|food and drink|
The department lies at the agricultural
heart of France and food and drink form a very important part of the
local culture and economy. The Charentes is where the surrounding
regions overlap and all of the best can be found there.
To the North is the Poitou region around Poitiers, famed for its excellent food. The food of the Poitou region is that of the land. The specialities include gesiers (giblets) which the locals get very excited about and cook them in all sorts of ways. These are an acquired taste and texture. There is quite a lot of ofal and goose fat so read the menus carefully. There is also fois gras. Although its production by the force-feeding of geese until their livers swell up sounds grim and many people do not like the idea, the final product is divine and just melts in the mouth. It goes beautifully with the Pineau de Charentes (see below).
Just to the north of the Poitou, lies the Pays du Loire, famed for its wine (and Chateaux) and Bretagne, home of the thick and luxurious cream and cheeses, as well as the source of the apples that are used to produce tarts throughout the country, cider and, of course, calvados.
The Limousin region of France overlaps the Charentes at its north-eastern corner. This is where the famed beef cattle originated. The cattle in this area are looked after well and the meat that they produce is of a very high quality. If you wish to see the animals in all their glory then go to one of the larger markets such as Massignac. Here the farmers bring their prize beasts for judging as well as selling and so they only bring the best!
To the west of the department, there is a large overlap with the cognac-producing region of Charentes Maritimes. The growth of the brandy industry in the region was encouraged by the Dutch navy in the mid 17th century. They got the taste for this 'burnt wine' and needed a huge quantity to keep their large fleet happy. It also kept much better and when mixed with the fresh water supplies on board, stopped them from going sour. The Charentais started growing grapes purely for distillation along the side of the navigable Charente river and exporting them through La Rochelle at the coast. Very soon the taste for brandies and the fine cognac spread throughout Europe and the region profited accordingly.
The local speciality is a mixture of cognac and grape juice called Pineau de Charentes. Pineau is a sweet, sherry-strength drink should be served chilled and makes a fantastic aperitif. It comes in white or rose and can be kept in oak casks for a few years to get a more smokey flavour. Most of the local producers will happily provide you with a tour of their 'chais' (distillery) and a tasting.
To the southwest lie the celebrated vineyards of the Bordeaux which due to protectionist policies by the local and national governments have been able to produce fine wines for centuries.
Consequently, it is a paradise for the gourmands, and they have regional food and drink events and festivals throughout the summer.