Avignon and its surroundings are a gourmet paradise, with a huge range of local foods to reflect the region’s character. In 2010, UNESCO listed the Gastronomic Meal of the French as part of its intangible culture of humanity; this, of course, includes the cuisine of Provence, whose culinary specialities work particularly well with Côtes du Rhône wines.
What sort of foods are we talking about?
Well, many top chefs make a point of featuring classic Mediterranean products on their menus. These include fruit grown on and around the Comtat Plain: cherries, peaches, figs, pears, plums, apricots, strawberries and melons, all regional specialities. Almonds, now making a comeback in the neighbouring Gard department, are an integral part of the 13 traditional Provençal Christmas desserts, along with figs, grapes, walnuts, melons, dates, clementines, nougat and a sweet brioche-like cake flavoured with orange blossom. Many of the fruits are processed in nearby Apt, famous for its candied ‘fruits confits’ which are used in lots of local delights – calisson sweets in Aix, chocolate and liqueur papalines in Avignon, and berlingots – boiled fruit candies – in Carpentras. Then there’s nougat from Sault, which is to Vaucluse what Montélimar is to the Drôme, and the brioche-like Pain de Modane from Nyons; even chocolate is flavoured with lavender, rose, jasmine and mimosa, the sunshine flavours of Provence.
Surely it’s not just sweets?
No, definitely not! Savoury specialities include PDO olive oil from Nyons and the Baux Valley, perfect for drizzling over a tomato salad with garlic, onions and Herbes de Provence, a garlicky, basil-scented Soupe au Pistou or a ratatouille made with locally-grown tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and courgettes – all classic Mediterranean ingredients. Tarascon lamb with herbs is a traditional Easter dish; Banon AOC in its chestnut-leaf wrapping is a soft goat’s cheese made in the local hillsides, while truffles from Comtat Venaissin are known as the ‘black diamonds of Provence’.
Sounds delicious! Can you suggest some wines to drink with them?
Everyone will have their own favourites, but here’s a starting point:
- Serve Rasteau’s Vins Doux Naturels (naturally sweet wines), Muscat Beaumes de Venise and Saint Péray sparkling wines with sweets and desserts;
- Rosés go well with herby salads or summer barbecues, or just on their own;
- Red wines bring a whole new dimension to lamb dishes, ratatouille or rich, garlicky stews flavoured with spices, rosemary and thyme. Really worth a try;
- Dry, fruity white wines are a perfect match for Banon goat’s cheese.