Fish and seafood lovers in particular will admit that they have a bit of a ‘foodie’ love-affair with the Charente-Maritime. But whatever you prefer, we’re sure you’ll find something to tickle your taste buds. Here we list a few of the Charentais specialities that we think you should try when you stay with us at Bel-Air Gites
If you want the freshest produce then you have to take trip out to one of the many weekly markets. For fish and seafood our favourite has to be the market at Royan, where it’s freshly caught and sold the same day. But you have to get there early, because these markets are extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. Most of our favourite Charentais specialities can be purchased at the markets, depending on the time of year.
Oyster farming began to be more commercially developed in Marennes in the 19th century. Today, the Marennes-Oléron basin produces around 40 to 60,000 tonnes per year. Most of the production is centred around the port of La Cayenne, about an hour’s drive from Bel-Air Gites. Even if you don’t want to try the oysters, it’s a pretty little village. Go for a day out just to see the charming multi-coloured oyster huts and the oyster beds established on old salt marshes.
The Marennes-Oléron oyster has a unique green colour, a delicate and refined aroma and a light, nutty flavour. You will find a lot of restaurants and stalls offering a tasting of quality oysters in the area around the port. Or you can even buy your own to eat on the spot, or take away. Oysters can be served raw as a canapé with a little dressing. Alternatively, they can be grilled, poached, fried or steamed.
Another of the Charentais specialities is the hand-picked Charentais melon. It’s a member of the cantaloupe family and was imported to France around the beginning of the 15th century.
The melons are harvested in July and August, and sold at the local markets. If you want to make sure the melon is ripe, pick it up. It should feel heavy, and if it has a little crack near the stem then this is a sign that it’s ripe. Perfect when served with summer meals and aperitifs, and goes particularly well with a chilled white Pineau des Charentes.
In Charente, they don’t talk about “escargots”, but “cagouilles”, the popular garden snails common in the area.Atlantic-Cognac.com
Enjoy a delicious pan of snails stuffed with meat, and slow-cooked in a white wine and tomato sauce. We can even give you the recipe for cagouilles a la Charentaise
Most people associate the truffle with the south east of France and the Périgord. But the Charente also has numerous truffle patches, because they live very happily next to vines. Some connoisseurs will even tell you that the scent of the truffles is one that can be found in cognac’s array of aromas. Most truffle patches in the Charente produce the highly-prized ‘Tuber Melanosporum‘, or Périgord black truffle. The famous truffle market at Jarnac is on every Tuesday from December to February. You don’t have to buy. Just go to take in all the sites, sounds and aromas of this wonderful market.
One of the reasons why black truffles are so expensive is because they take so long to grow before they can be harvested. For example, from 100 trees only 30 or 40 might actually produce truffles. On average it can take between 6 and 8 years to see the first truffle.
Do you know that saffron is the only spice derived from a flower? It’s another one of the treasures of the Charente, and one that we have shared with you in a previous article. It’s another very expensive commodity, but it can be used in so many different ways. Because saffron is rich in antioxidants there are a number of common ailments which herbal saffron supplements can help with. It’s safe to use in small doses, and very simple to add to any diet.
No french meal would be complete without a good selection of cheeses. And we have found one which is a 100% Charentais cheese.
‘Le petit Manslois’ is a fresh artisan cheese traditionally made with cow’s or goat’s milk. Its texture is smooth and soft, and it has a very delicate and creamy flavour. It’s a very versatile cheese and can used in savoury dishes, such as pies and soufflés. Or simply mixed with herbs. But it can used in sweet dishes as well, and commonly used to make a delicious cheesecake with a hint of orange blossom.
That’s just for starters
So I hope we have given you some food for thought. This is only a small selection of the amazing food and drink that can be found in our wonderful region. Why not come to Bel-Air Gites and try some for yourself? Have a day out at one of the local markets, buy all your fresh meats, vegetables and cheese. Then get back to Bel-Air and create a delicious BBQ feast on your own private patio.
Making sure you and your family have an amazing holiday is just one of Bel-Air Gites’ Charentais specialities. Come and find out some more.