A Christmas feast in France

Seven people. Seven courses. Seven and a half hours.

That’s a quick summary of the Christmas Day lunch we enjoyed in a large and beautiful stone-walled home that friends are restoring, upgrading and updating on a hillside in the hamlet of La Bégonie, high above our village of Daglan.

Yesterday I posted a photo of the open fireplace that we sat beside during the meal. Today, I’ll show off the whole epic event.

Let’s start with the people. One of the many positive surprises about our new life here has been making so many friends, not only natives of France but people from around the world. At our lunch on Christmas Day, three people were natives of Scotland. Two of us were born in the mid-western U.S. One was born in Australia. And another is a native of South Africa.

We had our meal in two areas of the house. For the formal part of our meal, we sat at a long table in the large open-concept kitchen and dining area. Here’s a look at the table:

The dining table for our Christmas Day lunch.

The dining table for our Christmas Day lunch.

To enjoy our appetizers, accompanied by generous pourings of Bollinger Champagne, we sat in the living room. For the appetizers themselves, we had made a selection at the Fabrice Le Chef boutique in Daglan.

And here’s what Fabrice Lemonnier prepared for us: a charcuterie tray, a tray of his salmon gravlax (one made with citrus, and the other with beet juice), a dozen oysters, and small glasses of crème chantilly flavoured with foie gras and slivers of black truffles. First, here are the trays of meats and fish:

Our charcuterie selection and tray of gravlax.

Our charcuterie selection and tray of gravlax.

And here are the little cups of foie-gras-and-truffle cream:

Cups of creamy treats, served with a glass of Champagne.

Cups of creamy treats, served with a glass of Champagne.

And finally, here’s our appetizer table with its tray of oysters on the half shell:

Oysters on the appetizer table.

Oysters on the appetizer table.

I suppose we could have simply stopped at this point, but no — we headed to the dining table and started on the second course. It was my wife Jan’s rich mushroom soup, decorated with sprigs of rosemary and flavoured with a good dollop of tawny Port, and served with two kinds of bread made by our friend Suzanne. Here’s my bowl:

Mushroom soup to begin the formal meal.

Mushroom soup to begin the formal meal.

Our third course was a seafood dish. Made by Suzanne’s husband Mark, it consists of three perfectly seared scallops placed on small circles of boudin noir (blood sausage), which in turn rested on a bed of cooked spinach, accompanied by a good spoonful of apple sauce. Really delicious. Here’s my serving:

A delicious scallop dish.

A delicious scallop dish.

For the fourth and main course, we had decided on a prime rib roast of beef. As I’ve written previously, French beef is definitely not to our liking; while it can be quite tasty, it’s more often than not a bit tough and chewy. (The usual reason cited for the toughness is that French beef is not aged sufficiently.) However, our roast had been specially flown in from Scotland — joy! oh joy! — and was perfect. Here’s the beef just as it finished resting and was about to be carved:

Roast beef, ready for the table.

Roast beef, ready for the table.

There was a lot of food to accompany the roast beef, including a rich gravy, Yorkshire puddings, brussels sprouts cooked with lardons and walnuts, and roast  parsnips and potatoes roasted in duck fat. Here’s my plate:

Roast prime rib of beef, and all the trimmings.

Roast prime rib of beef, and all the trimmings.

Having polished off the roast beef, accompanied by several bottles of good red wines, including a delicious Châteauneuf-du-Pape provided by our friend Janice, it was time for a break — with the cheese course.

Once again, we had done our shopping at the Fabrice le Chef boutique, and bought three selections, including one of my personal favourites, Morbier. We accompanied the cheeses with a selection of fruit and a jar of Suzanne’s homemade fig chutney. Here’s our cheese board:

That's a substantial chunk of Morbier in front.

That’s a substantial chunk of Morbier in front.

To end the meal, we decided to have two dessert courses. First came slices of Jan’s Poire William semifreddo, which we drizzled with her caramel-espresso sauce. I was so anxious to dig into my serving that I didn’t stop for a photo until I had already taken several bites. Here it is:

A semifreddo with a great combination of flavours.

A semifreddo with a great combination of flavours.

