The Dordogne Feature
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Nobody Knows the Truffles I've Seen
The Dordogne is a land of foie gras and cognac, so travelers get to eat (and quaff) like the kings (and queens) who once disputed this coveted corner, staking it out with châteaux-forts and blessing it with Romanesque churches.
Begin by following the winding sprawl of the Dordogne River into duck country. This is the land of the gavée goose, force-fed extravagantly to plump its liver into one of the world's most renowned delicacies.
Duck or goose fat glistens on potatoes, on salty confits, and on rillettes d'oie, a spread of potted duck that melts on the tongue as no mere butter ever could.
Wild mushrooms and truffles (referred to locally as "black diamonds") weave their musky perfume through dense game pâtés.
Although truffle production is nothing like it used to be, this subterranean edible fungus has been beguiling chefs and foodies for centuries.
The truffle forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots of certain trees and plants (in the Périgord region they are mainly found growing from green oaks) to form a part that is technically known as the ascoma, the fruiting body of a fungus.
Mysteriously appearing anytime from November to February in the forests of Périgord (and other areas of western Europe), the region's truffes (truffles) have been highly respected since the 15th century. The more famous truffles are black, but there are also white varieties—hundreds of species in all.
Truffles are savory, zesty, and extremely aromatic, and because of this they have been glorified as a delicacy in recipes for thousands of years (if we are to believe old Greek and Roman writings on the subject). They can be canned for export and are often infused into oils.
Traditionally, pigs were used to hunt for truffles, but nowadays dogs are more commonly used—they can be taught to point for truffles and because, unlike the avaricious piglets, the canines don't want to eat them when they find them, they have become a more popular choice for a hunting companion.
Cultivation of the famous fungus by way of inoculating the roots of a host plant seedling with fungal spores has had success, although the manufactured truffles are still thought to taste inferior to the ones found in the forests.
To stand up to such an onslaught of earthy textures and flavors, the best Dordogne wines, such as Bergerac and Cahors, have traditionally been known as coarser brews.
However, since the 1970s the winegrowers around Cahors have succeeded in mellowing those coarser edges.
And to round it all off? A snifter of amber cognac—de rigueur for the digestion.
Dining thus, in a vine-covered stone ferme auberge (farmhouse inn) deep in the green wilds of the Dordogne, replete with a feast of pâtés, truffles, and cognacs, you begin to see what the 13th-century Plantagenet invaders from England were fighting for.
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