The Cuisine of South-West France – Aquitaine and Gascony
The culture of quality food in south west France is widespread and deeply entrenched – almost everyone here is a connoisseur of gourmet food. It is part of a lifestyle, of a quality of life, that has changed little over the years. This really is the “pays de cocaigne” – the land of plenty, with a wide range of products from land and sea ending up on the tables of these relaxed people. This is, for example, the basis of the French Sunday lunch – which might easily start at mid-day and continue until six in the evening.
The range and the quality of the food of south west France was very evident in the TV series French Odyssey, in which celebrity chef Rick Stein took a barge trip from Bordeaux to Toulouse, visiting farms and kitchens along the way. We should also mention Kate Hill, the American chef who runs a cooking school not far from Agen, who published the book “A Culinary Journey of Gascony”.
The region is well known for its consumption of duck, of geese, and of game. There is a range of well-known dishes prepared from the duck, including of course magret and confit de canard, but the best-known product must be foie gras, and this region is pre-eminent in France for its foie gras production. It is not always realised how old the method is – it does actually date back to ancient Egypt.
The range and the quality of the seafood in south west France is remarkable. A large part of the Atlantic coast is devoted to the production of oysters, mussels, scallops and other shellfish, and it is not surprising that the people in this area have developed many dishes based on these excellent products.
The Garonne valley is often referred to as La Vallée de Serres (valley of greenhouses). In the valley you have great soil, perfect climate, plentiful water for irrigation, and a population largely of Spanish origin – all the ingredients for the production of a huge range of high quality fresh vegetables.
South west France is particularly well known for its fruit, particularly “top fruit” (fruit grown on trees) and there are extensive orchards devoted to the production of apples, pears, plums, cherries, apricots, peaches and kiwi fruit. The plums, particularly, are widely used in the dishes of this region, and Agen is known as the “prune capital of the world”.