Of all the regions we explore on our bike tours, probably the most distinctive cuisine is on our Dordogne tour. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best food – that accolade probably goes to Umbria, or Tuscany, or possibly Provence. But the region which serves food which you don’t find anywhere else is the Dordogne.
An old friend of mine reckoned the food in the Dordogne was fabulous, so long as you like duck. Duck, duck and more duck. That isn’t really true, although duck does feature rather a lot!
Truffles and Foie Gras
The most famous dishes involve truffles (tuber melanosporum if we’re getting all Latin about it, or pompous) and foie gras.
Foie gras is gorgeous, but the method of obtaining it puts a lot of people off. Ducks and geese are raised normally until about 1 month before slaughter. They’re then force-fed a mixture of maize and fat for about 3 weeks – it’s too much, literally, and their livers can’t cope.
These livers grow enormously during these three weeks, up to as much as 9% of the whole body weight of the bird. Finally they have a week off before slaughter. It isn’t nice – I’ve seen geese fed this way, and they clearly don’t like it, but the foie gras (literally ‘fat liver’) is gorgeous
Confit and Gesiers, Cêpes and Strawberries
The Perigourdin do amazing things with the rest of the duck too. My favourite is confit – in short, the leg or wing of the duck or goose, twice cooked. Very, very fattening, but the crispy skin and duck meat that falls off the bone is beautiful. It’s hard to find it cooked correctly – with the skin crispy – but outside the Dordogne it is simply never cooked correctly, so I’m always drawn back to it, hoping to get the Holy Grail, a beautifully cooked, crispy duck leg, almost swimming in its own fat. OK, so it doesn’t sound so good, but my God it tastes fantastic.
You’ll also find wild mushrooms in season, notably morilles, chanterelles, and the pick of them all, the mighty cêpe – the same ‘shroom as the Porcini in Italy, or the Penny Bun in the UK. To summarise quickly, you’ll also find plenty of gesiers (goose gizzard) and strawberries in May and June.
Walnuts in the Dordogne
But the food you’ll see most frequently in the Périgord is the humble walnut, and to be blunt I don’t get it.
If someone told me there were a million walnut trees in the Dordogne, I could believe it. They are absolutely everywhere, and even if you don’t know a walnut tree from a sunflower, you soon get used to the endless rows of trees with cleared ground beneath them – to make collecting the walnuts easier, I believe. But what’s the point?
When they’re fresh, walnuts taste different. From the end of September for a couple of months, they’re fresh, or ‘green’. Once you’ve removed the outer shell, you have to peel the skin off the nut on the inside. And they taste OK, I suppose. Locals have a neat trick for opening walnuts, and it’s fairly cool opening walnuts quickly with a little pocket knife while people smash them to bits with hammers and nut-crackers.
They make tons of walnut oil in the Dordogne, and that’s OK too. They make walnut liqueur, they spoil cakes with them, and they ruin perfectly good chocolate with them.
Near Creysse, between Gluges and Meyronnes, on the way to Sarlat-la-Caneda, there is even a ‘Walnut Research Institute’. And I just don’t understand it.
Foie gras, truffles, confit de canard, cêpes, yes please, day after day. Walnuts? Put them in the compost.