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FRANCE, SOUTHERN

And although the Limousin has long been one of the most destitute regions in the entire country, it can nev- ertheless lay claim to producing not only some of the finest china in the world but beef, veal, lamb, and pork that are among the best in all of France. In centuries past, the impoverished peasants lived principally on a diet of chestnuts and a large variety of turnip called the rave du Limousin, one of the vegetables that is still a must in a true potée limousine, a one-pot boiled salt-pork and veg- etable dinner. Another essential potée ingredient is the mique or farcidure, a dumpling (either plain or flavored with various leaf vegetables or herbs) originally made of millet flour, then corn flour, but more often today with wheat flour, which has become more widely available in the last half century or so. And no potée limousine would be complete without its accompaniment of moutarde vi- olette, purple mustard from Brive-la-Gaillarde, which gets its color from the grape must with which it is still made.

By far the most famous of the specialties from this

region is clafoutis, a Limousine cherry flan that has be- come a favorite all over France. But beware! In order to preserve the intense flavor of the black cherries and keep them from losing their juice, the people of the Limousin are adamant that the fruits must be baked with their pits!

To the east of the Limousin, in a vast, mountainous area called the Massif Central, lies the Auvergne, another very poor region where the peasants once survived on a diet of chestnuts, dairy products, and black rye bread baked into mammoth, round loaves. Nevertheless, it is a region that can be proud of its gastronomic heritage. Clermont-Ferrand has been famous for its fruit jellies ( pâtes de fruit) since the sixteenth century, especially those made with apricots that were unequalled even in Paris, according to one early traveler. The sausages and hams made from chestnut-fed pigs and dried in the cool moun- tain air are sought after nationwide, as are the tiny green lentils from Le-Puy-en-Velay, considered to be distinc- tive enough to have been awarded the coveted AOC sta- tus (Appellation d’origine contrôlée) usually reserved for fine wines and cheeses. The lentilles vertes du Puy were so fa- mous by the end of the eighteenth century that they were not only shipped all over southern France but as far as Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

Nevertheless, Auvergne’s claim to fame, as well as that of the neighboring Rouergue, immediately to the south, is undoubtedly the quality of its cheeses. Most of them are made from cow’s milk; among them are bleu d’Auvergne, tender Saint Nectaire, and Cantal, a large, thick cylindrical cheese whose taste ranges from buttery to pungent, depending on its age. When very young, it is used in cooking, often with potatoes in dishes like the crusty truffade or the creamy aligot that, when properly made, forms a rope when the spoon is lifted out of the pot and must be cut with scissors to be served!

Cantal is made over a large area, with famous vari- ants from Salers in the Auvergne, made from the milk of mahogany-colored cows of the same name, and from

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FOOD AND CULTURE

When asked why French cooking tastes the way it does, most chefs will reply “it’s the butter.” French butter is world renowned and the farmhouse butter from Brittany, shown here, is among the best. © MICHELLE GARRETT/CORBIS.

Laguiole (pronounced lye-ole), made from the milk of the Aubrac breed of cow in the area around Rodez in the Aveyron département. But the most celebrated cheese of this area is made from ewe’s milk in and around the lit- tle town of Roquefort-sur-Soulzon near Millau, south- east of Rodez. In the course of fermentation, the cheese is strewn with crumbs of moldy rye bread, creating the greenish-blue pockets that give Roquefort cheese its dis- tinctive look and taste.

Olives, Olive Oil, and Honey

Continuing south from Roquefort toward the Mediter- ranean coast, one passes through almond, apricot, and peach orchards, leaving the domain of lard, goose fat, and walnut oil and entering the realm where the olive reigns supreme. All along the crescent that forms the French Mediterranean coast, olive trees abound. Introduced by the Greeks, olives and olive oil have had a checkered his- tory in Languedoc and Provence. Although the best oil

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