Avignon, South of France
Cheese, Wine, Apples, Nocturnal Picnics
Where our Food Comes From…..
Picture the scene….. a warm autumn day with scudding white clouds in the sky, a posse of food lovers, cheeses of all shapes and sizes, glasses of wine, tempting terrines, crisp, pink apples, vineyards, châteaux and candlelight…….such was my trip to the South of France a few weeks ago at the end of October.
I was one of two food writers and a food photographer who were invited to attend a special Pink Lady press trip in the Avignon area in Provence; along with the Pink Lady PR team from the UK and France, we were all treated to wine and cheese dégustations, a trip to the local market to buy the ingredients for a morning in a cookery school, special tasting menus, fine dining, a trip to the Pink Lady apple orchards as well as picnics galore.
The emphasis was on Pink Lady Apples – where they are grown and the 2014 harvest, which we were invited to attend; however, we also had the opportunity to cook with the apples, enjoy the apples in a special tasting menu and pair the apples with local cheese, wine and other artisan produce.
Today’s post is all about our first day…..a day of cheese tasting, wine pairing and fine dining in “La Vieille Fontaine” restaurant, situated in the Hotel d’Europe, where head chef, Bruno d’Angélis holds a Michelin Star for the restaurant; Bruno had created a special Pink Lady tasting menu for us to enjoy on the first night.
Our accommodation was in the charming Cloître Saint-Louis – the hotel is located in a beautiful 16th century building in the centre of Avignon. Originally a Jesuit seminary, the Cloitre Saint Louis has also been a military hospital and a hospice over the years. This Avignon hotel went through a complete restoration and opened in 1990, and we had a very comfortable two nights in one of the newly refurbished wings.
Today, I would like to take you all on a virtual “photo diary” trip around this part of Provence; so, for day one, let’s visit one of the most fascinating cheese shops I have ever been too…..Fromagerie du Comtat – Maison Vigier, which is run by the amazing Claudine Vigier.
Claudine is an expert on all things cheese, and is maître fromagière of the shop which is situated in Carpentras. Claudine was named the best cheese specialist in France in 2009 and her enthusiasm and verve for cheese if irrepressible. Her shop is adorned with an impressive range and collection of milk cans and billy cans, collected throughout her childhood from her grandparents dairy farm, it seems that milk is very much in her blood. Claudine was waiting for us with a welcome platter of local cheeses to taste, as well as a bottle of chilled Muscat…..
As well as stocking a staggering array of cheeses from all over France, she also “affinages” (ages) the cheeses in a special “cave” beneath the shop (which you can see her standing on in the photo above), in addition to offering a fine range of wines and charcuterie for sale. Claudine’s passion is undoubtedly for all types of cheese, but, she is a particular champion of local producers, no matter how small they may be, and we were fortunate enough to taste some wonderful local specialities including a cheese she devised herself, la Fourme des Dentelles de Montmirail, which is a blue cheese injected with Muscat De Beaumes De Venise.
Having tasted our way through numerous cheeses, Claudine then demonstrated how to make cheese “mushrooms” with Tête de Moine cheese on a Girolle cheese curling machine before selecting some cheeses for us to take on our picnic lunch later on. Our time in Claudine’s cheese emporium had been tantalisingly tasty and extremely fascinating – it was certainly a wonderful way to start our trip in Provence.
Our next port of call was Château Unang, just half an hour away from Carpentras in Malemort-de-Comtat; the château is owned by winemaker James King and his wife Joanna, originally from Scotland, they bought the château as a ruin in 2003 and have completely restored it, as well as the vineyards, and are now proud to produce Ventoux wine, which is finally starting to receive some of the respect it now merits.
We were accompanied by Claudine, who often visits the château for gourmet cheese and wine pairings…….we all walked through the vineyards up a gentle incline to the château which sits on top of a small hill……the scenery was stunning, with flaming orange and red leaves, dramatic cloud formations and a harsh, bright light that is so Provence.
James was there to meet us and tell us about the château and his wines. Interestingly, the white wines (made in 2012) are certified organic and the reds made in 2013 will also be organic, completing their conversion to totally organic wines over three years. James told us that it’s his aim to keep the yields low and make the vines work to produce the best grapes possible. (They have Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan in red grapes, and Rousanne, Clairette and Grenache blanc in the white grapes in their vineyards)
After being shown around the château we sat around a large table on the terrace overlooking the vineyards in the valley, shielded by The Giant of Provence, Mount Ventoux, which apparently keeps the “Mistral” at bay and other freak weather conditions, James uncorked some of his wines for us to try. As dusk crept over the valley, we chatted to some artisan producers and growers of saffron, whilst sipping on Jame’s wines (that were paired with a selection of cheeses from Claudine’s shop) and some Pink Lady apples of course – a magical nocturnal picnic ensued, with echoes of the region being whispered in the gentle breeze……
……the picnic was very atmospheric with candles flickering ……we had a selection of cheeses, glacé fruits, nuts, nougat, honey, preserves, local artisan bread and wine of course…..
……before I share photos of our meal later that evening, here’s a few tasting notes about Jame’s wines:
Chateau Unang Rosé 2013 AOC Ventoux
Grape Varieties : Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah (with yields of 35hl/hectare, hand-picked).
Tasting Notes : A subtle pink rosé with a glint of almost blueness. Its core-of-a-strawberry colour marries with cherry aromas. The red fruit theme continues with wild strawberries in the mouth and ends with a clean finish. Typically for the wines of Chateau Unang there is a lively start given by its natural acidity – resulting in much appreciated freshness.
