Fète du Vin Primeur

Fète du Vin Primeur

The harvest from the vineyards is safely bottled and most will go on sale next year. Yet in the wine region, we have festivals to toast the new wines. It is an opportunity to taste the fruits of this years harvest. It was fun to experience this with friends, Yvonne and Pauline, who had flown over from London for a long weekend of delights. This particular event was in the village of Trèbes a short 7 km from the city of Carcassonne. The population at the last census, 2008, was over 5,500.

As with any event, there was music (bands and DJ), dancing, and of course food. There were plates of mixed cheeses, Charcuterie – plates of assorted sausages and hams, each served with pain (bread) then of course you can have foie gras which is served with a special bread which contains bits of dried figs. Also on offer was grilled brochette of canard (duck) served with spiced apple (Amazing!)

We took a cab from Carcassonne on the first night so that this Designated Driver could safely sample the delights of the event. However, the next day I drove us back to the village to make a few more purchases and explore the town. However, that will be another post!



Opening ceremonies and acknowledgement for some of the outstanding wine makers and wines
Bon appetit!
Plates were being sold as fast as they could be made up
New wines and previous vintages available for tasting and/or purchase                                                             

















Dégustation (tasting) encouraged!                     

























The bottle with the hand wrapped around it
The bottle with the hand wrapped around it Is a sweet apéritif or dessert wine                    














A delightful vintage (2007) from the nearby Minervois – it happens to be the year I moved to France!


Castelnaudary et Fête du Cassoulet Part II

The Brotherhood of Universal Cassoulet Academy ( La confrérie de l’académie universelle du cassoulet) an organisation dedicated to promote the dish and preserve its traditions.  Each year, during the festival, awards are bestowed upon those who have contributed significantly to the ideals of the organisation and its furtherance. Oaths are made, and awards presented.

All about the center of town the bars/café’s and restaurants are in overdrive preparing for the nights festivities. Last minute preparations for feeding thousands of people each night and sound checks for the numerous stages is a show of its own. Near the main stage is a tent with emergency medical workers set to help should anyone needs assistance.

It must be a daunting task to feed such large numbers at once. There are two large venues where dinners were being served. The one I attended was able to seat over four hundred people at a sitting. Last years total served over the six nights of festival were over 50,000.

Bon appetit!

The cassoulet was served on trays which included a small black-lidded  container filled with Pâté de foie de canard, large portions of crusty baguette,  dessert- tarte de pomme and un verre de vin rouge. The cassoulet dish was yours to take home and perhaps make your own cassoulet.

Traditionally, cassoulet would consist of a mixture of 30% meat (usually duck and pork). The pots in which the dish were originally prepared were made of clay and called cassoles. Tapered with a pouring lip to assist in remove excess fat. The tapered sides were created so that the top was the largest area where a crust could form leaving the remaining dish underneath to remain moist throughout cooking.

While cassoulet sounds like a rich and heavy dish, it is healthy, filling and predominately a winter dish. It is often served with a simple salad and fruit of light dessert.

The self-proclaimed origins of Cassoulet goes to Castelnaudary. During the 100 year war, legend has it, the people of the town gathered and prepared a cassoulet to nourish the defenders with each family bringing what they could to add to the pot. After the meal the enemy was routed and the town spared. If you should dine on Castelnaudary Cassoulet today it would have pork and duck confit.

Castelnaudary Cassoulet


1.3 lbs. Dried Haricots Lingots (white beans)

1.8 lbs/800 gr. bacon

1 kg / 2.2 lbs boneless pork cubed

The Beatlovs

1 kg/ 2.2 lbs boneless lamb cubed

8 pieces canard confit (duck leg   quarters preserved in duck fat)

1 garlic infused sausage cubed

1 pork rind

14  oz tomatoes diced

8 oz carrots sliced

7 onions diced

10 garlic cloves

2 oz olive oil

1 bouquet garni

3 whole cloves

thyme, salt and pepper

Note: If using dried beans soak overnight and rinse well. If using canned beans drain and rinse.

Place pork rind on the bottom of casserole dish/dutch oven and spread the beans on top. Layer the bacon then onions pricked with cloves and bouquet garni, 3 crushed cloves of garlic and the carrots. Season with salt and pepper, add enough water to just cover all ingredients. Cover and simmer for 2 hours.

Note: If using canned beans, cut simmering time in half.

As the beans simmer, fry pork and lamb pieces in a large skillet with oil. Add 4 diced onions and two minced cloves of garlic. Add thyme and layer with cut tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Add water, cover and simmer for an hour.

As the beans are done take out and discard bouquet garni and the onions (with cloves only). Remove the rind and cut into small cubes if you plan to put them back. Add duck confit and cubed sausage and all ingredients from the meat skillet and all liquid.