Our seventh course, and second dessert, was all about tradition: a flaming Christmas pudding, also brought in from Scotland. Here it is, flaming nicely, before being served with the traditional brandy butter:

Our flaming Christmas pudding.

Our flaming Christmas pudding.

The pudding finished, we headed back to the living room to chat, sing, digest our meals, and drink a bit of single malt.

But don’t worry — we didn’t leave for home until enough time had passed, and enough coffee consumed, that we drove quite safely. And Jan and I still had enough time left to Skype and telephone family in Toronto and Sarasota, Florida, who are six hours behind us.

So, forget the “Bah, humbug!” stuff. For us, it’s been a Merry Christmas.

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17 Responses to A Christmas feast in France

  1. Gaynor Black says:

    What an amazing Christmas Dinner! And I can see that the dining chairs are indeed comfy enough to get you through so many hours of feasting! Abrazos, Gaynor y Miguel

  2. loren24250 says:

    Hola Gaynor, merci beaucoup, y gracias!

  3. marshp2013 says:

    I enjoyed your Christmas dinner as much as if I’d been there — especially since I’d never be able to get through that much food. But it all looks wonderful, especially Jan’s mushroom soup. One note on the French beef: it could be chewier because it’s grass-fed. From what I’ve read, most North American cattle spend some time standing around in a feedlot eating grain, which makes the meat tender. The ones that spend their whole lives in the pasture tend to be tastier but a bit tough, at least for our preferences.

    • loren24250 says:

      Paul, it’s all a matter of practice. If you sharpened your eating skills as much as your photography skills, you’d be a culinary genius! (Of course, you’d weigh 300 pounds.) As for the French cattle issue, I’m really not certain about that. One of the problems with French beef (I’ve read) is that the cattle standing around in fields eating grass (which sounds idyllic) are actually dairy cattle. So when their useful (dairy) life is over, they may be used for beef. Not exactly what you’re looking for. By the way, the dislike for French beef is pretty widespread among the American, Canadian and British people we know, so it’s not just a “Jan and Loren” thing.

      • Gaynor Black says:

        So on the beef front, if you gentlemen will consider a vegetarian’s input — when we were in Argentina and Uruguay last year we ate the grass-fed beef (yes even I!) and it was so tender that it practically melted on your tongue with the help of a sip of red wine. I think though that they were specially raised to be beef and were not merely retired milk producers.

      • marshp2013 says:

        Well, the Argentines have a way with meat, Gaynor — at least, judging by the carcasses roasting in the windows of the restaurants in Buenos Aires. Or maybe you just got a lazy cow that couldn’t be bothered walking enough to get tough. Generally, the beef in Latin America is “chewy” — and that’s being polite. In some places the only way they can make it truly edible is to cook it till it falls into shreds. They call it “ropa vieja” — old clothes.

  4. Suzanne says:

    You forgot to mention the seven hours of cleaning up! But it was all wort it. A fabulous description
    of a fabulous day.

  5. Lesley says:

    Did you have designated wine with the cheese and sweet courses? Our Christmas Day Lunch started so well with the Champers taken outdoors in the beautiful and warm sunshine! Our party of six (and two dogs) was great but it always feels strange that here in France it’s back to work on the 26th.

  6. loren24250 says:

    Hi Lesley, yes — I know what you mean about the 26th. In fact, I had a medical appointment that day, and when it was being set up, by telephone, I said “Really? The day after Christmas?” “Bien sûr,” came the reply. As for the wines with the cheese and dessert, it seems to me there was Port available, but I think most of us just went on with whatever we were drinking — either red or white. (It’s all a bit foggy by that point…) Happy New Year!

  7. Deborah says:

    Christmas lunch looks great. Any chance of getting the recipe for the scallops, they seem to be with a thin sauce ( not like the ordinary British Apple sauce), and look fab. Living in farming country in North Wales beef is down to the quality ie. breed,age etc of the beast and how long it is hung for after killing.

    We had a wonderful Christmas lunch at the restaurant in St martial de nabirat and are going for back for New Years Eve dinner again.

  8. John Ison says:

    Formidable!

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