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Bubbly & Champignons for a French ReveillonI hope you managed to enjoy a happy Christmas and New Year despite the current restrictions. Ours was as quiet as we expected, brightened-up no end by virtual visits from family and friends.
After finishing our Christmas dinde plus too many trimmings, Jack, my husband, and I relaxed in front of the fire. We may have been full, but it was nothing compared to how we felt after the dinner we’d been invited to last year by our friends Anton and Camille. It was New Year’s Eve, and here’s what happened.
When we arrived, their house was already abuzz with festive chat, laughter and friendly faces. Apéritifs were dispensed, and we collectively wished one another à votre santé!
Camille, a consummate chef, circulated with show-stopping canapés. These included one of my particular favourites, pruneaux-Roquefort. Voluptuous prunes (hers came from Agen) are stoned and filled with an indulgent mixture of Roquefort cheese and a dash of cognac. It’s simple. It’s amazingly moreish.
Soon after, we were ushered to the table. Mountains of shucked oysters appeared, which were served with a dry white wine. By the way, if you’re an oyster lover you might want to try the succulent beauties produced by the Gillardeau family near La Rochelle, we adore them.
As the last shellfish was slurped, the tray was whisked away and out came a platter of foie gras. Loaded with calories, the revered locally produced liver dish is not for the faint-hearted, or politically sensitive. Catching our breath, we consumed our slabs and accompaniments of skinny baguette rounds, fig conserve, and Jurançon sweet wine.
Camille nodded at our empty plates. Satisfied, she darted back into the kitchen, returning with a plate of fried mushrooms, just mushrooms. I was about to ask whether serving mushrooms naked, as t’were, was a French tradition when Anton revealed all.
A passionate fungi fancier, he said they had been picked in our woods. The quality was so good they deserved to be eaten on their own. With that, Anton encouraged us to savour the delicate woody flavours of our very own ceps, while he poured a mouthful of Bordeaux red into each glass. The ceps, cooked in garlic butter with a sprig of parsley on top, truly were heavenly.
Camille was in her element. Indefatigable, she sprinted back to the kitchen with two of her sons. “Le plat principal!” she announced, positioning half a roast cow in the middle of the table. Sons, Régis and Jean-Pierre, added a casserole dish of Gratin Dauphinoise, vegetables in tureens and gallons of rich, velvety gravy.
There was no point asking for a small portion, Anton was on a roll too. Hunks of meat were hewn from the roast and loaded onto our plates as Jean-Pierre filled glasses with Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This sumptuous full-bodied red wine from Provence was an inspired choice.
As conversation flowed, Camille, ever-watchful, discretely removed empties. At a gastronomic point known only to her, she cried “salade!” and charged back to the command centre. Moments later out came what looked like a field of lettuce leaves. Lightly tossed in home-made vinaigrette, she said they would cleanse our palates for the next course. And they did.
I was now at bursting point, but there was no respite and certainly not where this honoured foodstuff was concerned – the cheeseboard. If you have ever dined in France, you’ll know that the etiquette involved in eating cheese is mind-boggling complicated. Happily, our friends are less interested in the ritual than they are about the joyous delights in consuming it.
Yet another variety of bread was presented with a new bottle of red wine, red grapes and celery. Round and gooey, veined, herby, hard and unapologetically stinky, the cheeses I tasted were superb.
Satisfied tummy tappings suggested we were flagging, but Camille was not to be put off. As Anton charged fresh glasses with Asti Spumante, out came a dartboard-sized Tarte aux Pommes with the shiniest apricot jam glaze I have ever seen. Oceans of Chantilly cream were proffered, but there was no need. We tucked into our portions of fruity loveliness. Each mouthful was a taste sensation.
Jack, overcome with the excellence of Camille’s food, started congratulating her. But his praise was premature. “Attention!” she laughed, with a finger wag. She had one more treat, and it had been created just for us.
“Voilà, la Bûche de Noël!” she said, placing an enormous chocolate log on the table. This festive special is consumed on Christmas Eve and during the Christmas period but often takes a final bow on New Year Eve. It was light, it was chocolatey, and it was delectable.
Our evening ended with coffee and digestifs. Anton, determined we needed to settle stomachs with an extra-strong alcoholic beverage, gave each diner a dinky glass of colourless liquid. I have no idea what it was, but it could only be sipped in droplets.
At midnight more corks were popped, and we brought in the New Year with champagne, gales of bonhomie and thanks to our hosts for providing such a magnificent feast. It had been another unforgettable evening, another example of the incredible kindness shown to us in our little corner of rural France. Living here really is a dream come true.
Bonne Année from south west France.
Thanks Beth for this fabulous new piece, we too love ceps, especially with a good honest red wine and good company. We look forward to more exciting stories, until then you can see Beth's lovely books and stories on her website, and it’s worth following Fats Dogs in France on twitter.
If you are aspiring for a lifestyle change in rural France, why not start by looking at these farm properties and gites and Bed & Breakfasts opportunities here.