Mix together well and simmer for twenty minutes.

Emergency Services

Best served very hot and easily re-heated. This recipe will served eight very  hearty appetites.

Bon appétit




Headliners tonight: CALYSTA

Castelnaudary et Fete du Cassoulet Part I

The market town of Castelnaudary is located in the southwest of France, and the capital of the territory of Lauragais. It is situated 50km southeast from Toulouse about midway from Toulouse to the Mediterranean. While today you can ride along the motorway, the route has been popular since Roman times. The region also benefits from rail and canal links. Furthermore, Castelnaudary enjoys the position of being the main port for the Canal du Midi which experienced a period of prosperity during the 17th century.

Below are some of the events that helped to shape Castelnaudary:

* 1103 –  The first official documentation of a settlement at this location.

* 1211 – The Albigensian Crusade and Simone de Montfort, 5th Earl of Leicester is besieged by the Count of Toulouse and Count of Foix.

* 1235 – The Papal inquisition arrives and attempts to persecute the Cathars are thwarted by the solidarity of the towns people.

* 31 October 1355 – The town is being sacked by the Black Prince during the 100 Years War. While traveling east from Bordeaux, the Prince ravaged towns of Gascony, the Lauragais and as far as Narbonne. The people were murdered and the towns ransacked.

Bowls of white beans in shop windows! Everyone gets involved.

* 1477 – Louis XI declared the town as the capital of the comté (count) of Lauragais.

* 1632 – Henri II de Montmorency (French nobleman, military commander and governor of the Langudoc) is captured just outside town and executed at Toulouse by orders of Cardinal Richelieu.

* 1681 – The Canal du Midi is Commissioned.


* 1754 – Construction of L’Ile de la Cybèle (Island of Cybele).

* 1814 – Marshal Soult withdraws here after the Battle of Toulouse and prior to the final surrender at Naurouze.

It was during the 100 Years War that cassoulet was created or became popular. The festival celebrating this famous dish is the reason for this particular visit. A casserole/stew made of of a special white bean and meats (usually duck confit and pork). One of numerous stories surrounding the origin is that villagers all contributed to a great meal made up of all that was left in the town to sustain them during the war. As a result, they were fortified with so much energy to fight that the English retreated back to the Northern French coast!

As with all events here in France, there is music. There are strolling bands to Large bands with grand staging and lights…

There is more to this story and much more to Castelnaudary. However, this post is about the festival and Cassoulet.



La Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary
The music is everywhere!

Feu de la Saint-Jean/Fête de la Musique

Le feu

The Midsummer day is merely in reference to the period  of time centered upon the summer solstice, but more often refers to specific European celebrations that accompany the actual solstice, or that take place on a day between June 21 and June 24, and the preceding evening. There can be a variation of dates between different cultures. In Estonia, Lativa and Scandinavian cultures, is it the most important holiday of the year with the exception of Christmas.

Before the flames

The French will celebrate the Fête de la Saint-Jean or le feu de la Saint-Jean, with bonfires reminiscent of pagan solstice rituals. The association with Saint-Jean was used when the Catholics adopted the tradition.

In my village, this years festival took place on Saturday June 23. The festivities were launched by a drumming group. Even though there was a DJ for the dancing to follow, the drummers stayed to enjoy the festival and to lead the procession at 11:30 around the village for the lighting of the bonfire. A number of people carried colorful paper lanterns suspended on a pole as we walked about the village.

In some parts of France, the event is called Chavande and also known as Fête de la Musique. In some parts of the world it is known as World Music Day and associated with an event that was launched here in France on 21 June, 1982 and celebrates the gift of music. While music is usually a major component to any celebration here in France, it does not take center stage at this local venue.

Dinner space converts to dance space
Two members of the Drumming Circle
Two members of the Drumming Circle

The idea of the World Music Day was   conceptualized first in France in 1976 by American musician Joel Cohen who proposed an all-night music celebration to mark the beginning of the summer solstice.
The idea was taken up by French Music and Dance director Maurice Fleuret for Minister of Culture Jack Lang in 1981 and first took place in 1982 in Paris.
Since then, it has become a worldwide phenomenon with over 32 countries worldwide having their own celebrations in their own way, regardless of the season.


Bon appetit!


Fête de mouton

Moutons d'Albas
Moutons d'Albas

C’est printemps! (It is spring!)

In the pockets of garrigue (scrubland) about the south of France, the land is ideal for raising sheep.

Each year when the sheep are being sheared of their thick wooly coats, villagers and others from surrounding villages

Petting Zoo 1
Petting Zoo 1

will gather for the event. One more distinction that I have noticed about France and the French is that they can take something that most would consider a chore (shearing) and turn it into a party. They have such a passion for life in all its facets.

