of turning right and crossing the Dordogne.) The road winds along until you reach the (well-marked) turn for the château.

Here’s a view of the castle, as seen from the grounds a bit below the main level:

The château, against a clear blue sky.

A lot of factors contribute to the attractiveness of Château des Milandes. First, it combines a connection to medieval times (when it was built) with more modern times. Most famously, it was the home of Josephine Baker, the black American singer and dancer who went on to become a French heroine.

Her story is told beautifully as you walk through the château — which is filled with her furniture and other belongings — with an audio guide that’s available in several languages.

Then there are the raptor shows, which take place several times a day (in peak seasons) and which provide a close look at a range of hawks, owls and falcons. Like, for instance, this owl, taking flight from a post and flying in front of the spectators:

A large owl takes wing.

Or this bald eagle, flying in front of us across an open patch of lawn:

You can really sense his strength.

At the close of the show, one of the keepers mingles with the crowd, answering questions and providing a close look at one of the birds, like this one:

Showing off one of the raptors.

The château is also home to a large expanse of beautiful grounds, made all the more attractive by some new water features. Here is a view looking down a hill that now includes some clever water cascades:

A view down the hill.

And here’s a closer look at one of the water cascades:

The water drops a long, long way down.

An obvious characteristic of the château and its grounds is the high quality of construction, finish and maintenance — the edges of planted areas are sharp, the materials are first-rate, and a lot of thought has gone into the design of the grounds. Here, for instance, is a water spout placed in the centre of a large circle with seats around the edge:

At the centre of a seating area.

Finally, and somewhat amazingly, the château offers a really good brasserie — not a fine-dining place, but a large café that has a full menu, a decent wine list, good service, and reasonable prices. (This is in sharp contrast to some North American “attractions” where lunch is an over-priced hot dog and a soft drink in a paper cup.)

At our lunch, seated at a shaded table on the large terrace, Jan and Christine both had duck; David had a steak; and I had the southern French classic, cassoulet. Delicious!

If you’re headed this way for a vacation next year, and haven’t yet visited Château des Milandes, I recommend it. As a plan of attack, so to speak, I recommend visiting in the late morning; that way, you can enjoy lunch on the terrace; tour the château; and enjoy the raptors show. Be sure to visit on a nice day; you won’t want to sit on the brasserie terrace or watch the birdies in the rain.

For more detail, consult the following:   http://www.milandes.com/en/

 

Posted in French food, History in France, History in the Dordogne, Life in southwest France, Restaurants in the Dordogne, Tourist attractions, Travels in and out of France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments