Each year in May, Hong Kong’s food-lovers enjoy Le French GourMay, a festival celebrating the produce of a different region of France, and this year the Midi-Pyrénées is the star of the show. The Midi-Pyrénées is not only the largest region in France but also one of the most famous, renowned for its food, wine and stunning scenery. With so many treasures to seek out in one area, we’ve created a quick food-lover’s guide to the region, so you won’t miss out!
With an average of 2,000 hours of sunshine a year, the region in the southwest of France is one of the sunniest parts of the country, making it the perfect climate for agriculture and tourism.
The Midi-Pyrénées is the birthplace of foie gras, and great pride is taken in this regional specialty. Foie gras tends to be produced on small-scale, family-run farms, with each having a unique way of making it. The farmers of the Midi-Pyrénées are so proud of their ducks that you’re likely to find duck on every menu, from Toulouse to Aurillac to Lourdes. From duck fillet and duck fat, to confit, broth, patés and terrines, nothing goes to waste!
Toulouse native Jean Charles says, “Most traditional dishes here include duck or goose. There is always duck or goose confit in a cassoulet, for example. Confit is also served by itself with beans. Duck breast on the grill (magret) is another delicious dish. And we love cooking our French fries in duck or goose fat.”
Roquefort was also born in the region, and it’s such a prestigious cheese that it inspires phrases like this one from a French tourism website: “Roquefort represents a blend of delicacy and strength and a perfect match between nature’s genius and man’s intelligence.”
The cheese is only produced in Averyon, in cellars carved out of limestone cliffs in the 17th century, and is made exclusively from the milk of Lacaune ewes. Roquefort has held AOC status since 1925 and the Midi-Pyrènèes is recognised as the only official Roquefort producer in France.
Quercy black truffles are collected in the region each winter from the area around Lalbenque, which is officially recognised as a Site Remarquable du Goût, a distinction awarded to places of outstanding food heritage. Truffle farming is shrouded in mystery, with no one really knowing whether or not the harvest will be successful each year. Patience is a truffle farmer’s greatest asset as it can take 15 years for a truffle oak to produce these highly prized pieces of “black gold”.
Another luxury item on a foodie’s wish-list, saffron has been grown in Lot since the time of the Crusades. The stigmas of the saffron flower are harvested and sold whole, and it takes 250 flowers to produce just one gram of Quercy saffron.
Garlic is another of the region’s specialties, with pink, white and violet garlic varieties all being grown in certain villages for hundreds of years.
As you would expect, fruit and vegetables enjoy special status in the Midi-Pyrénées too. Haricot tarbais, white beans from Tarbes, are one of the key ingredients in cassoulet, and are the stuff of legend. These beans, as well as Chasselas de Moissac grapes, Quercy melons, and greengages (dessert plums) are all lovingly cultivated and individually handpicked by meticulous growers, whose traditions have been passed down over centuries. This level of care has earned them all Label Rouge quality marks and IGP status (Indication Géographique Protégée).
Black pork is famous for its flavour and texture, and is the product of black pigs that live an idyllic life in the meadows of Hautes Pyrénées and Gers. Quercy farm-reared lambs are undoubtedly happy too, with their life in the Causses du Quercy Regional Nature Park. There’s a great respect for animal welfare among farmers in general, and Quercy lamb has held a Label Rouge quality mark since 1990 and was granted IGP status in 1996.
Although not as famous as Bordeaux or Burgundy, the wines of the Midi-Pyrénées are very good, and are gaining increasing attention for their quality. Wines are produced in five AOC areas – Cahors, Gaillac, Madiran, Marcillac and Fronton – with grape varieties that are native to the region, making them quite unlike any other wines. If brandy is your poison, Armagnac is also produced in the Midi-Pyrénées.
You may have noticed a lot of French foods have letters after them; these are official marks of quality, and the food of the Midi-Pyrénées is no exception. The region actually has the largest number of products protected by official quality marks – 120 in total, including fresh meat, fruit and vegetables, dairy products, cured and cooked meats, and wines. Labels include: AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée), IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée), AB (Agriculture Biologique), Label Rouge.
About Le French GourMay
Since 2009, the city’s Francophiles have celebrated in the month of May, with one of the largest cultural events in Asia, Le French May, organised annually by Business France (the French Trade Commission in HK). Due to the huge craving for French food and wine the organisers created Le French GourMay, and each year they celebrate the food and wine of a different region. 150,000 people are expected to enjoy the festival this year, with seminars, workshops, and most importantly special events at 50 of the city’s best restaurants.