The people of Midi-Pyrénées are especially devoted to cassoulet, a rich concoction of goose or duck, mutton, pork sausage and white beans which is the subject of endless arguments about whether Toulouse or Castelnaudary makes it “correctly”. (We think that they both make it very well!). Local geese and ducks provide their fattened livers to produce foie gras (available fresh or canned), while the remainder of the poultry provide ingredients for succulent patés and confits flavored with black truffles, as well as garbure, a hearty cabbage soup that mixes cabbage with the rich poultry meats.
Throughout Midi-Pyrénées, farmers, hunters and mushroom pickers supply restaurants with ingredients at the peak of perfection. Near Foix, the Spanish culinary influence prevails, particularly in omelets prepared with green peppers, tomatoes and ham.
Delicious lamb roasts come from the flocks of Rouergue, and Roquefort, the well-known blue cheese, is made from their milk in the town of the same name. Other Causses cheeses include Bleu des Causses and Fourme de Laguiole, both made with cow’s milk. Tomme des Pyrénées and Rocamadour are also noteworthy local cheeses. Tasty deserts and sweets also abound: soufflé aux prunaux et à l’armagnac, soleils de Rodez (round yellow almond cookies flavored with orange blossom), jams from Quercy (home to the two largest jam producers in France) and Montauban’s cherries soaked in armagnac and coated with chocolate are just a few of the options.
Of course, neighboring Bordeaux has historically overshadowed the wines of Midi-Pyrénées, in spite of their high quality. A number of officially approved labels, or appellations contrôlées––such as Gaillac, Cahors and Madiran––are robust red wines that go well with the regional food. Fiercely protected grape varieties make wines that speak with a special flavor and are continuously being improved. A total of 34 appellations have recently been recorded and they all merit a connoisseur’s visit.
To round out any meal, Armagnac is a noble alcohol that is often compared to its northern neighbor, Cognac, but in fact quite different. It is made with wine from the sandy soil of Gascogne and distilled in one operation only. The process gives it a harder, more individual taste because less of the raw product has been distilled out.1