Avignon and surrounding area is a gourmet’s paradise, producing a broad 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 pair particularly well with Côtes du Rhône wines.
Many top chefs feature classic Mediterranean products on their menus, including fruit grown on and around the Comtat Plain: cherries, peaches, figs, pears, plums, apricots, strawberries and melons, all of which are 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 Apt, world-famous for its candied ‘fruits confits’. These much-loved treats are used in a wide range of local delicacies including 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.
Savoury specialities are also on the menu, with PDO olive oil from Nyons and Baux Valley, perfect for drizzling over a tomato salad flavoured 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 cheese in its chestnut-leaf wrapping is a soft goat’s cheese make in the local hillsides, while truffles from Comtat Venaissin are known as the ‘black diamonds of Provence’.
Côtes du Rhône wines pair beautifully with these different foods, making some very popular combinations.
- Rasteau’s Vins Doux Naturels (naturally sweet wines), Muscat Beaumes de Venise and Saint Péray sparkling wines are perfect to serve with dessert;
- Rosés go well with herby salads and summer barbecues – or just enjoyed on their own;
- Red wines bring a new dimension to lamb dishes, ratatouille or rich, garlicky stews flavoured with spices, rosemary and thyme.
- Dry, fruity white wines are a perfect match for Banon goat’s cheese.