You know those smug people who swan off to the south of France in the summer and find delightful little family run places with authentic regional cooking? I am now one of these people. A villa in France has long been one of my dream holidays and I jumped at the chance of a week of cheese, boules and rosé in Provence.
We had fresh croissants and baguettes everyday, ate fresh fruit by the bucketload; apricots, peaches, pears, watermelon, apples, oranges, strawberries. And salads! Tomato and mozzarella, fennel and apple, white beans and tuna, goats cheese with pine nuts and honey.
And we ate cheese-oh so much cheese. Here is some of the cheese we ate.
A particular favourite was a Camembert baked on the barbecue. Volcanic and slightly singed, we embraced the French cheese course. Another excellent discovery was that goats cheese was a perfect match for watermelon and Comté for pears. Chaumes and Morbier were new ones on me. Maroilles (bottom middle) is an old favourite from the North of France and very stinky.
We only ventured out for dinner on one night but what a dinner. We chanced upon a restaurant with a Bib Gourmand (the Michelin Guide’s award for good value regional restaurants), the Table du Meunier in Fontvieille. We started with mini pots of wizened yet tasty olives, sprinkled with herbs de Provence.
After a mercy dash back to the house for some serious insect repellent (50% DEET – there’s no other way, even it does melt nail varnish and make your face go numb), starters involved chilled courgette soup with tomato sorbet, basil ravioli (invented in Provence don’t you know), rabbit terrine (which reminded one of the party of the inside of a sausage roll, in a good way I think) and crespeou, a stack of omelettes, each flavoured with a different vegetable (mushrooms, olives, peppers…).
This was followed by fillet of beef and a guinea fowl leg which were served with “meaty sides” ratatouille, mash and roasted radishes (those funny sausage looking things. Never would have considered roasting a radish). Cod came with a fennel coulis and perch was wrapped in pastry and served with sorrel.
By now rather full, we were presented with a cheese course. Melted goats cheese and toast, just what you need half way through dinner but mmm. The goat’s cheese was so pungent it was almost spicy.
Desserts were, shall we say diverse. A lavender crème brulee went down well, without being too lavendary, rosemary, thyme and lavender sorbets caused intrigue as our refined palates tried to work out which was which and peaches roasted in red wine syrup caused consternation as to its similarity to a beetroot. Pavlova, as instructed by the owner, appeared the finest choice.
After dinner we were shown a cricket and directed to the chicken house, built in 1765 and “a treasure” according to the Michelin Guide. We admired politely, particularly the chicken made of spoons and staggered back to the house, full, happy and only slightly itchy.