A river runs through it

Okay, it’s more like a large stream than a river, but I like this title, and I thought it would be a good way to reveal a happy discovery: another fine-dining restaurant, not far from Daglan.

The place is Restaurant O Moulin, in Carsac-Aillac, which is about a 30-minute drive from our home in Daglan. From our first experience recently, it’s well worth the journey.

In the photo below, you’ll see that the restaurant is set in an elegant building on attractive grounds, with the small river (or large stream) to the left of the picture. The water actually runs under the restaurant, and you’re able to see it from the restaurant’s entrance room by looking through a glassed-in section of the floor. Eventually the little river flows into the Dordogne River.

The river — stream? — is at the left of this photo.

How good is the restaurant? Well, when I checked TripAdvisor yesterday, there were 89 reviews — with 80 “excellent” ratings, eight “very good” ratings, and just one “average.” So I’m not the only one who likes it.

The people behind the restaurant are quite young, but still well experienced, and it’s clear that Chef Nicolas Aujoux and front-of-the-house partner Cécile Guerin are keen to provide both excellent food and service.

At our recent lunch, with friends Helen and Roy, we all had the three-course, 32-euro menu. The meal began with a tasty selection of amusebouches, with my wife Jan’s gluten-free diet easily accommodated.

Helen and I both had the frégola sarde comme un risotto as our entrée. If you’re not familiar with it, fregola is a tiny Italian pasta, somewhat like couscous. In this case, it was indeed prepared “like a risotto,” with bits of shrimp and smoked haddock, in an incredibly rich sauce made with the shells of shrimp.

It may not look like much (see photo below) but both Helen and I thought we could have skipped the main course and gone straight to dessert. It was that filling and rich, not to mention delicious.

So rich it has a black Amex card.

For my plat principal, I had a pavé of trout (meaning a rectangular piece)  that had been glazed with coffee and  confit of  lemons, and served with potatoes and carrots in a buttery sauce. I don’t usually get too worked up about carrots, but these were cooked perfectly. Here’s my dish:

The delicate trout was simply delicious.

Then came the dessert — and it turned out to be one of those “deconstructed” dishes that so many chefs seem to love. I often find deconstructed dishes a bit silly; I particularly remember a bouillabaisse served to me in Villefranche-sur-Mer in which the seafood had been removed from the broth and perched around the side of the bowl, so it could dry out and get cold. But this time, our chef had a winner.

The dessert was a French classic — la poire Belle-Hélène — but it had been pulled apart.  The poached pear had been cut into wedges,  and the ice cream and chocolate sauce were nicely set out on the plate. Have a look:

A “deconstruction” that actually works.

Our lunch partners Helen and Roy were actually the people who introduced us to the restaurant, although our visit together was the first time they had been in O Moulin themselves since the new team had taken over. (The place evidently had several earlier incarnations.) So thanks to them. As for Jan and me, we’re already planning our next trip back.

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

Eating seriously local

Occasionally,  new made-up words (neologisms, if you must) make my teeth ache. Like, for example, glamping. (I simply can’t reconcile the concepts of “glamour” and “camping.”) And then there’s locavore, referring to someone who prefers to eat food that is grown or produced relatively nearby. Grrrr — was that word really necessary?

Be that as it may, here in the Greater Daglan Area — and, I suspect, many regions of Europe — being a locavore is almost automatic. That is, local dishes and traditional recipes reign supreme, and attempts to change them (You’re adding parsley? Are you crazy?) are seen as downright heretical.

So in the GDA, you can’t go far without stumbling into regional  foods like confit de canard, cakes made with walnuts, foie gras from local geese, Rocamadour cheeses, early strawberries from St. Martial, and so on.

(Not that these are bad things; they’re actually quite delicious. It’s just that there are times I would like to buy some hickory-smoked brisket, a bagel, Canadian cheddar, or pepperoni sausage.)

If you do want to be quite authentic in your local-food choices, you have lots of shopping options. Here in Daglan, for instance, we have the Sunday market, but there are larger weekly markets in St. Cyprien, Sarlat, Cénac and Cazals, to name just a few. And of course, there are the nearby supermarkets (Cénac, Gourdon, Sarlat), where lots of local meats, fruits and vegetables are sold.

