FOCUS: The Loire, a gourmet land

Childhood treats or savoury pleasures, gastronomy in the Pays de la Loire is full, varied and above all very tempting.

In this region covered by 18 000 km of waterways, the practice of freshwater fish farming is obvious. On the menu from the river: zander, pike, eels or salmons, often seasoned with "beurre blanc", a local salted sauce prepared with white wine. The ocean also brings its share of tasty products like oysters from the Bay of Bourgneuf, clams from Noirmoutier or anchovies from La Turballe, sometimes accompanied by salicornia.

As in all culinary preparations, salt plays a prominent role, especially in the Pays de la Loire. Salt harvesting is an ancestral practice in the Guérande peninsula, where 250 men are still working by hand over 2,000 ha of saltworks. From table salt to salt flowers tasted on a slice of buttered bread, the result is delicious. So, it is sprinkled on local foods such as poultry of Loué or the Challans duck, white puddings, fried foods and other specialties.

Vegetables produced in the surrounding countryside often accompany local dishes and deli meats. The Mogette of Vendée (white bean) is recurrent, such as carrots, onions and turnips. While 90% of world production of lamb's lettuce comes from the Pays de la Loire, the mushroom of Paris is not that Parisian as the 80% of this crop is grown in the galleries of Saumur.

Fish, meat and vegetables: the regional menu is not yet complete. Praise and salivate for the Gargantua of Rabelais, the fouaces of the Loire accompany all the dishes worthy of the name. These small round loaves, cooked on wood, supply the tables of the region and those of troglodyte restaurants, already coloured by the local wine.

The menu of the local specialties culminates with a hint of sweetness: Quernons d'Ardoise in Anger, berlingots of Nantes, salted butter caramels of Guérande and brioche of Vendée. After a day passed on sail wagons on the beach or a trip on the Loire aboard a toue sablière, local sweets are a blessing.

Translated by Dafne Inzaina -