Taste Atlantic Loire

  • © A. Lamoureux

    © A. Lamoureux

Taste Atlantic Loire atlantic loire fr

Apples

The department of Mayenne produces apples in abundance, sun-ripened to perfection and added to a wealth of dishes as well as being transformed into juice and cider. The local answer to the UK pork-and-apple combo is boudin noir aux pommes, a blood sausage served with stewed or puréed apples and a generous dash of Calvados. Mayenne has also kept the cider tradition alive – for those who prefer pears, the local perry is equally delicious – and apples are used in the Maine Pommeau apple AOC liqueur, containing 70% apples with a drop of apple brandy and aged in oak barrels for a minimum of 18 months.

 

Strawberries

Perhaps surprisingly, strawberries are big business in Pornic on the Atlantic coast. Although La Fraiseraie (a family-run strawberry firm trading for the past 40 years) offers strawberry picking, it’s most famous for its delicious ice creams. It also turns its strawberries into jams, confectionery and even a strawberry liqueur known as Gosier des Chouans. The firm has 10 shops and tea rooms along the Atlantic coast from La Bernerie-en-Retz to Guérande, as well as in Nantes.

 

Pork: jambon de Vendée & rillauds d’Anjou

Cured with Noirmoutier salt, rubbed with plum or pear eau-de-vie and generously seasoned with wild herbs, ham from Pays de la Loire’s Vendée department (jambon de Vendée) takes pride of place on many local tables. Historically the Vendéens used salt to preserve pork, but due to high humidity due to the proximity to the ocean, salt alone wasn't enough – and eau-de vie was used as an extra preservative, made from the local vines. Spices would temper the strong flavour of the liquor. Meat lovers should also try the local rillauds d’Anjou: pieces of pork breast rubbed with salt and spices and cooked in fat until beautifully caramelised. Buy them from any local delicatessen and enjoy them cold with mustard and pickles – perfect picnic food!

 

Cheese

No French region would be complete without its cheese choices – and Pays de la Loire has its fair share to offer. Curé Nantais from Nantes is a real symbol of the city, nicknamed ‘Brittany’s first cheese’ as Nantes was once part of this more northerly region. It’s a soft, supple cheese often used in tarts and gratins or served with pears and apples. You can’t miss the distinctive orange rind of a wheel of Port Salut, originally made by monks at the Port-du-Salut abbey in Mayenne – although its flavour is milder than its appearance. Saint-Paulin is another mild, creamy local variation. Slightly salty Trappe de la Coudre hails from Laval, handmade on site at the Abbaye de la Coudre with cow’s milk sourced from local farmers.

 

Local cakes: Gâteau Nantais & Brioche Vendéenne

Sweet tooth? The local gâteau Nantais is a moreish almond and rum sponge cake with a white sugar glaze, invented in the 1820s when France was importing exotic specialities from the West Indies. Or try Vendée’s own brioche, flavoured with brandy, orange flower water or a mixture of the two. Brioche Vendéenne was made for family celebrations such as weddings and communions; at weddings, the bride’s godparents would typically give the newlyweds a 20-30kg brioche as a gift.
Gâche,younger relative of the brioche, is more often made during Easter celebrations, to a slightly different recipe: more sugar and with the addition of crème fraîche, making it more dense. Brioches and gâches from Vendée are now protected by an IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée).

 

Troussepinette

Produced in Vendée for years, troussepinette is blend of wine, eau de vie (a strong spirit distilled from fermented fruits), sugar and various hedgerow ingredients such as blackthorn and hawthorn.  The liqueur is then strained, adjusted to about 17% alcohol via the addition of more wine or spirit, sweetened to taste and bottled. Today white or rosé wines are commonly used and there are a number of recipes available in local shops, some with the addition of peach or apple blossom and various berries. Try it well chilled with salted snacks or pieces of melon.

 

Kamok

Another Vendéen speciality! Don’t leave the department before tasting this potent coffee liqueur,typically drunk as an aperitif or digestif. Dating back to the 19thcentury, its name is an anagram of ‘mokka’ and it’s made from an infusion of three types of Arabica bean, matured in oak. Of course, it’s also used in long drinks, in cake-making and poured over ice cream... délicieux!

 

Cointreau

This famous orange liqueur has been produced in Angers since 1849. The Carré Cointreau on the town’s outskirts is the place to go to indulge yourself – as well as learn about its history, of course. The Cointreau brand represents the best of all that’s French: strong family heritage, a pioneering spirit and a focus on pleasure. The packaging and recipe have barely changed in generations and, in spite of having trademarked its square amber-coloured glass bottle in 1885, it’s the most copied liqueur in the world with more than 1,000 similarly packaged competitors. Visitors to the Carré Cointreau are allocated intimate tables in its funky bar area, where the barman gives a cocktail demonstration and leads a tasting. The experience is interactive as visitors are involved in adding different ingredients to‘finish’ the cocktails. Cointreau is an incredibly versatile liqueur: try a
classic Margarita and a Cosmopolitan, but also the more macho Sidecar combining two signature brands, Cointreau and Cognac. The guided tour is available in English and French by appointment only.
www.carre-cointreau.fr

 

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