Pairing Food and Rhone-Alpes waters
Mar14

Pairing Food and Rhone-Alpes waters

“Water is the new wine” and the Rhone-Alpes region has plenty of it. Apart from snow and ice, numerous lakes and innumerable streams and rivers the region has over 30 sources of mineral water both still and sparkling. If you thought water had no taste then think again. I spent time discovering some of the sources and was introduced to the water tasting in St Galmier, home of Badoit mineral water. To read more about it visit France Unpacked’s sister website www.travelunpacked.co.uk I discovered that in Rhone-Alpes alone there is such a variety of tastes; from the salty, slightly bitter Badoit though the meadowy sweet Thonon to the almost neutral Evian. The following is a brief summary of the tastes and aromas of some of the better known and more readily available mineral waters of the Rhone-Alpes. The still waters: Thonon: Slightly lemony with a fresh meadowy scent; sweet taste Evian: Light marine aroma; a neutral balance between salty and acidic taste Aix: Dry earthy scent: no dominant taste, well balanced The sparkling waters: Badoit (verte): Little discernible aroma; salty, sweet and bitter, well balanced taste between the three Badoit (rouge); A hint of woodiness; taste is salty and slightly bitter Vals: Little discernible smell; salty and bitter in taste Saint Alban: Lightly metallic scent; sweet and salty, well balanced Cesar: aromatic notes of almonds and lemon; an acidic and bitter taste Vernet: Slightly metallic aroma with an earthy note; an acidic and salty taste Parot: Complex scent, flowery, vanilla with a note of leather; a dominant salty taste If you think it is beginning to sound a lot like the terminology used by wine tasters you would be right. Much of the vocabulary and the classification of taste and feel is borrowed from wine-tasting. Water, just like wine, can be paired with different foods. Of course it is all down to personal taste but the characteristics of the different mineral waters pair well with certain meals or courses. The light but aromatic Aix is ideal as an aperitif as its slightly woody scent would be lost during the meal. The more intense scent of wood and almonds and the slightly lemony bitter taste of Cesar would go well with a salad particularly one with a vinegar based dressing. Arcens has a lively effervescence with an acidic salty taste and pairs well with more exotic spicy dishes. However its high sodium content (290mg/l) makes it unsuitable for people on a salt-free diet. For any fish dish the slightly salty Parot with a nose reminiscent of the sea is ideal. It has a smooth silky texture and fine effervescence. This...

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Food Trails
Mar03

Food Trails

Whenever I am in France come across many route du vins and occasionally a route de fromage. However I have discovered there are many more but lesser known food themed trails that are worth investigating. Not all of them are signposted with those familiar brown tourist signs. Some may need a bit of research at the tourist office or on sites like this one. I will cover more on this blog as I discover new ways to eat my way round France. Meanwhile, just to whet your appetite, here are five of my favourites. Chocolate The three cities of Bordeaux, Bayonne and Biarritz in Aquitaine are ideal cities for the chocoholic. Cocoa from the New World was imported into France at Bordeaux. The aristocracy frequented Biarritz and brought their luxury drink of chocolate with them. The Jews were kicked out of Spain and came to Bayonne with their chocolate making skills. Now the three cities make a “chocolate triangle”. Bordeaux has the greatest concentration of high quality chocolatiers; the three main ones are Cadiot Badie, Saunion and Darricau. For luxury hot chocolate and a chocolate museum visit Biarritz and for a stroll among the chocolate shops and cafes serving the frothy chocolate drink popular with the general population visit rue Pont Neuf in Bayonne. Blackcurrants Around the town of St George des Nuits famous for its rich Burgundy wines you can also follow the blackcurrant trail. Among vineyards are acres of bushes on which grow the little perle noir (black pearls). The most famous product is the blackcurrant liqueur called creme de la cassis. It was called this by decree from Napoleon and is the only liqueur produced in France not to bear the title liqueur. The blackcurrants are also used in preserves and many desserts in the numerous hotels and restaurants around the town. Prunes The city of Agen in southern France lends its name to the world’s most sought after prunes. However they were only shipped from there and were mistakenly labelled as coming from Agen by the Dutch. The plums from which we get prunes are actually grown in the valleys of the Lot et Garonne further to the east. The prunes are used in a number of ways other than the dried fruits commonly seen in supermarkets. Confectioners fill them or coat them with chocolate. Chefs use them in food with duck breast stuffed with prunes being a popular local dish. In Agen there is a festival devoted to prunes and in one of France’s more eccentric events there is a prune stone spitting contest. Salt of the Sea Some of the most sought after salt in the...

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Evian and water
Feb10

Evian and water

The word naive comes to us, via French, from the Latin nativus meaning native or natural. When spelt backwards naive becomes evian a name we associate with natural mineral water. Coincidence? Probably. There was settlement during town Celtic and Roman times which was later named Aviano, then Yvian and finally Evian. This was long before the curative properties of the mineral springs were discovered and the town was given the name Evian.  The “les-Bains” part of the name was added later to promote the town as a spa resort.I arrived in the spa town Evian-les-Bains at the end of a visit to the Rhone-Alpes investigating some of the 32 mineral waters of the region. You cannot write about the mineral waters of the Rhone-Alpes without mentioning Evian. The famous baby blue and pink label of the water bottled here is recognisable the world over. Water, in and out of bottles, is ubiquitous in Evain-les-Bains. Evian-les-Bains is on the shores of Europe’s largest lake; Lac Leman. It was not until 1789 that the mineral water was discovered by Marquis de Lessert. Drinking regularly from St Catherine’s Spring in the garden of Monsieur Cachat apparently cured him of kidney stones. Word spread, the entrepreneurs and investors moved in and, during the Belle Epoque, a resort was developed. Four springs now provide Evian-les-Bains with its raison d’etre and feed the local economy. The rain and snow that fall on the Alps above the town take 15 years to filter down through the strata gathering minerals on its way. This is the water we drink today as Evian. The original spring, known as the Cachat Spring, is still there; the fountain now surrounded by a classical portico. The water here is free to all comers and residents are allowed to fill bottles to take home. I am sure it tastes better gushing out of the ground than in a plastic bottle. Immediately below the fountain is the Art Nouveau Evian Buvette Thermale which houses an exhibition on Evian water, a shop where you can purchase Evian products, including their cosmetics, and a collection of Evian bottles including their much sought after limited editions. Le Palais Lumiere, a rather grand edifice overlooking the lake, is a fine example of Belle Epoque era architecture. Until 1984 it was Evian-les-Bains thermal baths. Now it is a conference and exhibition centre with an art gallery. The entrance hall is the magnificent pump room and is free to enter. Spas and “baths” were very popular and some very grand hotels were built . Many of these remain today along with some more modern ones. Evian-les-Bains is still very...

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