December 2014…Charente-Maritime has a wealth of gastronomic delights whether it’s locally produced oysters or goat’s cheese, fresh sea salt or Bouchot mussels, Surgères butter or Mojhettes beans. The Charente wines are well respected and the unique fortified wine (Pineau de Charentes) together with cognac, give the area worldwide renown.
Looking at a couple of products a little more closely…
Oysters from Charente-Maritime and the Marennes Oléron – Treasures of the Atlantic
The oysters of the Charente-Maritime have a unique flavour no matter the variety – ‘affinée en claire’ or ‘pleine mer’ for example – in no small part due to the diversity of the cultivators who nourish these shellfish to maturity, absolutely true to their mission to develop the best taste.
This dedication to the trade by the farmers of Marennes Oléron has led to them being the only French oysters being awarded the ‘Label Rouge’ (Red Label) for the ‘fine claire verte’ variety since 1989. The taste is a result of the exceptional cultivation in a unique ecosystem only to be found on Oléron Island and the Marennes basin, where the fresh water of the Seudre River meets the sea, producing a delicately perfumed oyster.
To learn more about oyster cultivation in the area visit the un-missable ‘Oyster City’.
…is a cow’s milk cheese which is molded in straw baskets made from the rushes that grow in the marshes around Rochefort and only drained when it is to be eaten. The best way to eat ‘la Jonchée’ is, of course with a glass of rum or cognac with hints of bay and almond.
Where to shop?
The Markets of the Ile de Ré and La Rochelle
In France life would not be the same without the markets and each village has its own unique character. For example on the Ile de Ré the market La Flotte is inspired by its medieval roots, that of Ars-en-Ré is the most popular, La Couarde the most family oriented and Loix, the most friendly. The Bois Plage market is the largest on the island, having not only areas dedicated to food and drink, but also to jewellery, clothes, decorative pieces, items for the beach and not forgetting a merry-go-round for the kiddies.
For more information on the markets of Ile de Ré click here. One of the most famous markets in Charente-Maritime is that of La Rochelle, which has dominated the social life of the town for over 300 years, it is where the locals all come to meet, to chat, to buy excellent produce in either the Four Seasons or the fish and seafood market. There are altogether over a thousand square metres of stalls and counters, where one may find over a hundred vendors, selling fruit and vegetables, flowers and cheeses.
And so to eat…
Johan Leclerre’s father and grandfather were not only fishermen but also chefs cooking on ships. So they can cook or fish depending on what is needed ! Johan’s vocation for cooking was shown the light of day when the fami,y reunions took Place and the generations shared their gifts. He is the only Meilleur Ouvrier de France of Charente-Maritime.
Chef Marion Monnier has been delighting his customers with epicurean masterpieces since 2007 in the town of Saintes. He was made a Master Restaurateur in 2010 and gained his first Michelin star in 2012 which recognised his ability to blend a work of art with great taste. As he says – ‘everyone should eat well here’.
There are three restaurants that are particularly popular with the British on the Ile De Ré:
- Le V – more a wine bar come bistro serving oysters and wine on the port at Ars-en-Ré.
- Le Grenier à Sel – serving a more traditional French cuisine near to the port in Ars-en-Ré. It has a lovely terrace shaded by olive trees.
- Le Quai 53 – on the quayside of St.Martin, specializing in fresh local produce.
The sweetshop ‘Confiserie Lopez’ in Royan has been producing sensational bonbons for generations and continues to do so today. Manuel, the current incumbent, h his shop and year round online. Soft white nougat, caramels made with sea salt, red nougat, lollipops from Royan, ‘niniches’, ‘guimauves’, boiled sweets, licorice and more – the Lopez family has always been passionate about the quality of their products.
The sweetshop ‘Boutique La Rosière’ in Saint-Jean-d’Angely and their famous boiled sweet, ‘Bois Cassé’ is an original Charentaise specialty which was created in St.Jean d’Angély by confiseur, Mr Boutinon, at the start of the twentieth century and is lovingly made by hand to this day in the Lopez establishment. It looks like driftwood, hence the name but is crunchy, light and comes in different fruit flavours.
But if you would like to try this at home…
Grégory Coutanceau from La Brasserie de Grégory ‘L’Entracte’ in La Rochelle has invented the following recipe- No.52
Grilled Scallops, Black Truffle Risotto with a meat and shellfish sauce.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time : 2 hours
- 20 scallops
- Olive oil
- Salt & pepper
For the risotto:
- 200g risotto rice
- 80g onion
- 20 cl of white stock
- 50g parmesan cheese
- 40g butter
- 10g truffles
- 25cl cream
- Truffle oil
- A little white wine
- Salt & pepper
For the sauce:
- 2kg crabs
- 5cl cognac
- 100g carrots
- 100g onions
- 20g tomato concentrate
- 10g garlic
- Olive oil
For the parmesan tile:
100g grated Parmesan
Pour the olive oil into a non-stick saucepan and heat to brown the scallops for 45 seconds on each side, then let them cook through for the last 15 seconds – add the butter and season well.
For the risotto melt the butter in a high sided frying-pan and lightly sauté the onion, add the rice and blanche, then de-glaze with the white wine. Let the wine evaporate and then cook adding a little of the white stock bit by bit to keep the rice moist. Almost at the point where the rice is done add the parmesan, cream and truffle.
For the parmesan tiles, spread the parmesan on a non-stick baking tray and cut circles about 10cm in diameter. Cook in the oven at 190C for five minutes then leave to cool.
For the sauce, crush the crabs and cook in the olive oil then flambé in the cognac, add the carrots and diced onions as well as the halved garlic cloves. Add the tomato concentrate then bring to the boil and simmer for two hours after which you need to reduce by a third. Add in the butter, season and keep aside.
To plate add the scallops to the risotto. In-between each scallop put a sprig of basil and a parmesan tile then pour over the sauce to moisten.
Note to Editors:
Situated in the heart of the French Atlantic coast, the Charente-Maritime destination is the second most important tourist destination in France for French ravelers after the Var. The Charente-Maritime offers the visitor a lovely choice of coastal destinations such as Royan or the Ile de Ré, city breaks to Saintes or La Rochelle and beautiful countryside such as the Marais Poitevin or Cognac Country. Charente-Maritime has more wellness centres six) than any other French ‘départment’ and a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is a gastronomic destination of note – oysters, mussels, sea salt, pineau des Charentes, and is easily accessible by road, rail or air from the UK. It boasts a Mediterranean climate of around 300 sunshine days a year. There are many events that take place in the area throughout the year including, in 2014, the 30th Anniversary of the music festival Francofolies.