Tasty snails for the table

Tasty snails: for the table

Food & drink - 7 world-class products to taste and take back:

  • Charentais melons
  • Marennes-Oléron oysters
  • Goat's cheese
  • Cognac brandy
  • Charentais butter
  • Pineau des Charentes aperitif
  • Ile de Ré salt

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.

Click on the small images below to enlarge.

Roland Vilneau at Aigre Near Verdille, at Le Breuil, is Roland Vilneau, who makes fast-improving vin de pays Charentais at €3-4 a bottle for varietal wines, such as Sauvignon and Merlot. The Sauvignon often weighs in at 14% alcohol. Attention! I can also recommend his dessert wines. Call round early evening.
T: 05 45 21 34 43 / E: roland.vilneau@orange.fr
Raffier goat farm

At Le Bardonneau, near Anville, is Franck and Valerie Raffier's goat farm where you can buy award-winning organic cheese, and see the goats being milked at dinner time! He will do you a selection of six or so cheeses in various states of maturity for about €14.
T: 05 45 21 64 19

Alain Lucas runs a farm shop at Le Mortier just south of Anville. Seasonal strawberries, asparagus, haricot beans, melons, tomatoes etc. Also local wine, pineau. Open weekends all year and 6 days a week in high season. Just a bike ride away from La Bréchoire.
T: 05 45 21 62 22
Microbrewery of La Goule

The microbrewery of La Goule is not easy to find. It's good stuff though (with four styles in the range). Needless to say, the owner (Parisian escapee Joël Arlot) reports that the English and Irish are his keenest customers! Last house on the road out of Vaux Rouillac.
T: 05 45 97 09 92 / E: lagoule@wanadoo.fr

Oysters straight from the Charente-Maritime (Marennes are the best). Don't worry if they they are emerald green - that is a good sign! Available at every market. Go for medium (numbers 3 or 4). In Charente they are often served with a piece of pork sausage, cold or hot (crepinette). They can be eaten all year round.

You see it at the butcher's... and avoid it. What is rate cuite - and do you really want to know anyway? Not 'female rat' but possibly worse: boiled spleen. Hands up anyone who fancies taking on this one?

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