Driving through Nouvelle Aquitaine to Dordogne is, itself, a romantic experience. So many boutique neighbouring wineries dot the countryside as the winding road meanders past medieval towns that beckon my curiousity. I have to pull over. Steep cobblestone lanes lead me to the summit of Saint-Émilion. En route, brasseries unveil inviting aromas of river fish cooked in red wine. Beneath the Monolithic Church and its Bell Tower lies a 200km tunnel system. Exploring just a portion of these dark catacombs carved from rock over 1000 years ago is a spooky, but fascinating glimpse into the past.
From the wine route to the foie gras trail artisans flourish. France is the main producer of Siberian sturgeon. At Domaine du caviar Neuvic I feed goats and am taught how to eat sturgeon caviar. Metal spoons affect the flavour so we use mother of pearl, and sample a variety of delicate caviar, signature and reserve, on toast, with vodka and sparkling wine. Over lunch at Relais de la Ganache we enjoy a dollop of caviar on a sous vide egg in a cauliflower velouté with a drizzle of hazelnut oil. Sturgeon is lavished in a yuzu crème and asparagus puree. We finish with a glass of matcha and white chocolate mousse, local strawberries and caviar.
Locals bring walnuts and hazelnuts to a 12th century watermill that has been maintained by the same family since the 1500s. At the Moulin de la Veyssière I observe the same process of milling nuts into oil that has endured for 7 generations. There is a milky texture to the walnut oil, and the flavour of the hazelnut oil is very pronounced. I also sample a nut wine made from macerated green walnuts. There is a lovely country charm here and I feel like I’ve traveled back in time.
At La truffière de Péchalifour, Edouard Aynaud Humblet employs his dogs to sniff out the revered Black Truffles of Perigord. Humblet clarifies for me that often we are misinformed about these highly sought after tubers. They are native to the Perigord region, seasonal and black on the inside. We chase his dogs through the woods, until Humblet rewards their find with kisses. Dinner at Hôtel Les Glycines showcases the black truffle on an organic egg and brioche; with a beautiful risotto with Colonnate bacon and hazelnuts; and with roasted veal and smoked potatoes with juniper. The cocoa-y peppery profile of these truffles is a rare privilege.
Nestled in the woods, the enchanting 16th century Château de Lalande, with ancient vines shrouding its calcaire stone walls, is straight of a fairy tale. Moss-covered 300-year-old wisteria branches form a pergola by the terrace through which I begin exploring the forest. In the dining room I indulge in duck, the specialty of Chef Yves Staebell. A dish of cured duck, Magret de canard fourré (duck with foie gras inside, and foie gras sprinkled with sea salt pairs mellifluously with a local Rosette wine. Dining in this castle is the height of decadence. Chef Staebell’s adroitness is reconfirmed with a fall-off-the-bone crisp duck leg. It doesn’t get better the care and hospitality here.
There are so many different roads to explore fascinating finds, like riding the glass elevator up the bell tower of Sarlat for panoramic views of this historical jewel of the Black Perigord. Navigating the Lascaux Caves complex of prehistoric paintings drawn 17, 000 years ago. Leisurely strolling the tranquil grass paths of Eyrignac Jardins, the most beautiful private gardens in France, where the same family has maintained each generation’s signature topiary garden for 500 years. But, all roads lead to Périgueux.
The artwork and the architecture of the Medieval and Renaissance town of Périgueux, and the views from with in it, are awe-inspiring. In every public square markets are filled with farmers and artisans selling gourmet items that one would normally find at a specialty food shop. In the square of Place Saint-Louis we find duck confit, caviar, croissants, and velvety goat cheese made by monks in Rocamadour. This is heaven. I purchase foie gras and a baguette…for breakfast. Another market is known for truffles, but I am lured into a bistro for the local specialty: Le pâté de Périgueux. Local pork and foie gras are layered in black truffle and wrapped in a thin pastry. Locals make this in their homes for guests. Never have I wanted to make friends more than now. This is the height of gastronomic indulgence.
No tour of the Foie Gras Trail through Dordogne would be complete without visiting Restaurant Le Nicolas L. Here, Chef Nicolas Lamstaes teaches me how to de-vein and prepare foie gras. It’s harder than I thought. My reward? I get to eat it! Through the breathtaking countryside and the country hospitality of passionate artisans, it’s easy to feel the many reasons why we love France. My heart and my palate have just tasted the best of them.