The Cuisine of Languedoc
Languedoc’s long tradition of cooking embraces the many influences from the neighboring regions and embodies the diversity of the landscape and history, as well – this is the land where olive oil and duck fat cross paths.
Along the plains of the Bas-Languedoc gently rolling toward the sea, light fruity olive oils, fragrant herbs growing wild in the sun-parched garrigues (shrubs and low vegetation growing on limestone hills) and, of course, the ubiquitous garlic are the foundation of the local fare, which is as colorful as it is redolent. Local markets follow the rhythm of the seasons from luscious tomatoes, crisp purple artichokes, pencil thin wild asparagus and sun-ripened peaches, apricots and figs, to cèpes and chanterelles. The wealth of fish and shellfish is the inspiration for many intriguing creations, such as the bourride, a delectable monkfish and vegetable stew thickened with a heady aioli. Squid and octopus find their way into hearty spicy seafood pies such as the tielles.
Although often associated with the cuisine of Provence, brandade, the garlicky fluffy codfish purée, hails from Nîmes. Languedocians have a particular fondness, as they should, for the flat briny oysters from the picturesque fishing town of Bouzigues and the lagoons of the étang de Thau. And, for sardines sold by the kilo at markets or right off the small fishing boats, they are enjoyed stuffed, raw, in escabèche and fritters, or simply grilled over subtly fragrant grapevines.
In contrast, the cooking of the rough and mountainous Haut-Languedoc and Cévennes is soulful and rustic, deeply anchored in its terroir, a term signifying the unique earthy characteristics and climate of a specific delimited area or, in the case of viticulture, a vineyard or wine region. Hearty flavors of wild mushrooms and game, chestnuts and walnuts, beans and root vegetables, including the black turnip of Pardailhan (so unique that it merited its own Appellation d’Origine Controllée ruling, which is a French government law protecting its special agricultural status) are the making of thick invigorating soups, fricassees and long simmered daubes. Cassoulet and its many variations is the dish of choice for festive occasions, so are flaky tourtes and croustades usually prepared with pork, mutton or game birds.
The area is also known for its excellent charcuteries. Cured or smoked hams, peppery saucissons and coarse country pâtés, among others, are prepared from secret recipes handed down from generation to generation. Lamb is raised on the fragrant slopes of the garrigue, permeating the tender meat with the flavors of wild fennel, thyme, oregano and yellow mustard. Local cheeses are primarily made of goat or sheep’s milk – the best known of all is the legendary Roquefort aged in the lime caves of the Causse plateaus.