In Albas vendors will have booths selling fromage (cheese) made from sheep’s milk, crepes, tickets for the meal that will be served later (ewe on the spit). You can purchase scarves, caps and sweaters made from the wool.

There is a Petting Zoo set up for the children, music for dancing and a local band that parades about the village.

Several Milk-fed Lambs (4-6 weeks old) are prepared and secured to spits then cooked over open fires. During cooking, they are brushed frequently with a mixture of herbs and locally produced olive oil. They will be served with pomme de terre (potatoes), vegetable, salad, cheese and a dessert which was tart aux pomme (apple tart).  Being France, there are bottles of wine (rouge and rose) on the tables along with water. After the meal is finished you are offered café.

There is dancing until late into the night and everyone is included as you can see by these photos.

Le porc - Petting Zoo 2
Le porc - Petting Zoo 2
Le petite danseur
Le petite danseur



Regional Food Festival

Poulet (chicken), foie gras (liver spread/pate made from specially fattened ducks or geese) and confit de canard (duck or goose legs preserved in their own fat).


There are many types of French Cuisine to enjoy in France, much will  depend on your budget, where you are, and what you like.

Haute Cuisine: the most elaborate style of cooking, a the grand meal of many courses served by top restaurants.




Bourgeoise cuisine: the hearty cuisine prepared in the home for the

family. The dishes are made from fresh local ingredients that grow in

the provinces. 

Nouvelle cuisine: a drift from heavy sauces, butter and cream to a lighter fair. There is more attention to the arrangement of food on the plate with artistic flair.
Regional Food:

Different regions of France are famous for unique and special foods that come from that area only, and for regional styles of cooking. These recipes, like many great recipes, are often passed down from one generation on family stoves and on menus of inns and restaurants around the region.

While Paris has regional specialities on offer from every region, you will pay for the privilege of sampling without the benefit of the whole experience that awaits those who explore the many regions.

The French enjoy seeking good regional cooking in the provinces where the ducks are fattened, the cheese where it is made, or the fish caught.  The varieties on offer are endless. At a recent fete, my purchases included some preserves made from locally grown saffron and red peppers and a savory biscuit made with thyme and lemon zest in the shape of a star. YUMMY!

While a number of foods may be unfamiliar to foreigners, it gives another dimension to exploring and discovering new delights that you will not find at home such as Sanglière (wild boar). In northern France butter is used in cooking while here in the south it is olive oil. Charcuterie (ham, pates, sausages, terrines ) will vary from region to region. Those regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean or the English Channel offer an amazing bounty of the freshest of seafood and prepared to make the most of each mouthful with local ingredients at their peek. The wealth of delicacies to be discovered include; mustards (Dijon), bouillabaisse, fish stew, (Marseille), cassoulet,thick stew of lamb is attributed to several areas in the southwest. The list of possibilities is endless. When you plan your visit to France, take your taste-buds into account and create some gastronomic memories.

Naturally, no event in France would be complete without wine. Each region has its own to be proud of and which will be on offer at any food festival by the glass, bottle or even the box. Bon appétit!



Carnaval: Part II

In Limoux the fête is known as Carnaval but the actual name is Fécos and is named for its feature dances.A parade of the organizing committee dressed in humerous masks, baggy white shirts and trousers, red scarves and clogs, with a whip in hand. These Meuniers receive The King of the Carnaval. His Majesty, stuffed dummy, will preside over the festivities in the coming weeks.

Every weekend during the festival there will be parades in the central square with the participants stopping to irritate and amuse the clientele at each café. On Mardi Gras-Shrove Tuesday and each weekend a band will make several excursions throughout the main square. Every band consists of musicians and a group of complementary pierrots. The musicians follow the pierrots around the square playing as they promenade in and around the ancient arcades and weaving themselves in and about the spectators.

The Pierrots costume is a predecessor of the modern day clown garment. Each band has its own distinguishing colors. Pierrots wear a curious straight-faced white mask. The rest of the uniform includes a carabéna (decorated wand) and a large cloth bag filled with confetti.

The Pierrots keep time to the music with their rhythmic yet delicate dance. the long wands seem to float above their heads. this dance is called the Fécos. In the past the dancers tossed about sweets. Now confetti is liberally tossed during Fécos to the tune of seven tons. When Rita, Jerry and I went a few years ago we were finding confetti in our purses and car for several days after. Frequently in the middle of taking photos, we were rained on with confetti. Warning, many photos resulted from this event!



