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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Booze and Food in Rodez and Le Puy en Velay (7th in a series)

Sparky's Blog

Booze and Food in Rodez and Le Puy en Velay

A night-time view of Rodez's grand cathedral

Rodez village and Cathedral tour
With our tummies full of cheese and potatoes and yes, more wine we ventured into Rodez for a guided tour of Vieux Rodez the village and its cathedral.  On our way back to our hotel and upcoming tour, we are driving through France as we always do but I can’t help but wonder to myself that this is an experience that can never be duplicated due to its beautiful nature.  It seems like every other minute we drive by another “post-card” moment.  The country-side is just magnificent and the towns are quaint and idyllic with old-world styles and architecture flooding the eye with historical insight, charm and dreamy-like romanticism.  I’m in love with this land and its people.

The church/monastery on top of the hill in  Rodez
I have to admit that I haven’t found the stereotype in the people here that most Americans speak of….I’m sure it has to do with the fact that most Americans tend to be “ugly” and I have extensive travel experience.  Too bad that Aaron chose to be our “ugly” American….okay I have to let this go.

First of all, this wasn’t our fist cathedral tour (they are all fantastic) but unique in-and-of-itself.  There were stained glass windows depicting, the lunar landing, dinosaurs,  the crusades, heaven and hell, marine life and of course the requisite saints and storybook bible scenes.  I haven’t seen anything like it.  The modern mixed with the traditional.  It was quite contemporary and contests were held to see who would make them.  This wasn’t the only cathedral that had this kind of fashion statement.

Tuesday, May 22
Le Puy en Velay
After breakfast we depart for Le Puy en Velay – this would be our only one night stay and I must admit that the highlight for me was the dinner but first I must mention our visit to the distillery Pages-Verveine. Here we discovered the secrets for making Pages Verveine du Velay, Green and Yellow Verveine liquors and Verveine du Velay Extra.  All this mumbo-jumbo meant was that these cats made some serious liqueurs and aperitifs.  I wasn’t expecting to be drinking anything stronger than wine thus far but this stuff was starting at 80 proof and went up to 120 proof which was just the perfect combination for the makings of a very loose group of culinary students breaking into song and dance. 

Brass containers where the magic happens!

Pages makes many different types of Verveine booze!

We had to be restrained several times from showing our gratitude for being in this booze-soaked establishment awash in tradition and upper-lip hoity-toityness.  It really was their fault for filling us with the fermented juice of sugar-laden fruit.  Several of us decided to buy copious amounts of this magical elixir to share with their loved ones back home.  Trouble is, hardly none of it made it back home as we feasted on this booze ourselves over the next few nights.  You gotta blame the good folks at the Pages distillery for making such a fine product.
That's a lot of booze!

We were suppose to go to a trout farm after our boozy adventure but it was raining so hard that this visit was cancelled and a good thing too because we were in no state to plod along the muddy paths of any area filled with large expanses of water.  Our schedule was rearranged to head on back to the hotel to change and “freshen-up” so-to-speak before dinner.

Ryan and I feeling no pain after a "tasting" of Pages best stuff!

Restaurant Vidal
Dinner was waiting for us a fair ways outside the village of Le Puy en Velay in a regional area in Saint-Julien-Chapteuil.  We dined at Restaurant "Vidal" and the chef Jean-Pierre Vidal Chef/proprietor is a French master chef and Toques d’Auvergne which is fancy-schmancy for bad-ass chef.  He prepared authentic cuisine with light and creative touches that bordered on dinner theater. 

Bad-ass Chef Vidal with a very willing pupil
We first had an appetizer with popcorn that had pork fat and salt absorbed into it, then there was cherry tomatoes with sesame seeds glued to them that made for an interesting and fantastic taste adventure.  Next on the plate was a cheese mousse canapé that was light and airy with a hint of over-salted flavor that really satisfied.  How do these guys come up with this kind of food?!!

Turbot with potato "scales" -  a very classical dish

Our next course was the foie gras three-ways.  First up was foie gras stuffed cherries glazed with pork fat and red wine – really?  This was divine, just lovely and perhaps the best thing that I have tasted up to this point.  We then had a pan seared lobe of foie gras immersed in nothing but butter, butter and more butter – wonderful.  Our third type of goose liver was ground up with pork fat, rolled into a ball then breaded with herbs de Provence and deep-fried and served atop a small bed of mushroom and red wine risotto.  I’m in heaven…..

Foie Gras three ways

We then had turbot fillets with shaved potato rounds placed on the filet to resemble scales of the fish.  These rounds of potato were affixed to the fish with a thin layer of egg white-wash and seasoned simple with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Quite simple but delivered maximum flavor.  I will do this for my family very soon.

We indulged in pork tenderloin fillet steaks stuffed with apple/sage sausage for our meat course.  This fillet was immersed with a rhubarb type sauce that was toned down a bit with honey and pork demi-glace.  The side dish was traditional pommes frites and white wine braised root vegetables.

A magnificent pork tenderloin!

Our dessert blew my mind as it looked like a plate with a chocolate dome straddling the edges.  Chef Vidal himself came along with cognac and set it ablaze and then poured it on top of this chocolate dome watching our faces as we giggled like school children seeing it melt away revealing a peach glace/ice cream and sponge cake smothered with Chantilly crème.  As the chocolate melted it became a sauce along with the cognac.  I couldn’t believe my eyes and the taste was out of this world good!

On our way to Lyon – but first SNAILS!
We visited a snail farm (escargot) in the morning on our way to Lyon today and I must admit that it wasn’t what I was expecting….I’m not sure what I was expecting as I didn’t think snails grew on trees or anything so much as how they are kept or harvested is what interested me.  They are kept in screened-in, long rectangular hutches with propped up boards every 4 inches or so.  There is vegetation that grows under and between the boards to allow for them to roam.  Now I know what you’re thinking, how much room does a snail need to roam?  Okay, not far; not far at all but let’s just call them “Free-range” snails for this particular story.

The life of a snail is quite leisurely (until it gets eaten of course!)

Did you know that snails have between 10,000 and 14,000 microscopic teeth?  Also, they mate only once a year but they’re mating rituals can last up to 12 hours?  France has about 200 of these farms and each one produces about 150,000 each year.  The demand is slowly but steadily rising necessitating a need to find purveyors elsewhere including Poland and Hungary.

A snail farm complete with electrified fencing

Our host explaining snail stuff

We received instruction on different species (over 2,000) and the types to eat (only about 4).  We also were shown the process in which they are processed for human consumption and that is by means of hot water to kill and sanitize them and then through pressure cooking to raise the water temp. (saving time and energy) as well as finish the cooking process.  This was very interesting and informative and of course the farmer had product to sell as well.

Have a great day and never give up!

Mark (Sparky)

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