French food focus: lampreys, nonnettes, Echourgnac
A focus on food in France. This month, we meet a jawless fish producer, taste some Nonnettes and Trappe Echourgnac
Meet the producers
Lampreys resemble eels but are in fact a jawless fish with a kind of suction pad in place of a mouth.
Because when cooked lampreys have a meaty taste and texture, they have traditionally been eaten during Lent.
King Henry I of England is said to have been so fond of them that he died from eating a “surfeit of lampreys”. They were also used for the filling of a pie made by the Royal Air Force for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.
Sabine and David Durand run a fishery called Le Cabestan, Ferme du Pêcheur de Lamproie, on the banks of the Dordogne river, just upstream from Libourne. “We catch all the fish ourselves,” says Sabine. “David is the third generation in his family to earn a living fishing, and I’m passionate about it now too!”
They have a licence to fish the Dordogne river, using sustainable methods. Buying locally-produced ingredients, including wine, herbs and vegetables, they make the lampreys into ‘Lamproie à la Bordelaise’ using Saint-Emilion or white wine from Lupiac. They also make rillettes de lamproie.
Their products sell out fast, and each winter the pair spend the cold months fishing from the river as well as from the sea, and cooking. “It’s a nice rhythm,” says Sabine. “Every season is different.”
In the summer months (June-September) they open their onsite boutique, and offer tasting sessions and lunches at the farm in their home-style restaurant.
Outside the summer months, they are happy for groups (minimum five people) to reserve a tasting, or a meal (minimum 10 people).
Apart from selling direct from the farm and via their website, Sabine and David also sell their lamprey products at the Halles de Bacalan (opposite the Cité du Vin) in the Carreau des Producteurs section where they offer tastings of their Lamproie à la Bordelaise every day from Tuesday to Sunday.
Every year on the last weekend of April, they look forward to the Fête de la Lamproie in Sainte-Terre on the banks of the river, a two-day celebration of lamprey in all its shapes and forms.
Actors from the Bataille de Castillon are there in medieval costume, performing shows and entertainments for children, plus there are tastings, walks through the vineyards, exhibitions and cooking demonstrations.
Artisan cheese of the month: Trappe Echourgnac
Originally made by the Trappist monks at Notre-Dame du Port-du-Salut Abbey (Mayenne), this pressed pasteurised cow’s milk cheese is now produced at Echourgnac Abbey in Dordogne, where the monks relocated in 1868.
Thanks to the innovative sisters at Our Lady of Good Hope, the latest incarnation of the cheese benefits from the boozy addition of liqueur de noix (walnut liqueur), produced by the famous Distillerie du Périgord.
It is matured for two months in the abbey cellars and pairs nicely with a robust glass of Cahors red. You can buy direct from the abbey: www.abbaye-echourgnac.org
Local speciality: Nonnettes
With recipes traceable back to the Middle Ages, nonnettes are little gingerbread rounds, perfect for teatime (le goûter).
While today they come in many flavour fillings including caramel, and sometimes with an icing sugar coating, the most authentic version of this Dijon speciality is orange marmalade and honey flavoured.
Toulouse-based honey specialist Famille Mary sells six-packs for €5.50.