Truffle Fairs – January in the Languedoc

Truffles!  January is the month to visit truffle fairs in the Languedoc and cook with this  famous gastronomic delicacy.

Known as the ‘black princess’ the truffle is an underground forest mushroom, highly scented, imparting a unique flavour to the dish. It is generally found buried in the soil beneath the truffle oak and certain other trees and is gathered from December to March.

Traditionally truffles were unearthed with the aid of pigs. Female pigs are attracted to truffles as they contain a compound similar to a pheromone secreted by boars. Specially trained truffle-dogs are now used, especially because the sows have a tendency to eat the truffle once located! This time consuming and labour intensive process of harvesting the wild truffles is one of the reasons they have such a high price.

The best known French variety is the black Périgord truffle.

Every year there are truffle fairs to be found throughout the regions of France, including the Languedoc. The closest fair to Magalas is the one held in Clermont L’Hérault, at the end of January when truffles are at their most fragrant. It’s an excellent day out for truffle enthusiasts or just the curious.

 

 

You will certainly see the locals carefully choosing their favoured truffle and buying pieces.

Everything to do with truffles is for sale at the fairs, be it for the truffle hunter or the truffle cook (who will definitely need a truffle plane and grater). There is truffle oil, truffle salt heavenly with almost anything, to the truffles themselves. The stallholders serve truffle omelets, there is a fun truffle hunt open to all dogs, more truffle knives than you could imagine.

Winter black truffles are best cooked; the flavour of the truffle intensifies with the heat as it is cooked. Truffle shavings, strips or thin slices can be used when cooking any fowl, fish, beef, pork, game. It’s often found in combination with cheese, bacon or pancetta.The ultimate luxury is layered with foie gras in a terrine! Pick up your recipes at the fairs.

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Markets to visit?

What about markets  close to Magalas?

Markets are in abundance! There is too much choice!

In  Magalas itself there is a small market every Wednesday morning in the square opposite the Town Hall with wonderful fruit , vegetables, butcher’s van, cheeses as well as a few household goods.

But in the area around Magalas there are markets to be found on almost every day of the week!

Favourites include the lively buzzing market in Pezenas on Saturday mornings. It’s there all year round. In the summer months it’s very busy and with more stalls, but every Saturday you will see locals stocking up on their seasonal vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and shellfish, and cheese and much much more. The local cafes which line the market street are full of folk drinking coffee and eating their morning croissant. The market runs the length of the cours Jean Jaurès and la place de 14 juillet. Up in the place Gambetta is the farmers market and organic produce.

 

 

A trip into the hills on a Wednesday morning takes you to the larger market of Clermont Hérault. A huge car park by the old railway station fills up quickly with locals from the surrounding villages. Its always a delight, and with the imposing church in the background, lovely to wander the stalls and guaranteed you’ll soon be tempted and filling your basket with  local fresh produce, and lots more.

 

A favourite on the coast is the Sunday morning market at Mèze, an ancient fishing hamlet on the northern shore of the Bassin de Thau: followed by a lunch on the edge of the Port at one of the many sea food restaurants and a good walk along the beach makes a great Sunday outing.

Specialist markets happen in the larger towns. On a Friday morning the Allées Paul Riquet in Béziers is taken over by flower stalls selling everything from a bunch of bright yellow mimosa for your kitchen, to plants for your” potager”, or a lemon tree for your garden.

Wherever you are exploring, theres likely to be a market close by!

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The best time to visit the Languedoc

So when is the best time to be in the Languedoc/Occitanie? The short answer is ANYTIME!

Here are some of the highlights waiting for you when you come to Magalas:

January to March

Clear blue skies, long walks in the vineyard, wine tastings in the many thousands of wineries in the immediate area. The vine-pruners will be busy in all the thousands of acres of vineyards pruning each plant by hand. There is a saying here: Taille tot , taille tard , rien ne vaut la taille de mars. Prune early, prune late, nothing beats pruning in March. That’s said to be the best time for the plant to be tended to, but there are so many vines that need attention that the work has to start ed much earlier to get it all done before the leaves start shooting once more.

April to May

Oh these are the most wonderful of months. There are wild flowers bursting out absolutely everywhere and the fragrance on the air is intoxicating. Why not take a picnic and hike up to Mt Caroux, or along the Voie Verte?