Notes : Serve chilled, whenever the urge takes you – but best to be consumed over the coming months, either with food or by itself.
Cuvée Adeline 2012 AOC Ventoux white
Grape Varieties : Roussanne, Clairette (with yields below 3ohl/hectare, handpicked).
Tasting Notes : A golden, straw coloured wine which has an elegant mineral and white fruit (citron confit and grapefruit) opening on the nose supported by some subtle floral (vervein and honeysuckle) notes. In the mouth there is a very fresh start, a good acidity, with the earlier fruit resonating, then an almost salty finish.
Notes : Serve chilled, this wine could accompany a range of dishes, from roast veal to lobster – even coconut-based Thai curry. Ready to drink from 2011, and good for 4 years, or more.
Chateau Unang Blanc 2013 AOC Ventoux
Grape Varieties : Clairette, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc (with yields of 30hl/hectare, hand-picked).
Tasting Notes : A delicately coloured wine with subtle, straw colours with hints of fresh hay and pear drops on the nose. Citrus fruits then abound – mainly the yellow ones (grapefruit and lemon zest). As ever, there’s a refreshing finish.
Notes : Serve chilled, as an aperitif or with grilled fish or even shellfish. Ready to drink now and typically will be drunk within 2 or 3 years – though will evolve and last longer.
Chateau Unang La Source 2010 AOC Ventoux Red
Grape Varieties : Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault (with yields of 30-35hl/hectare, hand-picked).
Tasting Notes : Intense aromas of blackcurrant, peppers and balsamic are evident with this deep, dark wine. The round tannins are in step with this elegant wine, which also boasts a mineral – graphite – side, and gentle clove finish. There is a smokiness to the wine that almost goes to soot.
Notes : Serve at room temperature. Ready to drink from 2012 and will improve for 5+ years. Works extremely well with roast duck accompanied by beetroot.
Chateau Unang Rouge 2010 AOC Ventoux
Grape Varieties : Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault (with yields of 30-40hl/hectare, hand-picked).
Tasting Notes : This wine has a vibrant, violet-tinged hue. Its nose takes in ripe cherry and pepper notes. In the mouth the cherry continues but edges towards balsamic and camphor, with a firm acidity keeping it fresh. The soft finish is black fruit with a little cocoa.
Notes : Serve at room temperature or slightly cooler. Ready to drink from 2012 and will easily last 6 years, and probably more. Has great balance and will work with meatier dishes, but we like it with sausages and mash.
We all bade out farewells, and after a busy afternoon we were all pleased to check into our hotel, Cloître Saint-Louis, in the centre of Avignon for a few hours rest and relaxation before the evening’s Gourmet Pink Lady Tasting Menu. My room was large, with a loggia, desk, sofa, coffee table, king size bed, ample cupboards, separate WC, bath and shower. Wi-Fi was free and was high-speed and the reception area and interior of the hotel downstairs were finished in exposed stone with a fabulous vaulted dining room.
We all set off later that evening to walk to the La Vielle Fontaine restaurant; making our way through the beautiful centre of Avignon with its stunning building and architecture, it was a wonderfully atmospheric prelude to what followed, namely a bespoke nine course tasting menu in the company of Didier Crabos (Director of Cofruid’Oc) and Thierry Mellenotte (Director of Pink Lady Europe).
The menu was specially created by chef Bruno d’Angélis and each course had Pink Lady apples incorporated in it. We started with a quartet of amuse bouche……playfully presented in small verrines…..
……this was followed by a beautiful appetiser plate of foie gras that was decorated with edible flowers…..
….we were then treated to a spectacular seafood course of scallops……
…..this was followed by a crab ravioli in a langoustine foam, which was divine……
……comfit of apple lolly pop anyone, yes please! On a liquorice stick stalk and a cheeky little palate cleanser before the main event…..
…..and now on the main course of lamb tenderloin with apples of course……
…….the first of our desserts was served next, and Bruno invited us into the kitchen to see them preparing it……
…..but before we could enjoy this dessert of apples in caramel sauce with meringue and marshmallows, we were served with a platter of sweet amuse bouche…..
…..and finally, an extra dessert, as if we needed one, but we still all devoured these little apple cheesecakes with chocolate shards……
…….the whole meal was an explosion of flavours, textures and colours, with some very playful adaptations of classic dishes. The use of Pink Lady apples in each course was clever and innovative and we all waddled back to the hotel for a well-earned rest before tomorrow’s activities…….do pop back in a week or so to read all about day two, where we visited “Les Halles d’Avignon” to shop for our lunch, which we cooked alongside chef Séverine Sagnet at Hotel La Mirande. That’s all for today, as I have featured artisan cheese and wine, this is part of my “Where Our Food Comes From” series; my last post in this series was here: British Carrots: Sticky Roast Chantenay Carrot Medley with Pomegranate Molasses. See you later, with more recipes, traveller’s tales and culinary chat, Karen
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Pink Lady UK and Europe and all of my travel, accommodation, food and activates were paid for. All opinions and views remain my own and I was not required ro write an account or review of my trip. With thanks to Pam Lloyd, Michelle Toft, Carine Duthu and Maxime Delacour for looking after me so well and inviting me on the trip.
Images: All images are copyright of Moe Kafer; there are some of my own images shared in this post too, as indicated.