One of the nearby places that my wife Jan and I have found worth exploring for local foods is a store located on the edge of the main parking lot in Cénac (where that village’s Tuesday market is held), just 10 kilometres from Daglan. Here’s a view of it:

It’s called Ferme de Quinte.

Jan has found some tasty food items in Ferme de Quinte, which prides itself on selling local meats and produce. For example, she has bought packets of tender beef cubes, which made for a wonderful and tender bœuf bourguignon. Several times she’s bought pork ribs, which I prepare in my time-honoured way — slow-cooking them in a little beer, and then finishing them in a hot oven, slathered in barbecue sauce.

But recently, she came across a product that was new to us — côtes (ribs) of something called marcassin, at 23 euros per kilogram. Since she didn’t know what the meat was, she asked at the check-out desk, and was told that marcassin refers to a young wild boar.

Since we have enjoyed sanglier (wild boar) many times, Jan decided to give les côtes a try, and bought two packages totalling almost a kilogram in weight. We weren’t sure how to cook them, but I figured I would try the same technique I use for “regular” pork ribs. And here’s the marcassin, resting in a bit of gluten-free beer, ready for the oven:

Just waiting to go into the oven, covered in foil.

Well, I did my best, but the new product was not a big hit with us. Jan’s verdict: “Tasty — but chewy.” After chomping on them for quite a while, we both decided that “chewy” was the meat’s over-riding feature.

On the plus side, I did a bit of Internet research on the ribs’ place of origin, and found that there’s a farm called Les sangliers de Mortemart (The wild boars of Mortemart), near the village of Le Bugue.  There, the boar are raised outdoors, in different areas (depending on their age), and are fed various grains by the breeder, Richard Manseau,  while also foraging in the farm’s acorn and chestnut forests.

Even better, you can get guided tours of the farm, and see the animals up close and personal — but safely. Here’s what one reviewer wrote on TripAdvisor: “An interesting way to spend an hour or so, and an opportunity to get up close to an animal you probably wouldn’t want to meet in the wild.”

There’s also a store on the property, offering a wide variety of meat products — from the wild boars, of course, but also from ducks.

So Jan and I are planning a visit once the weather improves from the current cold-and-wet conditions. And hey — the farm just may become a new pilgrimage destination for members of the Wild Forest Pig Contrada, when they’re visiting us in the GDA.

Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Mayor’s speech (2019 edition)

This past Friday we attended Mayor Pascal Dussol’s state-of-the-village address — that is,  la traditionnelle cérémonie des vœux —  and thought it was the most jam-packed such meeting we’ve seen in Daglan.

My wife Jan and I arrived with two friends a bit later than the 6:30 p.m. kick-off (although the speech had not yet begun) to find every seat taken, and quite a crowd milling around behind the rows of seats.

Ever-helpful, I started hauling more folding chairs into place, pulling them from the rear of the hall to create new rows of seating, and eventually some other clever villagers caught on to the initiative. Before too long, there were enough rows of chairs to hold everyone. And then the presentation began.

Here’s a look at the Salle des fêtes, as Mr. Le Maire (yes, that’s the correct French style, using Mr.) finishes his talk:

Hail, hail — the villagers are all here!

As you can see, there’s a large screen at the front of the hall, so that slides can illustrate what the Mayor is describing.

Admittedly, none of the “news” is earth-shaking. But it’s both interesting and somewhat comforting to see evidence of what’s been accomplished in Daglan over the past year, and what’s planned for 2019.

Just as a few examples, in 2018 there was a good clearing out of logs and other debris from our Céou River; more restoration of old historic buildings; and improvements to roads and public works. In the year ahead, we can expect more such enhancements, including a new exercise area (with equipment) to be created next to the tennis courts.

In think my favourite bit of news was the detailed announcement of the three births (!!!) that had taken place in 2018 in Daglan, with the names of the parents and the babies. And then the parents were invited up to the front of the hall, where they were applauded and given a variety of goodies, including bottles of Champagne.

