Whether you choose to eat at a table d’hôtes, or sitting outside a small restaurant, a restaurant that has stars in the Michelin guide or simply within the country atmosphere of a farmhouse inn, you’ll enjoy deliciously local culinary specialities in which the local produce and the natural warmth of the Midi-Pyrenees find their expression.
To whet your appetite, a few aperitifs are exclusive to the Midi-Pyrenees. The Gers is Pousse-Rapière territory. This vivacious, cheerful cocktail marries an Armagnac liqueur with a wild, sparkling white wine. Another celebrity is red and white Floc de Gascogne, which combines fresh grape juice with young Armagnac, both of which are produced on the same vineyard. It was invented four centuries ago and obeys the rules of the “AOC” guarantee of origin.
In Ariège, you can say “tchin tchin or cheers” over a glass of Hypocras, an aperitif containing strictly natural ingredients. Still faithful to its Medieval origin, it is the result of the subtle maceration of plants and spices in sweet amber-coloured wine. For starters, the essential product is foie gras from southwestern France; an absolute must in terms of gastronomy. In the Gers and in the Lot, it is first and foremost a family affair. Families on their farms or in small production units respect the best traditions but also invent new ways of varying the pleasures of goose and duck foie gras.
Their love of good craftsmanship can also be found in Lacaune’s cooked pork meats, which are prepared in the heart of the Regional Nature Park of Haut-Languedoc. You should also try garbure. This rich, high-calorie Pyrenean speciality is a delicious soup, which contains a bit of everything: potatoes, cabbage, beans from Tarbes and dried knuckle of pork (the essential ingredient!).
Only the click of forks will be heard above a religious silence as the essential Cassoulet of Toulouse is placed on the table. Beans from Tarbes, or “coco” beans from the Lauragais region are melted into goose confit, the knuckle of pork, the pork rind sausages, the herbs, garlic and nutmeg. Real cassoulet requires lengthy preparation before it is served in small terracotta dishes. In the Aveyron, long threads of fresh tome cheese are characteristic of aligot just as unsalted cod is the basic ingredient of estofinado, two unusual specialities that transcend the humble potato to delight one’s taste buds. A leg of lamb may follow this unless you prefer fowl reared in the Gers, or tender red meat, which still has the sweet scent of the pastures. The meat producers of the Midi-Pyrenees guarantee the traceability of their products, natural food given to the animals, the respect for animals and loyalty to tradition.
The cheese board is another attractive prospect, with cheeses made from goat, cow or ewe’s milk. You can choose from the small round melt-in-the-mouth pebbles from Rocamadour, the prestigious Roquefort cheese which, like the Bleu des Causses will have matured lengthily, deep within time-worn cliffs, Pyrenean tomme cheese fragrant with the cheese cellars of the Ariège or the cheese of Laguiole, produced according to ancestral methods in the Aubrac area. The delightful sin of greed has many unusual aspects in the Midi-Pyrenees. Hours of work are required to shape a gâteau à la broche (spit-roast cake) over the flames of a wood fire. Pastis gascon, with its extremely delicate layers of raised puff pastry, also requires an uncommon skill.
The melons of Quercy and Lectoure are very much appreciated for their sweet, tender flesh picked when very ripe and eaten without moderation. Another gourmet fruit is the Chasselas grape from Moissac, the most well known of French grapes. Before closing with the aromatic saga that comes with the enjoyment of a glass of Armagnac, take the time to taste some of the lovingly produced wines of the Midi-Pyrenees such as Cahors, Gaillac, Fronton, Madiran and Marcillac wines.
The family tree of these first-class wines goes all the way back to ancient times and you’ll not tire of describing their multifarious aromas, colours and textures. The Midi-Pyrenees also reserves a place of choice for its “Vins Délimités de Qualité Supérieure” (wines of a defined area with strict production laws), all of which boast a fine origin (“Côtes de St-Mont”, “Côtes de Brulhois”, the wines of Entraygues, Fel, Estaing and “Côtes de Millau”). The pleasant local wines, “Côtes du Tarn” from Toulouse, “Côtes de Gascogne” and “Coteaux de Glanes” complete this glowing collection, which make the Midi-Pyrenees a land of vineyards and sun.