The Loire Valley has provided us with many wonderful cliché experiences including running through the vineyards of Chenonceaux at sunset, driving through beautiful deserted villages, and buying bread from the local bakery in Chinon where there is ‘un pain pour chaque plaisir, un plaisir à chaque pain’ (a bread for every pleasure, pleasure in every bread.)
The culinary highlight of the Touraine area that saddles the Loire Valley and Central regions has most definitely been their cold meats. Evidence for this comes in the form of a specialist charcutier wherever one looks in the local area. The perfect compliment for the light wines of the surrounding vineyards, they provided a great excuse for us to create a picnic, picking up local delicacies from each town visited.
Our first stop was Tours, where we visited the specialist Charcutier Hardouin and came across ‘Rillettes de Tours‘, a Touraine take on the Le Mans treat of the same name (a rough paté made of pork slow cooked in its juices and spices and then shredded and blended with melted pork fat), the difference being that this one was cooked for longer hence less fat, and without adding goose meat like they do in Le Mans. Very light and buttery, this made a delicious spread for the freshly baked baguette we had purchased.
Next town was Vouvray where, after a very generous sparkling wine tasting at the Caves des Producteurs (obviously we spat as we were driving and co-piloting!), we headed into town to visit the various local specialist shops à la traditionelle (in the traditional way). The rather slim but very compact Saucisse Sèches de Vouvray burst with flavours of wine and spices, very warming and Christmassy! Next, we crossed the road to the Crémerie to get hold of a helping (or six) of the renowned AOC Saunt- Maure de Touraine goats cheese. A thin rind sheltering a gooey layer that oozed out as it was cut, surrounding a crumbly and creamy rich centre which is harder than others of its kind. Goats cheese is what enlightened me to become a cheese lover only this New Year, and this nutty variety was by far the best I have come across in this short period of time, and I suspect it will be hard to beat!
For pudding was a Nougat de Tours which describes itself as a pastry containing orange marmalade and orange ecorces sheltered by a layer of macarons. This was extremely delicate, the orange flavour not being as harsh as expected. We savoured this to eat with some perfectly juicy Touraine Strawberries a few miles away in front of the Chateau d’Ussy. This castle is none other than the inspiration of Charles Perrault’s original story ‘La Belle au Bois Dormant’ (Sleeping Beauty) and was the perfect backdrop for a feast fit for a princess, or two!
Next, the drive along the Loire river continues on a trail of chateaux, wine and Tarte Tatin!