Obviously we will spend a fair amount of time cooking, eating and enjoying nice conversations in one of the nice lounging areas of the Villa - or by the pool. But we will also take advantage of the fact that we are in a very diverse and culturally reach area of France to go and meet local producers who are proud and passionate about what they do, and very willing to share.
What would be Provence without Herbes de Provence? So we will of course use them throughout the week. From Thyme to Rosemary, through the less famous but equally delicious Marjolaine and Sarriette – and of course Lavender, sometimes incorporated simply in the form of honey, we will explore ways you can bring Provence back to your home with these flavours.
Here are some examples of recipes where we can make full use of these fragrant herbs:
Bay Leaf Skewer of Mackerel and Langoustine (Brochette de Maquereau et Langousine au Laurier)
Breast of Duck in Lavender Honey (Canette laquée au miel de Lavande)
Olive trees plantations were developed in France starting about 2,500 years ago when the Greeks colonized the area of Marseille. By the middle of the 19th century there were about 25 million Olive trees in France, but the production has been decreasing steadily since. And in 1956 a terrible frost hit France which destroyed over 2/3 of the trees. And we are now down to 3.5 million trees.
The French consume on average 0.5 litres of Olive Oil per person per year – vs 10 litres in Italy or Spain and 20 litres in Greece. With about 3.5 million olive trees, Provence is not a front runner in terms of volume of production. Well behind Spain, Italy, Greece who are the lead producers. But the quality of the oil produced there is quite high.
Olives can be grown for eating or for making oil, and they are different varieties. One of the most famous regions of Olives production in France is the area around Nyons - where all the Olive Oil is actually extra virgin cold pressed by law. This is where we will go an meet a lady who has learned the art of planting, growing and harvesting olives from her father, and has gone fully organic a decade or so ago.
Provence is famous all around France of its markets. Of course every village in Provence has a weekly market – just like most villages in France - but Provençal Markets are just a different affair. Different first of all because here the weather is no nice that you absolutely want to be able to sit down and just watch people going around while sipping your favourite Rosé. So you should visit markets with lots of cafés and live music even around.
But they are also different because you will also find the typical Provençal crafts at them: from tableware to olive tree wooden boards through tablecloths. You name it, it will be at the larger Provençal Markets. And food of course: garlic, olives, a wide variety of cheese, honey (lavender honey), cured meats, fruits and vegetables, etc…all beautifully displayed and so tempting.
If you look around for which Provençal Markets to visit, you will see that Vaison La Romaine always makes the list. It is actually nice for many reasons: it has the cafés and live music. But it also has up to 450 vendors in the high season – yes, this is huge; in Paris the largest outdoor market has … 100 vendors. And it is actually affordable.
The market of Vaison la Romaine actually started over 500 years ago, in 1483, with a papal authorisation, no less! And in 1532 Pope Clément VII specifies the date: it will be on Tuesday. And while it has become one of the largest of the region over the centuries, it still operates solely on Tuesday. So that is when we will go to visit, wander around, buy some produce, and of course sit at one of these wonderful terrasses to just enjoy life - and a drink.
At the heart of pollinization there are the bees. And while many are concerned about the drop in their population here we will get the opportunity to meet people who have decided to transform their passion for bees of decades into their life. And they share their passion with a wonderul visit and explanations of the cycle of bees and their production; a visit which will make use of all our senses: touch, eyesight, smell, hearing and taste will all be stimulated as we discover Délices au Miel.
The local producers market in Velleron is classified as one of 100 Exceptional Markets in France - and recognized by the Nationl Concil for Culinary Arts. To us it is just an amazing way to connect with local people and produce to get the best the area and the season have to offer. It is actually open all year around, and from beginning April to end of September, it is even open every day starting at 6:00 pm. It is quite an adventure which we really love sharing with anybody visiting Provence.
Here are some examples of recipes where we can make full use of these very local produce:
Pilaf de Riz de Carmargue (Local Provençal Rice based Pilaf dish)
Small Chickens cooked in Pastis (Poulettes au Pastis)
Vinaigrette with local Nyons Olive Oil
Upon reading Dan Barber's "the Third Plate" or Michael Pollan's "in Defense of Food", one can only be convinced of how critical are the choices we make about where our food is coming from. And a lot of people would argue today that making sustainable food choices is critical for the planet. Maybe it is; but to be honest the planet does not need us. On the other hand, we need the planet to nourish ourselves. And the key element we need to do so is a soil which is itself well nourished and alive. So the work which farmers do is critical, and we will get the opportunity to meet young farmers who are moving their production more and more in this direction: organic and "permaculture". And opportunity to understand their motivations, their challenges and their vision. The farm is called la Ferme En'vie which is a play on words in French between Farm Alive and Firm Desire. A very nice experience in the field awaits us there.
Chateauneuf du Pape lent its fame to the wines of the region thanks to its millenial reputation. And it is well deserved. So we will get to discover this wonderful cru. But there are many other wines in the region which are worth discovering, exploiting many grapes and many types of soils and climates. From the hills of Dentelles de Montmirail to the plaines at their feet, from Grenache to Syrah, from Cabernet to Picpoul, there is a lot to discover in the bottles of Red, Rosé and White produced in the region. And we will do this with the help of local experts, specialized in wine making and oenology.
When the Michelin brothers - of Michelin Tire Fame - launched their red guide in 1899 they mostly focused on helping their clients change tire. Which meants technical instruction, but also helping them find places to stay overnight and to eat while at it. It is only much later, in the mid twenties - basically after World War I - that certain French people in particular started traveling for food. One could argue it is because they had had a lot of time in the trenches to talk to each other about their local specialties, and they all became curious of what other regions of France had to offer. So much so that by the mid-twenties the Michelin Brothers saw an opportunity for their clients to use even more tires: drive for food! And the "Michelin Star" system was born. And to this day, every year around February, the world of gastronomy in France awaits the latest stars to be bestowed upon restaurants ... so no gastronomic escapade would be complete without a Michelin Star meal. This is what we will do by visiting Au Clair de la Plume.
In Summary, pretty much everything
Transfer from and to Avignon
6 Nights Accommodation Double or Double Twin
7 Breakfasts, 6 Lunches and 6 Dinners
7 Hands-on Cooking Sessions of 1,5 to 3 hours each
All visits and wine tastings
All meals with 1/3 bottle of Wine included per person per meal
(Doube Occupancy Basis)
Whether about terms and conditions, who to come with or what to bring ...