Last week I casually hopped on a bus and drove to France. For some strange reason, this simple truth about Europe continues to boggle me – I can pretty much drive anywhere in a reasonable amount of time and be transported to a completely new and exciting place. For my third study trip I had the fortune to travel to southern France, to the regions of Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon, and to the city of Toulouse. It was a jam-packed week full of beautiful scenery, unique learning opportunities and of course, lots and lots of incredible food and wine. Here are just a few of the amazing things I saw, did and ate:
Our first night in Provence felt like it came straight out of a postcard. We stayed at the picture-perfect Le Relais d’Elle, a chambre d’hotes in the small village of Niozelles where the owner Catherine greeted us with a seat by the fire and a glass of crisp rosé. The Provençal dinner she prepared for us was homey and delicious, especially the phyllo-wrapped warm goat cheese sprinkled with thyme, drizzled with lavender honey and served with a simple side of greens.
Just 10 minutes away at Saveurs des Truques farm, we learned about the production of einkorn wheat, which is considered to be the oldest variety of wheat. It was a complete field-to-fork experience, as we got a chance to see the production from harvesting to milling to then processing into fresh pasta that became the basis of a wonderful lunch.
We spent the majority of our time in Toulouse with the local chapter of Slow Food. We went foraging for wild and eatable plants in the forest surrounding the city and spend an afternoon educating a group of French high schoolers about the values of good, clean and fair food. Any free time was, of course, spent exploring the city’s food. At Le Genty Magre, we tasted the city’s famous cassoulet, a wintry stew packed with beans, duck confit and garlicky sausage, then experienced high-class brasserie dining at Le Bibent. And at La Capucin, we lunched over gourmet crêpes inspired by Michelin starred chef Michael Bras.
In Toulouse we also had the chance to visit Xavier, one of the most famous cheese shops in France. Xavier is one of the few affineurs in France, which means cheeses that are sold in the shop are all carefully aged in the three cellars they keep in the basement of the shop. We toured the cellars and were led though a tasting of some of their best goat’s, sheep’s and cow’s milk cheese.
Leaving Toulouse, we prepared for a long drive back to Italy, but made one last stop back in Provence, for one more night of good food and wine. We spent our last evening at the La Bastide de l’Adrech, another beautiful chambre d’hotes nestled in the Provençal hills. Chef and owner Robert Le Bozec prepared a feast of local goat, stewed and served with fresh vegetables and a Swiss chard and potato rosti. The highlight was the dessert – a simple red wine-poached pear tart served with a saffron-infused panna cotta. It was a combination of flavors that I have never experienced before and one I hope to recreate soon.