Eating Local on the River Loire

petits poissonsWe didn’t really know if we were supposed to eat the heads or not!

Looking back at our most-recent two days in the Loire Valley, I’m still proud of myself for trying the tiny fish you see in the photo.¬† Friture de petits poissons was listed as an appetizer on La Croisette’s menu.¬† We were sitting out on the restaurant’s terrasse in a very small town called B√©huard, looking over the River Loire and enjoying one of the last warm evenings of late summer.¬† I was in the mood for culinary adventure and began setting up my rules for the evening: (1) I wanted to eat something I’d never tried before and (2) I wanted it to be something typique de la r√©gion.¬† Our waiter told us these little guys had been fished right out of the River Loire.¬† They were then battered up, fried and served to us with fresh lemon juice and tartar sauce.¬† Of course, the first thing I noticed were the beady eyes and I was slightly hesitant at first, but once I got cracking, I was having fun.¬† When the waiter came to clear the plate, all was gone- except for a few (yep, only a few) conspicuous-looking heads.

After this came the filet de sandre au beurre blanc, a white fish in a thick butter sauce.¬† According to the dictionary, sandre is “pikeperch” in English (I’d definitely never heard of that one before).¬† We’d been told it was not only native to the River Loire, but also the best thing on the menu.¬† We’d also been warned not to drink water with it- because the sauce was so rich (remember oil and water don’t mix!).¬† Instead, one was to drink wine.¬† When it comes to dining, we like to follow local advice.

Since we were trying everything else local, we went for two (well, four in the end) different glasses of dry white wine from the region.¬† According to this site, the Loire Valley is France’s leading producer of white wines.¬† Here’s what we ordered: a Savenni√®res (Domaine des Forges, Clos du Papillon) and an Anjou blanc (Domaine Mosse). Unlike many other French wines, those of the Loire Valley tend to be made from a single c√©page (grape variety).¬† Both of these were of the variety Chenin and, served chilled, went extremely well with the sandre.¬† As usual, I was on the lookout for a candidate for my “extra kudos for sustainability.” This trip’s winner: Domaine Mosse, since they practice organic farming techniques in their vineyards.

Our meal came between a visit to the Chateau de Serrant and a night in the bed and breakfast La Tour Girault.¬† This lesser-known castle was especially impressive for two reasons: the 135-square-meter kitchen (with its eight-oven kitchen range and 900 pieces of copper cookware) and the equally large library (with its 8,000 leather-bound books, including an original copy of Jean de la Fontaine’s Fables).¬† Apparently, this collection is one of the largest in France and actually counts 12,000 books total.

We have yet to be disappointed with a bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley and now have another favorite to add to our list.¬† Ask for the room “Sampan” for thevery original charpente (the A-frame woodwork coming down from the ceiling).¬† Our hostess was especially welcoming and even made our dinner reservations for us- knowing the only restaurant open on a Monday evening!¬† And, as usual, I paid special attention to the homemade green plum jam at breakfast.

Two days was way to short, but that’s probably why we keep going back to the Loire Valley…

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