Downs and Ups

Here are two boring facts that I have recently learned; Ones doors must swing open towards the outside if one is to have more than 50 people dining inside a building of my size, (a little problematic if the original doors can’t be changed because the historic monuments people don’t want them altered), and from July this year restaurants are not allowed to have signs displayed at the side of the road. Unless you already have one up of course. But we are not allowed to put one up because… from July this year restaurants are not allowed to have signs displayed at the side of the road…
But, I have also learned this week, that one of the best experiences of setting up a restaurant in rural France is meeting local suppliers. From vegetables and chickens, to pigs and goats cheeses (and don’t forget the wines) the joy is eventually finding them down hidden valleys, on ancient farms where generations old and new are continuing to provide high quality produce – and they are passionate about their products too. (Thank you to the friends who have taken the time out to introduce me). I spent a morning talking to the cleanest happiest calmest goats I have ever seen, and was today with my neighbour, who has kindly planted edible flowers, and herbs for me in his garden. Provenance, yes! Just down the road.

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FROM GLUTTON TO GOURMAND IN TWO EASY STEPS…

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2. Gourmand.
Not quite so cheap (as in gratuit), but I bet, pretty inexpensive compared to the UK, was a night away a few weekends later, staying at the delightful Le Pont de l’Ouysse in Lacave near Rocamadour. http://www.lepontdelouysse.com
By treating ourselves (just me and husband) to a get-out-of-life-free-for-one-day-only card and aided by having no agenda except for deciding when to eat, it was spent following our noses and enjoying more of our corner of the midi Pyrenees;
First up, Tea in the tiny tea rooms in Gourdon, (look for the only tea shop on the main street) served in proper pots and big mugs, my favourite place to sit is in big armchairs in the tiny room out the back. Wander up the medieval streets to the castle at the top of Gourdon whilst you are there. Typical of so many working towns in this region, Big church, old castle, old winding streets and ancient buildings, but not a tourist destination particularly.
Next up, plate of the day of duck confit & salad at a family run restaurant in the middle of Rocamadour. (Mum, daughter, and granddaughter all serving.) Although it can be heaving in the height of the tourist season, spring isn’t so bad and I always enjoy the fact that it has a slight scruffiness and a low-keyness to it, despite being a major pilgrim centre and pretty amazing town perched on the edge of a cliff. http://www.sacred-destinations.com/france/rocamadour-shrine.
After climbing the 216 stairs to the church of Notre dame, we happened upon an impromptu duet by 2 members of a visiting choir in a small chapel – thinking it was a recording at first, we and the smattering of tourists were struck dumb by the beautiful voices soaring in the tiny vaulted space.
Ps, a hot tip for anyone visiting Rocamadour who can walk and not needing the tram to get up and down – avoid the tourist buses and crowds at the carparks at the top where everyone is looking at the view, and take the road right down to the bottom of town where there is plenty of room to park/picnic/take dog for a run. There is a tourist train in high season to take you to the first street if you can’t manage the hill walk up, and from there a lift to the church, and then a tram to the castle at the top.
There are oodles of other things to see & do around Rocamadour – Eagle parks, Monkey parks, Dinosaur parks, enormous caves and grottoes, but on the way to our hotel on the Rocamadour-Soulliac road, we stumbled across La Borie d’imbert http://www.laboriedimbert.com, a goat farm that makes a Cahors AOC rocamadour cheese, and then feeds the whey to a whole bunch of mud wallowing, snorting, greedy pigs that you can visit in the fields. Actually a fascinating lesson in food production cycles. You can watch goats being milked, cheeses being made, all for free, AND you can visit the nursery shed piled full of of snuggly, nibbly baby goats! Pop over the shop across the road to stock up on the fresh cheese and pig produce direct from source…
So a gastronomic day, topped by the gourmet finish of the 1 Michelin star meal at the family run Pont de l’ouysse; Hors d’oueves with cold white wine sitting on couches by the ouysse tributary, quails egg ravioli for an amuse-buche, foie gras, seared river fish with dainty vegetables, chocolate mille-fueille, tiny petits fours with coffee – it actually won the contest of how much delicious food I can stuff inside me, over how much is given. The service can be slightly formal-French and stuffy, but we take no notice – if you enjoy talking about the food and surroundings, the team will soon start to talk to you too. The young Sommelier was particularly full of himself, and got some information wrong, but this did result in me trying the best glass of (Louis Latour) chardonnay I have ever tasted because I didn’t like what he had selected. Or was it just the excess of fabulous food and drink talking by then?!

How to make Duck Confit:
A traditional method of storing Duck for a long time. So easy to buy in large tins by local producers here, but so easy too, to buy tubs of duck fat if you want to try it…

Legs and wings of duck only
Melted duck fat
1 bay leaf
Some thyme/sage/rosemary
Plenty of salt.
Put some salt and herbs in a flat container (and some garlic if you want to) and place the duck on top. Sprinkle with some more salt and leave overnight.
Brush off the salt and put the duck in an oven proof container. Pour melted duck fat over the top, you can use a mixture of duck fat and olive oil if you need more, as you need to cover the pieces. Cook in a really low oven (100°C/225°F) for about 3 or 4 hours. Leave in the pot in its fat and it will store in the fridge for weeks. Crisp up the duck legs in a frying pan when you are ready to use them, and keep the fat for frying or roasting potatoes!