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There is no such thing as traditional Loire
cuisine for the simple reason that the Loire
is not a traditional French region. Some
dishes, such as sandre au beurre blanc
(pike-perch in a butter-based sauce) and la
friture de la Loire (small fried fish), find their
way onto menus across the region, but real
specialities are highly localized – the prunes
of Tours, for example, or the famous green
lentils of the Berry.

Freshwater fish is a firm favourite, though
sadly it rarely comes from the Loire itself – in
fact, if it’s salmon, you can be certain that it
doesn’t, as salmon fishing has been banned
for many years. If you want to eat fish fresh
from the local rivers, go for la friture, a plate
heaped high with little smelt-like goujons (gudgeon), gardons (roach) and éperlans
(smelt), all deep-fried in a light, milky
batter. Other traditional favourites include
the small, herring-like alose (shad) and the
rare lamproie (river lamprey), both caught in
spring in long nets stretched across the river.
Brochet (pike) and the wonderful anguilles
(eel) – best served en matelote, in a heady
red-wine stew – are well worth trying.
Ubiquitous on regional menus is sandre
(pike-perch or zander), a large, white-fleshed
species introduced from Eastern Europe and
usually served with beurre blanc, a favourite
regional sauce made with butter, shallots
and white wine or vinaigre d’Orléans,
whisked into a light emulsion. Imported
salmon, often poached in Vouvray wine or
flavoured with sorrel, is still common, as is
stuffed bream.

Meat is less of a speciality, though the
géline Tourangelle (a black-feathered, cornfed
chicken from Touraine with a distinctive
flavour) and volailles de Loué (chickens
raised according to strict regulations in the
Sarthe) are renowned in France. Touraine
focuses on pork. The local rillons, great
cubes of fatty pork, are tasty but rather offputting
to outsiders unless you find them
sliced up and served on a green salad with
goat’s cheese, in which case they taste
rather like particularly good lardons (bacon
bits). You may find rillettes more tempting –
this paste of pork mashed with lard and liver
is perfect when spooned onto a bit of French
bread, and both Tours and Le Mans make
a fetish of it. Andouilles are cooked pork
sausages usually served grilled (they are no
relation to the Cajun smoked andouille or the
ubiquitous French andouillette); those from
Jargeau and Mennetou-sur-Salon are particularly
renowned. In Touraine charcuteries,
you’ll also find pâté au biquion, made from
pork, veal and goat.

The favoured meat of the forested eastern
Loire is game. Pheasant, guinea fowl, pigeon,
duck, quails, young rabbit, venison and even
wild boar are all hunted in the Sologne. You’re
more likely to find farmed game on restaurant
menus than the real thing, even within the
autumn game season, but it’s arguable that
the farmed stuff tastes better anyway. Game
is often served in a rich sauce made from
autumnal forest fruits, or wild mushrooms such as girolles (chanterelles), cèpes (ceps,
or edible boletus) and trompettes de la mort
(horns of plenty) – all of which thrive in the
region’s many forests.

Cultivated mushrooms have been big in
the Loire ever since it was first discovered
back in the late nineteenth century that you
could grow the ordinary champignons de
Paris in the caves that honeycomb the riverside
escarpments. In recent years, some
producers have experimented with exotic
mushroom varieties such as pleurotes
(oyster mushrooms), shiitake mushrooms
and pieds bleu, and chefs are responding
with new sauces.

The Loire valley is also superb vegetablegrowing
country. Anjou and the Orléanais are
famous for horticultural research, while the
gardens of Touraine produce the wonderfully
sweet haricots verts (French beans) and
leeks – known as poor man’s asparagus.
The sandy soil of the Sologne is ideal for the
real thing, cultivated in distinctive deep rows;
locals rate the fleshy white or purple-tinged
variety above the smaller green asparagus.
It’s usually eaten simply accompanied by a
vinaigrette made with local walnut oil, or with
a hollandaise or mousseline sauce. Turnips
are a particular favourite: eaten raw they
taste like radishes infused with the taste of
violets; otherwise they may find their way
into a potent soupe Tourangelle along with
cabbage, leeks and bacon. Finally, from
Berry, come lentilles vertes (green lentils),
second only to those from Puy among
connoisseurs; they traditionally accompany
salmon, trout or oxtail.

Anjou’s orchards produce greengages
called reine Claudes after François I’s
queen, and the succulent Anjou pear. Tours
has long been famous for its prunes, and
you’ll often find them on regional menus,
steeped in sweet Vouvray wine, stuffed with
apricots and apples and flambéed in rum,
or even served with pork. A few villages in
the Saumurois have revived the tradition
of poires or pommes tapées – oven-dried
apples and pears, delicious with duck or
poached in wine. But of all local dishes,
the most famous is tarte Tatin, an upsidedown
apple tart whose fame originates in
the small town of Lamotte-Beuvron, in the

The region makes a cult of its goat’s
cheese. A local chèvre fermier (farmproduced
goat’s cheese) can be a revelation,
but four named cheeses are found
on most restaurants’ boards. Each can be
recognized by its distinctive shape: soft Ste-Maure takes the form of a long cylinder with
a piece of straw running through the middle;
the richer Pouligny-St-Pierre and Valençay
are pyramid-shaped; while creamier, nutty
Selles-sur-Cher is flat and round, like a miniature
Camembert. Sancerre has its own tiny,
round, tangy crottin de Chavignol. Chèvre
may be presented in any stage of readiness
from a creamy, soft frais, often dusted with
ash, to a dry, powerful sec that all but reeks
of billy goat. Cow’s milk cheeses are more
unusual, though just south of Orléans they
make the delicious Olivet bleu and Olivet
cendré, while in the north of the Orléanais,
around Pithiviers, they make the soft bondaroy
au foin. Touraine, meanwhile, has a
good ewe’s milk cheese: Perrusson.

The heritage industry makes a lot of noise
about fouaces (or fouées in some regions),
a kind of wheat bread fast-cooked in the
oven, usually with goat’s cheese or rillons as
a stuffing – though Rabelais’ original recipe
specifies eggs, butter, spices and saffron.
It’s particularly popular in tourist-trap caverestaurants
in Touraine and Anjou, and can
be very good in a hearty way.