Wednesday, 24 June 2015

A taste of South West France: food glorious food!

For anyone who chances upon our website, whether on a grey and drizzly day in London or Dublin; a freezing day in Vancouver; or a  hot and humid day in Sydney or Los Angeles....., the beautiful, green and plentiful Dordogne could seem to be the dream place to combine work and a wonderful lifestyle.
We feel lucky to be able to live here but now and again it's good to see the place from a new angle - and on this occasion from the point of view of food.
Charlotte, Gariguette, Mara de bois, Clary, Elegance: just a few of the strawberry varieties available
Every Sunday, without fail, we toddle down to our local market in St. Cyprien to fill a basket with fresh local, seasonal produce. Often I will visit another local market during the week to buy more freshly picked vegetables and fruit - spinach (epinards) and kiwi fruit in winter, salad stuff and strawberries in summer. However, we've often stopped and looked at some of the things that we'd never eaten in the UK and dithered about what to buy or how to cook it if we buy it!

For those with less than perfect French, it can be daunting to look at, for example, a foie gras stall and understand the subtle differences between the products on offer. I'm certain that many visitors to the Dordogne feel just the same, but help is at hand. In the hamlet of Pechboutier, only a 5 minute drive from us here in Meyrals, is the Chevrefeuille restaurant and cookery school, run by Sara and Ian Fisk, an English couple who have lived in France for 14 years.

Ian & students

Since some of our guests came back raving about their day at the cookery school, last spring, I have been itching to give it a try! As a home economist, earning a crust by giving cookery demonstations in my pre-kids days, and latterly a food technology teacher, I love cooking but was a little sceptical about how much I would learn. Happily, my scepticism was misplaced!

Local goat's cheese on Le Bugue market

Our little group of four started with the day with a trip to the market at Le Bugue, where Ian (chef) filled in the gaps in our knowledge. For the other 3 ladies (all American) this was the perfect chance to see the wonderful range of locally produced foods available and there were lots of exclamations of delight and declarations of what they would be buying on their next market trip, whilst for me it was great to feel that next time I'm there, I will be able to confidently discuss what I want to buy with the stallholders, whether it's selecting the perfectly aged Cabecou cheese, duck for confit or correct variety of strawberries for my dessert .

Ian demonstrating a luscious soup recipe
Ian doesn't have a set menu that he shops for: like all of the best chefs, he adapts according to the best available produce. We returned from the market with a whole fresh foie gras, cheese, lots of vegetables and ceps to be cooked along with some of Ian and Sara's home grown cherries, walnuts and apples.

Dordogne walnuts & apples - to accompany foie gras poele
The rest of the day was a whirl of cooking and eating: the course is very much hands-on with everyone involved in the cooking (and of course, eating) of the meal. Ian is a good teacher - not at all  like the image of the shouting chef! For those who want to learn in a sociable and relaxed atmosphere, I can thoroughly recommend Le Chevrefeuille cookery course.  I now have new recipes, lots of tips which will make entertaining less stressful, and I no longer feel intimidated by ingredients that I'd not used before - result!

preparing a fresh foie gras for cooking - my turn!

At 5pm, after a very extended lunch.....and feeling that I might not need to eat for several days, we said our goodbyes. This isn't a cheap day out but what you learn will stay with you - and it would make a great treat for someone special! Ian also does the market trip on it's own and this would make an excellent start to a holiday for all foodies.
Cabecou in puff pastry with cherry & walnut garnish

The cookery courses run during spring/early summer and autumn when the markets are less crowded and Ian has more time on his hands but not during July& August.  For more information follow this link

For those keen cooks who would like to combine a long weekend or short break with a day at the cookery school, email us to discuss your requirements. We can be flexible on arrival and departure days in our studios (ideal for a couple or two friends) and, outside high season, in our larger cottages for groups or families.

Who can resist chocolate - with added tips for making it dinner-party friendly?
..............And the resulting 'fondant chocolat'