June to August

These are the long, hot, sunny days of summer. You can head to the beach, walk in shady forests or canoe along rivers.  The trusty barbecue will be your best friend once you see all that the markets have to offer. Seafood is abundant and there are hundreds of shellfish restaurants along the coast, just waiting for you to make your choice. A mellow evening stroll beside the Mediterranean before shellfish and a bottle of Picpoul de Pinet is the perfect way to end a summer’s day.

 

Local road sign during the best grape harvest
Local road sign during the grape harvest

September to December

The grape harvest kicks off and the roads are sticky with juice dripping from myriad trailers transporting grapes to the cooperatives and domaines, ready to be made into the next vintage. Later the leaves fall and the very best of mushrooms appear. Chestnut and pumpkin soup appears on menus and village markets are full of winter foodstuffs and warm clothes which are ideal for those long sunny walks.

 

Walking in the Hérault

The house is situated between the the Mediterranean and the Black Mountains in the Languedoc village of Magalas. The area has many, many footpaths and marked routes for walkers, both long distance ( sentiers de grande randonnée) and shorter ones ( promenade et randonnée) . The paths are all described in the TopoGuides, giving details of the route and length of the path and how long it would take to walk, the surrounding area, places to see, where to park, the colour marking the route,  any difficulties, as well as the maximum and minimum altitudes and the total climb. The walks are all graded from easy to difficult. They are simple but comprehensive and accurate guides. We have not been let down yet!

 

 

The tracks are very well signposted: the marks are on trees or rocks, walls, posts.

 

Carry on – you’re on the right track!

 

Turn left

 

Not this way!

On our walk today with overcast skies the only people we passed in 3 hours were those pruning the vines .

 

 

Puissalicon

Puissalicon is the next door village to Magalas. Its a 30 minute amble away,  across vineyards. A new “Cave à Vin, Cave à Manger” has recently opened – Picamandil.

Our walk out of Magalas took us past a stunning mimosa tree

 

Past the grave yard lined with majestic cypress trees

 

Through the vineyards, looking rather bleak but beautiful in the winter light.

 

And into Puissalicon and Picamandil. It’s a great place, with interesting wines and local produce to buy, tables to sit and chat , eat, drink.

 

And a large window with  views across the roof tops.

 

There’s a small garden for summer eating . Very friendly and relaxed – we’ll go back!

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Can you believe it?

This is the house in winter, the photograph taken today, a cold January day.

It may be chilly outside but the house is toasty-warm. With thick stone walls and wooden shutters to keep out the cold in winter and the sun’s blistering heat in summer, the house is welcoming all year round.

Its hard to imagine that by June the vine will need to be cut back from over taking the front door, that the summer kitchen will be ablaze with blue plumbago and honeysuckle, that the bougainvillea will have bright pink flowers, and the roses will have grown tall and be full of blooms. Its all to come very soon!  Its a very easy garden to care for whilst providing ample shade and sun.

Menu

The Bistrot La Galerie is a short stroll from the house. The menu is simple good food, excellent for lunch and supper.

 

Languedoc-Roussillon

 

In January 2016  Languedoc-Roussillan became part of a new administrative region, Occitanie, joining with Midi-Pyrénées. Occitanie covers an area of just under 73,000 sq km (or about 28,000 sq miles) with a population of about 5.6m, and has Toulouse as its capital, about 200km from Magalas. Languedoc-Roussillon ( the ‘Languedoc’)  stretches from the Rhône valley in the east to the Spanish border in the south west, and covers about 27,000 sq km. It is a key wine making area with  some 740,000 acres (3,000 sq km) of vineyards, three times as many as Bordeaux! Wine has been made in the Languedoc for centuries, and there is even evidence of winemaking in Roman times, with the ruins of a first century AD winery  near Clermont l’Herault , just north of Magalas. There are many excellent wines made locally to Magalas.  Seigneurie de Peyrat is just outside Pezenas, and a marvellous place to visit and taste wine.

 

Blue Monday

Today is blue Monday, the skies are looking very threatening and we have freezing weather forecast. But its warm and cosy inside our house, the fire is lit, the soup is on the hob and its a day for getting jobs done inside. Perhaps a walk in the hills later.

Some thoughts to have today…..

 

Eglise Saint-Laurent

The church of Magalas, first mentioned as a parish church in the 11th century, sits at the top of the village and opens into a small square. Today as I walked to the bakery for our lunchtime baguette it was bathed in sunshine. The church clock chimes the hour twice. Magalasiennes will tell you this dates back to the era when the workers in the surrounding vineyards relied on the church bells to tell the time, and allowed them an extra chance to count the hour.