1. Visit a goat’s cheese farm. The Loire is famous for goat’s cheese and it comes in all shapes and sizes. St Maure de Touraine, Valençay, Crottin de Chavignon and Selles sur Cher are the names to look out for.
2. Head for Tours and taste the Nougat de Tours, a classic dessert from this region. Think of sweet pastry lined with a layer of apricots and dried fruits, covered with a layer of almondy deliciousness.
3. Stop at any Loire valley market and pop in a pot of Rillettes. Shreds of sweet belly pork packed tightly in a pot and then preserved with pork fat. It’s so bad it’s heaven and the perfect picnic food as it must be served at room temperature. Pop in some crusty bread and a bottle of wine and you’ll be more than happy.
4. Pommes Tapées (literally tapped apples). After the problems of phylloxera, growers in the Loire looked for other products that might save their livelihoods. The troglodyte village of Turquant (now more famous for wine again) was dominated by producers who peeled the apples and then placed them in wicker baskets in bread ovens, removing them every so often to ‘tap’ them. The dehydrated apples allowed mariners to increase their intake of fruit. Still available today they are rehydrated in wine, cider or eau de vie and often served with crème Anglaise or vanilla ice cream.
5. Head to Saumur for the mushrooms! Around 70% of France’s mushrooms come from the Loire valley. Drop by one of the producers that are invariably tucked away in the ancient limestone tunnels and buy fresh from the producer.
6. Maison Corabeuf in the Layon valley is a local producer of all things duck. Foie Gras, terrines, rillettes are all of excellent quality and while this idea won’t appeal to all, you can rest assured that all French families will have some or all of these products on the table throughout the year. You can visit and make your own mind up at this small family run affair.
7. The Cremet d’Anjou is a local dessert made from fresh whipped cream with the addition (or sometimes not) of fromage blanc, vanilla, lemon and beaten egg whites. It’s light as a feather and is drained overnight in individual moulds. The following day it’s unmoulded and served alongside a compote or coulis of seasonal fruit. Each area of the Loire has its own variation but it makes the prefect end to a rich meal and is super simple to make.
8. Saffron has been farmed in the Loire valley for a long time. Added to exotic dishes its beautiful aroma and colour add another dimension and a few drops of saffron syrup topped up with our local sparkling wine Crémant de Loire makes for an unusual aperitif.
9. On the coast you’ll find the amazing Sel de Guerande. Pure crystals of sea salt sprinkled on a dish before serving lift the flavours to another level. A visit to the co-operative in Guerande gives a fascinating insight into the production of sea salt and its important history. Did you know that the term ‘salary’ comes from the Romans who used to pay their workers in salt (salé means salty in French).
10. Orleans is famous for vinegar! Why you might ask? Well, transporting wine up the river Loire in the days before the railway existed was a long and tricky business. Wines that were less stable didn’t last the course so it was a natural place to produce vinegar. After all the word vinegar in French is vinaigre (sour wine). In the 18th century there were over 300 producers of vinegar, today only one, the Maison Martin-Pouret (we know how to look after our wines a little better these days!).