Taste the Loire Valley's delicious wines, freshwater fish and goats' cheese plus locally-grown speciality produce including asparagus and mushrooms
The Loire Valley is the third largest area of appellations in France with a wine route of over 800km, and is one of only 10 European winegrowing regions to have UNESCO World Heritage status. It’s also recognised as France’s leading area for wine tourism – 250 million bottles of wine are produced each year and sold in 140 countries – a rate of 8 bottles per second.
Bourgueil, Chinon, Vouvray Cheverny, Sancerre ... these names will likely be familiar to most wine-lovers, and they represent just a fraction of the Loire Valley wine output. Local winemakers open their doors for tastings of everything from deep, fruity reds and intense whites to light rosés and gently sparkling Crémant de Loire. Most locations boast the ‘Vignobles & Découvertes’ (Vineyards and Discoveries) label, guaranteeing a quality oenological journey.
One of the best ways to experience the essence of the Loire Valley atmosphere is to sip a glass at a guinguette, one of the unique riverside bars; some of the most popular are situated at Blaison-Gohier, La Poissonnière, Tours, Orléans, Baule and Rochecorbon. And there’s no wine without heritage! The Loire châteaux, towns and villages are never far from the vineyards, and in the summer period they play host to a variety of wine-based celebrations.
Button mushrooms have been flourishing in Saumur for over 100 years. The city’s underground galleries offer all the ideal conditions for growth, and over 50% of the country’s button mushrooms are cultivated here. Visit one of the region’s multiple farms to understand about growing mushrooms. One of them, the Saut au Loups mushroom farm, is located in a troglodyte site dating from the 15th century, where they grow numerous mushroom varieties including button, oyster, blue foot and shiitake. Galipettes (large button mushrooms) are cooked in a bread oven and enjoyed with pâté, Andouille sausages, salmon, snails and fresh goats’ cheese. All that with a view over the Loire! While you're there, don’t miss out on a visit of the Musée du Champignon. Also close to Saumur, you can visit mushroom farmer Jacky Roulleau, in troglodyte dwellings dating from the 16th century.
Situated in Bourré, near Chenonceau, the Cave Champignonnière des Roches also grows button mushrooms, as well as blue foot mushrooms. In fact, 40% of the world’s blue foot mushroom produce comes from this farm! This famous variety is used in dishes in gourmet restaurants. Shiitake mushrooms, the famous variety with a Japanese name which is very popular in Asia, are also grown here. In total, 100 tons of high-quality mushrooms are produced, and all harvested by hand. Come and visit the mushroom cellar for yourself to find out how they are grown – in the space of an hour you will learn about how they are cultivated 50 metres underground using a traditional growing technique, at a temperature of 13°C.
Apples and pears
As the name suggests, ‘pommes et poires tapées’ (‘beaten apples and pears’) are flattened with a mallet after being dried in a tuffeau stone oven. They can be conserved in this form for many months and are eaten as they are, or rehydrated in wine or syrup. Come and observe this ancestral technique, recently modernised, at the Troglo des pommes tapées in Turquant, where you can visit the museum and enjoy a tasting session in the troglodyte dwellings. This ancient method can also be discovered at Poires Tapées à l’Ancienne in Rivarennes, capital of the Poire Tapée.
The Loire Valley is famous for its wonderful variety of fish populating its rivers. You’ll find truite (trout), anguille (eel), brème (bream) and brochet(pike) on menus everywhere, delicately cooked and often served with a rich butter sauce known as beurre blanc.
Both green and white varieties of asparagus are grown in the Loire Valley – but did you know they are in fact the same plant? It’s simply the way they are grown than differentiates them. Green asparagus is allowed to grow up out of the soil and be exposed to sunlight, while the white version is grown beneath the ground and never sees the light of day. Both are equally good to eat if prepared and cooked well, although the white requires a slightly longer cooking time.
Try Loire asparagus hot with melted butter or cold with mayonnaise or vinaigrette. Délicieux.
Love goats’ cheese? You’ve come to the right part of France! Creamy Loire chèvre comes in five different AOC variations: Crottin de Chavignol (a small, round, bulging delight), Sainte-Maure de Touraine (a log-shaped cheese tied with a strand of hay), Selles-sur-Cher (round with a fine blue crust), and two pyramids: Valençay with its sliced-off top, and Pouligny-Saint-Pierre with its point intact. To this mix we should add Trèfle, a relative newcomer to the goats’ cheese family, and also cows’ milk cheeses such as Cendré d’Olivet and Feuille de Dreux.
Pâté de Pâques berrichon
Similar to a pork pie in the UK, this Indre speciality comprises minced meat (such as pork or veal) and boiled eggs encased in puff pastry. Although it’s known as a pâté de Pâques (‘Easter pie’), it’s too good not to eat all year round! Pack a slice or two for your picnic by the river.
This tripe sausage may be somewhat of an acquired taste and has a very strong smell, but it’s a true delicacy in many parts of the Loire Valley, typically hailing from Jargeau east of Orléans. It contains 20-40% of lean pork and is often served grilled. We challenge you to try it…