Carnaval de Limoux Part 1

originated in France during the Middle Ages. It proved to be one of the most popular of France’s exports. Mardi Gras continues to be celebrated in France as well as in locations around the world. Despite the fact that the celebrations are used as an excuse for strident conduct, the festivities claim Catholic roots and the church has attempted censure throughout in  past centuries.
There is nowhere in the world where food plays a more important part of any celebration than France and Mardi Gras is no exception. Some of the traditional fare:
Gumbo: made from pork sausage, shrimp, chicken, rice, okra, celery and other vegetables and of course spices. Typical spices are Cajun and a mixture is made from onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, basil, thyme, black pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, paprika and salt. 

Muffuletta Sandwiches: salami, smoked ham garnished with an olive relish are piled onto a roll for simple fare.

A celebratory French meal would not be complete without dessert and Mardi Gras is no time to make an exception: what better way to crown your repast than with, King Cake? part of the traditional meal, the cake, is a twisted bread which has been topped with icing in the time-honored colors of purple, green and gold. traditionally a small baby doll is baked inside.

Milk Punch is the traditional alcoholic beverage associated with Mardi Gras. It is prepared with bourbon, half-and-half and enhanced with sugar, vanilla and nutmeg.
The longest running and earliest fête in the French calendar beings in January and runs into March.
While most village celebrations are held in summer this annual fête takes place for two months beginning in January. It is the longest fête in the French calendar. The festivities are held each weekend.

If it had been anyone but my dear friend Rita, I might have been surprised when she chose February to make her visit from California. But when she said that she wanted to come to France in February.and added that she wanted to experience Limoux’s Mardi Gras festivities it all made sense. Her husband Jerry was a good sport and Limoux turned out to be one of his favorites towns in France.

The earliest written documentation appears to be a decree made in the year of 1604 but it is most likely that it had been evolving since before medieval times. There was an integration with the Christian Lent carnival including the tradition of pierrot.



Marché de Noël : Narbonne & Carcassonne

                                                                       Recently, I introduced you to Marchè Noël in a small village of approximately 700 people.
In a town like Narbonne or Carcassonne with a population of over 50,000, the Christmas Market is on a grander scale and the items available more varied. There are often rides for the young children and even a giant slide or a temporary ice rink assembled in the town square.
 Both towns are tourist destination in southwestern France in the    Languedoc-Roussillon
Narbonne was the first Roman colony outside of Italy, and was located at the crossroads of the via Domitia, the Roman road linking Italy to Spain. In a future post, we can explore more about the famous via Domitia. While I have not noticed traditional carol groups, the giant puppets wander around the streets of town.
 Carcassonne draws thousands of tourists each year. Carcassonne’s  medieval fortress is a city unto itself. The town of Carcassonne was built up around La Cité and the River Aude. The temporary skating rink is set up in Place Carnot which is the center of Carcassonne and filled with shops and wonderful cafes. While it looks very cold, the ice on the fountain is added for effect. Most likely, you would be comfortable sitting outside with a cafe or hot chocolate. Between the center of town and La Gare (train station) a giant slide is erected and cabins are set up to sell crafts, food, chocolat chaud (hot chocolate), vin chaud (hot spiced wine) and other seasonal and regional delights. Both towns have much to offer and will be visited again in future posts.
Slide in Carcassonne

Marché de Noël

Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them. Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The Christmas Markets (Marché de Noël)  of France vary from city to town and to each village. The smaller the venue, the more you are inclined to find the real treasures made by local artisans.
Sunday was our village Marché and it is for one day only. Larger villages and towns may extend it and if you are in a city they usually begin their festivities in late November through Christmas.
I found some lovely creations from homemade wooden toys and household wares to paté, fromage, saucisses, and fois gras, to knitted sweaters and caps made from mohair supplied by the artist’s own animals. Of course, there are also tables of fresh pastries, and hot and cold foods. A café or glass of wine will wash down the delicacies. There are many of your neighbors on hand and a chance to meet someone new. There is usually a tombola (drawings for prizes) to benefit the group who sponsors the event. Our local marché was to benefit Maison des Jeunes et de la Culture (youth club and arts center). Of course the local football (soccer) team had a booth to raise funds.
The origin of the markets goes back to Alsace and Germany in the 14th century under the name of Marché de Saint Nicolas. Throughout centuries the fête has had numerous changes in its name often linked with the politics of the time. As recent as the late 20th century, cities across Europe founded their own Christmas market with cabins or country cottages in which vendors sell their merchandise. While some of the items are marketing products you could easily purchase in shops, there is still a large number of local artisans with unique and creative items you may not find elsewhere. Numerous cities include attractions such as a transitory skating rink, train or other children’s ride. Whatever you are looking for you just may discover something more.