The Midi-Pyrénées is a region created around what is now the capital, Toulouse, the ‘pink city’ famous for its sausages. In France, the rules relating to how they are made are strict and only the best carry a prestigious red label. The authentic Toulouse sausage is free from colourings, preservatives and additives, containing just pork meat, salt and pepper. Besides its sausages, the city is also famous for its violets – and all the violet flavoured sweets and condiments they inspire, from bonbons and crystallised petals to mustard and vinegar. La Maison de la Violette is a river boat anchored on the Canal du Midi where you can find out more about the little purple flowers.
In the area around Cajarc and plus beau village Saint Cirq Lapopie, however, it is the saffron flower that attracts the most attention. They are harvested in October, when Cajarc hosts its annual Fête du Safran. Whole fields will be picked by hand, then the bright red stigmas inside are removed and sold for use as a luxury spice – an incredible 250,000 fl owers are needed to produce a kilo of saffron powder, 1g of which should be enough to colour and flavour over 60 servings of food. During the weekend long festival, you can visit a saffron farm, buy products like saffron coloured pasta or flavoured syrup.
Michelin starred restaurants are just the kind of place to find top of the range ingredients from the local area and the Midi-Pyrénées has plenty of them, including the three star Bras in Laguiole, run by Michel Bras and son Sébastien. If you have the chance to secure a table at one of these award-winning establishments, you should also keep an eye out for Quercy lamb – the first lamb in France to obtain the Label Rouge and black truffles, which are sold between December and March. Depending on the size of the harvest, prices range from €300 and €700 per kilo! It is around this time of year that foie gras is being sold at dedicated markets.
Hearty and warming
France is well-known for the richness of its cuisine and aligot from the Midi-Pyrénées is a famously calorific dish combining mashed potato with butter, cream and melted cheese – either Tomme de Laguiole or Tomme d’Auvergne. Like cassoulet and the hearty local stew, garbure, which is packed with cabbage, potato, duck or pork with beans and carrots, it has sustained pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela, as well as skiers and hikers. Aligot is often served with sausages and washed down with red wine from one of the region’s AOC vineyards: Saint Mont, Marcillac, Madiran, Gaillac, Fronton, Cahors and Côteaux du Quercy. Armagnac is also made from the grapes grown here.
Pastis Gascon might sound like another tasty apéritif, but in fact it’s a delicate dessert of golden filo pastry and apples cooked with vanilla and Armagnac.
For more information please visit www.tourism-midi-pyrenees.co.uk