by JANE HANKS
THIS looks set to be a bumper year for French cherries with plenty of spring sunshine meaning the trees are loaded with fruit ready to ripen.
Les Monts de Venasque, the guild of 60 producers renowned for producing top-of- the-range French cherries, says the season is showing great promise with their earliest variety, Burlat, having already been picked and eaten. The second, Folfer is now in the shops.
President Nicolas Auragnier said the cherries are known for their sweet flavour and size due to the climate and orchards in which they grow in Vaucluse, east of Carpentras, the main cherry-growing area.
They are picked as soon as they are ripe, which means the season is short, finishing in mid-July and Mr Auragnier said they were hoping there would be no rain.
There is a rigorous selection: “Each farmer must have considerable knowledge and ability to produce the best fruits. The cherry is the only fruit which is picked when it is ripe as they don’t keep for long once they’ve left the tree.
“The cherries are then sorted according to size, the biggest ones are over 28mm and are sold for the highest price. The smallest which are 24-26mm are sold to the supermarkets.”
Mr Auragnier said most people buy a punnet and eat them straightaway, just as they are, they are so good. Each variety has its characteristics.
“The Burlat are juicy and soft, the Folfer are the most like a bonbon, crunchy and tart, the Summit which follow are heart shaped, sweet and soft and the end of the season Belge turn almost black and are both juicy and crisp.”
Monts de Venasque is north-east of Avignon and Vaucluse produces the most cherries in France, a fifth of the 50,000 tonne national output.
There are five regions, Provence (35%), Rhône-Alpes (33%), Languedoc-Roussillon (13%), Midi-Pyrénées (8%) and Val de Loire (5%). The Burlat, which is the first cherry of the year, represents nearly a third of the varieties produced.
There are many recipes for cherries and clafoutis is a standard dish at this time of year but perhaps try something a little different: a spicy, cherry soup.
Wash and stone 20g cherries. Bring 50cl of water, 50g of sugar, a pinch of cinnamon, two star anise, two cardamom pods and one clove to boil in a saucepan. Put the cherries into the spicy syrup. Cover with a lid.
Turn off the heat and let the mixture infuse and cool for at least an hour before putting it into the fridge. Serve cool in small glasses.
Do you have any cherry trees in your garden? We would be pleased to hear from you if you have any favourite ways of cooking with cherries. Please send ideas to news[at]connexionfrance.com