WE EAT IN
Food & drink - 7 world-class products to taste and take back:
These are genuine regional specialities worth trying. Locals will also wax lyrical about garden snails (petits gris), enthusiastically collected on wet evenings, and haricot beans, which sound earthy and hearty: typical Charentais cuisine.
But there's plenty for the gourmet too. The finest oysters, crustaceans and fish come to market from the Charente-Maritime coast and islands - as well as eels, trout and sometimes pike from the rivers. Excellent beef comes from the Limousin.
Being an almost entirely rural economy there is abundant game, such as hare, wild boar, wood-pigeon and partridge. Their usual fate is ending up in a paté or stew. The Poitou-Charentes region is a major producer of goat's cheese. Grillons is a delicious variety of potted pork, while gros grillon is good 'chewing pork'.
Local wines (Vins du pays Charentais) are improving fast, and there are two suggestions below for you to visit and buy from. But the Bordelais region is only about 100 km away, and Saint-Emilion, Blaye or Bourg make a good day trip. Or you can buy 'draught' claret (en vrac) for €3-4 per litre from the cave at Siecq.
All over the world cognac is a luxury item, but here it's the local booze. Consequently it turns up in many guises (including 'cognac schweppes': long, with tonic water). If you visit one or more of the hundreds of pineau-cognac farm producers, you will have a warm welcome, a sample glass and a good chinwag - but not necessarily save much money.
Pineau is quite sweet and strong (about 28%). It is a matured mixture of grape juice and eau de vie. Many people make their own, acquiring their eau de vie from mysterious sources. You can do your bit to keep the economy going by upping your consumption just a little.
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