By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
Tired of visiting castles, of racking your brains in museums or of wearing your shoes out in picturesque villages but still willing to test new things? Lets treat yourself and your palate, and meet craftsmen and craftswomen who chose to work in Périgord to develop their unique “savoir faire” to make tasty produce. Some of them open their workshops to the public in all transparency, to make you understand their constant demand for quality and taste.
The La Veyssière mill is located in Neuvic, a small charming village, 17 miles Southwest of Perigueux in the heart of Black Perigord. This antique mill was built in the 13th century and is the last water mill still working on the Vern River. It never stopped working since 1560 and has little changed since the Elias family took over in 1857. If it originally mainly produced wheat flour, it now is totally dedicated to walnut and hazelnut oils. Périgord is a renowned area for nuts and driving through this wonderful region you will see countless walnut groves.
People come to La Veyssiere mill from the whole area to have their walnuts or hazelnuts turned into “liquid gold” and get all its wonderful nutritional qualities. Making extra virgin nut oil is a precise process requiring a lot of know-how passed down from generation to generation in the Elias family.
Today Christine Elias uses the antique 500 kg flint millstone to crush the nuts turning them into a brown paste. Next this paste is slowly kneaded and heated in a large cast-iron pan for approximately one hour. This is the most delicate step of the process, if the paste is undercooked its fruity aromas will not be fully developed, but if it is overcooked it will take an unpleasant burnt taste.
The roasted paste is finally squeezed under a 40 tonnes hydraulic press filling the air with a delicious aroma. In the shop next to the workshop you there are of course walnut and hazelnut oils as well as walnut and hazelnut flours that can be used to make delicious cookies or breads. You can also purchase them on their website and have home delivery even in the UK. http://www.moulindelaveyssiere.fr/
Have you ever heard of the French rusk? It was invented by the end of the 18th century, by ingenious bakers seeking a way to use their unsold breads. It still is today a classic of many French homes for breakfast. “La Chanteracoise” is the very last traditional factory making rusks in France and all the other rusks available in supermarkets are made by food industries… A few years ago Sandie and Sylvain Boucher bough it from its creator and made it a very successful story by keeping the same leitmotiv: quality. No palm oil, no colouring agent, no preservative, no GMOs, but only organic butter, French flours (80% organic flours), non-hydrogenated coconut oil, yeast, barley malt are used to bake these unique toasts.
First big loaves of bread are baked and left to dry for 24 hours before being cut into slices. Next the slices are baked again in a slow oven where they get their appetizing golden colour and characteristic crispiness.
Along the years Sandie and Sylvain have widen the range of products and increased the amount of organic ingredients used to make dried fruits, chocolate or nut rusks, croutons, dozens of different cookies… “La Chanteracoise” is located in St-Germain-du-Salembre, a small village next to Neuvic where you visited the oil-mill. Guided tours are organized all year long, 5 days a week. More at: http://www.la-chanteracoise.fr/
Did you know that France is the third largest world producer of caviar? Over the last twenty years several breeding sites have been created in areas where pure spring water is available and 35 tonnes of caviar are produced every year. The first world producer is China and the second one is Italy. “Caviar de Neuvic” was created by a passionate man, Laurent Deverlanges, on the banks of River Isle where wild sturgeon used to live before disappearing, due to over-fishing. The first precious eggs were collected in 2013 and today the Neuvic caviar has a very good reputation recognized by chefs and connoisseurs.
Guided tours, including a caviar tasting, are organized all year long upon request or by booking for the regular tours (twice a week in July and August). You will discover a small company with a non-intensive rearing regime that reduces the stress level of the fishes and respects the environment. Since sturgeons grow slowly, it takes at least seven years of careful attention to get the first eggs and be able to make caviar. It takes even longer to get big older female sturgeons that will produce more eggs. Patience is the key word!
A guided tour and a tasting of caviar butter, sturgeon rillettes, caviar and a glass of white wine is proposed for 19€. An affordable way to discover this luxury produce, that Laurent Deverlanges intends to democratize. More expensive tours with more caviar tasting will allow you to discover different caviar qualities and aromas. For more information: http://www.caviar-de-neuvic.com/
Valter Bovetti is a chocolate maker with a constant demand for authenticity. Being successful is of course important for him but not at any price. His first concern is respect. Respect for the cocoa producers that he carefully chooses after visiting their plantations in Ecuador, Ghana, Papua, Sao Tome or Santo Domingo, making sure that work conditions are good without any child-labour. Respect for the products that he uses to make his incredibly good chocolates: only 100% cocoa butter, no cheap palm oil or shea butter, no emulsifier such as soya lecithin, no OGM. Walnuts of course are from Perigord, hazelnuts from Italy where Valter was born, salt flower from Britany, pepper from Espelette … And respect for his customers who can be sure to get the best quality and therefore the best taste when buying their chocolate at Bovetti’s shop.
After visiting the “Chocolate Museum” and learn many things about cocoa trees, cocoa-pods, cocoa beans roasting… you will be able to see the factory and the chocolate making process. The shop is of course a place of great temptation!
Valter’s imagination never stops and new creations constantly increase the range of delights available in the shop. Make your choice among the outstanding range of over 140 different bars: black, milk or white chocolates to whom spices, dried fruits or flowers have been added. The chocolate spreads are unique and have been worldwide awarded. They are made with at least 40% of hazelnuts or almonds and are so successful that Valter had to make one-kilo jars to fulfil gourmets’ expectations. The 250 or 350 g jars were too small for them!
Chocolate fondue, walnuts and candied fruits coated with chocolate, dark or milk chocolate spoons ready to be stirred in hot milk to make a delicious cup of hot chocolate, hand painted mouldings, a growing range of organic and fare-trade chocolates, aperitif chocolate flavoured with genuine coriander, fennel, pink peppercorns, Espelette pepper easy to nibble with a drink or spread on a salad or on an ice cream… It’s an endless list of delights.
Bovetti factory and shop are located in Terrasson 40 miles East of Perigueux. More information: http://www.bovetti.com/en/ . You can also buy Valter’s delights on line at; https://www.bienmanger.com/2C1_Bienmanger_Welcome.html
If Perigord and Dordogne are well known for their gastronomy made with ducks, foie gras, truffles and famous Bergerac wines, they have much more to offer. Be curious and enjoy!
More information about Perigord and Dordogne: http://www.dordogne-perigord-tourisme.fr/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes