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The Flavors of Provence

The south of France is a delight to the senses. Visually exquisite, cuisine that is simple, fresh and flavorful, sounds of wildlife, birds and rustling trees, and the sweet fragrance of lavender, olives and grapes. It is easy to want to sit back and let nature take over your senses.

On my last visit, I did a lot of sensory tasting. The south of France makes some of the best products in the world... Wine, olive oil and honey and I tried them all. Here are a few of my most favorites tastes.

Wine...because I prefer white wine, I visited Cassis, a small fishing village near Marseilles, known for its exquisite whites I ordered a bottle of wine and paired it with battered sole. The wine was crisp, with a golden hue and an aroma that brought to mind the fresh outdoors. The taste was a delicate flowery, with hints of Cherry and cassis. Domaine du Paternel is a very fine house and each sip was delicious.

Olive oil.... Now here is where things get complicated. There are many, many types of olive oil, but you don’t fully appreciate how much effort goes into each bottle of olive oil until you have been to the vineyards and seen the olives on the trees. They are treated almost as delicately as grapes and have a processing that was brought over by the romans centuries ago. Typically, we pour olive oil over dishes. The new technique is to use a sprayer to spritz, instead of pouring. It is less wasteful.

Pastis... Never having really tasted pastis, I decided to linger over one on a sunny afternoon in Marseilles. Generally, pastis is a licorice flavored drink. It arrived at the table as a concentrate, to which I added water. I decided for the slightly sweeter version, which had orgeat in it, giving it a very almondy flavor, similar to sambuca, or ouzo. Paired with a tomato and mozzarella salad, the pastis went down very smoothly.

Lavender grows in abundance in Provence, but I had not figured out how to use it in a culinary setting. Well, I found two delicious examples of it. The first was a goat cheese spring roll with lavender honey. This was amazing - the sweet and sour taste, combined with the crunchiness of the spring roll set off the lavender honey. It was not too sweet as the cheese mellowed it, but you clearly had the sweet and sour sensations. The other yummy taste was a Lavender creme Brule. The first thing I noticed was the creme brûlée was 1) not as thick and firm as our American version and 2) not as sweet. The brûlée had the pods of the vanilla bean and a caramelized lavender layer. The whole dish was devoured within minutes. I have brought lavender home to use in cooking and we will see how that turns out.

I hope you have enjoyed the culinary tour of Provence. I can't wait to taste more.


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