Life in the Loire after lock-down. Weekly update 5th July 2020.

The baby swallows have finally left the nest.

Pesto, Bigi and Monza have been on rotational sentry duty for the past couple of weeks hoping to catch a tender morsel but for the moment, they’re safe. A huge relief.

The adult swallows haven’t been taking any chances mind you. They’ve been dive bombing the cats trying to clear them from the garden when the young ones come out for their maiden flights.

Preparing for the second set of Zoom tastings for the Montdomaine Summer Guided Tasting Case this week I decided to add a little history to the mix.

Did you know that Orléans used to produce 80% of France’s vinegar?

Vinegar or vinaigre in French (which means sour wine) was, with salt, the only way of preserving food for centuries.

Wines destined for Paris would travel along the Loire and at Orléans they’d be discharged for their onward journeys to Paris and beyond. Merchants would check the wine and if the wine had turned, it would be transformed into vinegar.

The Orléans process as it became known, is a slow process of making vinegar that takes over a year. Industrial vinegar can be produced in 48 hours!

Before the Revolution there were 300 vinegar producers in Orléans. Today there is just one – Maison Martin Pouret, founded in 1797 and now run by the 6th generation of the same family.

On Wednesday we decided to have a little trip out. We drove to Vernou (the next village along) and bought some nice things for a picnic and then made our way north avoiding the ‘A’ roads wending our way through the villages until we found a suitable spot for lunch.

We found a little plan d’eau (area with picnic benches surrounding a small lake where people go to fish, walk the dog, take some air), and settled down to enjoy our tasty morsels (a potato salad with tongue, a crunchy red cabbage salad, a rustic garlicky rabbit terrine, a cherry tomato salad with a pesto dressing, some cooked pork loin and a loaf of homemade rosemary butter sourdough).

As we finished our lunch, the wind picked up and it started to rain. Back in the car we went and made our way, windscreen wipers whooshing from side to side to our final destination. Le Jardin du Petit Bordeaux – a beautiful garden.

We drove through the forest. A little rain wasn’t going to stop us. After all, we’d driven for an hour to get there.

We arrived and the rain continued so in true British style, we lowered the car seats and had a snooze for half an hour.

The rain cleared, we gathered an umbrella each and in we went.

What a revelation. Truly stunning. The rain stopped (briefly) and we were able to enjoy a relaxed walk around the amazing garden. Planted and developed over 34 years, a labour of love with over 4,500 species. Just wonderful.

Hundreds of acers and hydrangeas, giant bamboo, small nooks and crannies filled with different shapes and colours. Winding beech hedges leading you to a small pond with lillies, a rose covered arbour. Each section of the garden like a painting, each one with a bench or a chair where you could sit and admire the scene in front of you.

A little black cat showed us the way round and we chatted with the charming owner afterwards for a while before making our way back home. A lovely diversion in an otherwise quiet week.

Dinners this week have been varied. Nigel bought a Scamorza (smoked Mozarella) at the cheese shop last week so he made a rather tasty pasta dish that combined roasted cherry tomatoes and herbs with giant pasta, crunchy cubes of sourdough and cubes of melting Scamorza. Served with a lemon and olive oil dressed rocket salad it was a perfect match for a juicy Dolcetto d’Alba.

On Friday it was warm enought to eat outside. Puy lentils cooked with herbs and lardons as a base, roasted cod wrapped in parma ham and a salsa verde sauce alongside (lots of flat leaf parsley, basil and mint, some cornichons, lemon juice and olive oil mixed together to form a tangy rough pourable paste). Domaine des Courbillière’s Pinot Noir Les Dames 2016 was a good partner to that. Lovely fruit and concentration with nice acidity and balance.

The Zoom tastings on Saturday night went well. Another evening of sharing the wines of Chateau de Montdomaine with people from all over the world. Wine lovers in Surrey, Cambridge (UK), Texas, Washington DC, Florida, Texas and New York joined together for the second of our sessions. Although we are frustrated that we can’t be together for the moment, it’s lovely to be able to share a glass of the same wine with so many people in so many different places, brought together by modern technology.

Last night I pan fried a duck breast with thyme and garlic and served it with the remainder of the cauliflower purée that I made last week (and had put in the freezer). A few waxy Noirmoutier new potatoes and some earthy chestnut mushrooms (that I dry fried until the moisture had disappeared and then added a big knob of butter) and we were ready to go.

Saturday night’s Zoom tasting included the robust spicy Malbec l’Artiste and there was over half a bottle left. Already open for 24 hours it had softened and opened up considerably and was very complimentary to the strong rich flavours of the dish. The rare duck combined with the tannin in the wine to create something rather lovely and harmonious.

Life ain’t so bad in the Loire.

Until next week. Cheers from Noizay!