We had attended the event with good friends from England who have a holiday home near us, and who were hearing the Mayor’s annual speech for the first time. Although they admitted that they missed a lot of the detail, they both said they enjoyed being part of the evening. “We really felt like we were part of the community,” they agreed. And that, of course, is the idea.

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Getting the turkey right

This year, we went the “traditional” route for our Christmas lunch — but with a twist. Yes, it was turkey and trimmings, including mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry sauce. But thanks to the inspiration of son Michael in Toronto, I brined the turkey.

It was my first time to brine any meat, and my wife Jan and I thought it was the first time that either of us had eaten brined turkey. We also agreed that it was simply excellent — moist and tender and delicious. Not at all like the dry, almost tasteless turkey that is far too common.

My inspiration was that Michael had brined his family’s turkey for Canadian Thanksgiving, back in October, and he raved about it to us during one of our regular Skype sessions. So we thought we should give it a try for Christmas.

For a brining recipe, I checked with several food bloggers and websites, and was particularly impressed with suggestions from The Pioneer Woman and Dinner at the Zoo. But I made some tweaks of my own, partly because of personal taste (no garlic, please), and partly because we live in the Greater Daglan Area of France, and the products here are not exactly the same as in North America.

Our turkey was small (just two and a half kilos), since there are only the two of us in the house, and we made sure it was not fermière or free-range (since free-range poultry tends to be tough and chewy).  With that background, here we go.

In our large stock pot, I poured a 75-cl bottle of apple cider (brut) … seven bottles of water … one cup of coarse salt (gros sel) … one-half cup of brown sugar (Cassonade) … a tablespoon or so of black peppercorns … seven sprigs of fresh rosemary … a bouquet garnie … the peel from two oranges … and one thinly sliced lemon.

I brought the solution to a simmer, heated it through for a few minutes (to dissolve the salt and sugar), and took it from the heat. To help it cool faster, I first dumped in two trays of ice cubes, and then sat the stock pot in the kitchen sink, with several inches of cold water around it. And here’s what the solution looked like:

Quite the aromatic mixture.

When the solution was cool, I submerged the turkey in it, and placed the covered stock pot in the refrigerator, to let the solution permeate the meat overnight. Here’s the bird in place:

The turkey is now being brined.

The next morning (Christmas Day) I drained the turkey first, and then washed it thoroughly in cold water, to eliminate excess salt. After patting it dry, I roasted it in the usual manner, basting it along the way with liquid from the base of the roasting pan (some white wine and water) and brushing it with melted butter. When it was all done, I tented it with aluminum foil and let it rest for 30 minutes or so. The result? Have a look:

Just waiting to be carved.

From the juices in the pan, Jan made a gravy, which had a mild (and very pleasant) citrus taste.

I think the finished product looks pretty good, but I wouldn’t say the big difference is in the appearance — lots of well-roasted turkeys look nice and appetizing. The real difference is the taste and texture of the meat, and it’s well worth the effort of brining. So I say: Vive la différence!

 

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The Tree Report, 2018

It’s become a tradition that I photograph the village’s Christmas tree each year, as it stands relatively proudly in our main square. Some readers have come to expect this, after being astounded five years ago by what may well have been “the world’s scrawniest Christmas tree.”

For a look back at how bad things were, check out “We’re dreaming of a wet Christmas,” posted Dec. 22, 2013, and — even more amusing — “The Leaning Tree of Daglan,” posted Jan. 2, 2014.

For this year’s photo, I had been waiting for a bright, sunny day so that I could take my picture. However, the weather has been grey and rainy, and we may not see le soleil until some time in July. So, here goes:

Photo taken just as our market was winding down.

I’m pretty certain it won’t win any major Christmas tree awards, but it’s a pretty good effort for a small French village. And its twinkling white lights are a nice sight, if you’re passing through the square at night. Merry Christmas to all my readers!

Posted in Holidays in France, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

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.

 

 

Posted in Agriculture in the Dordogne, Food, French food, Life in southwest France | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

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.

 

Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Markets in France, Recipes | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments