Hello, my friends! How are are you this week? For some reason, it’s been tough to shake off the post-travel fatigue of this trip. However, continuing with my French theme, this week, I’m sharing a taste of what we saw in the Loire Valley! If you’re thinking of visiting the area, here are our favorite food and drink discoveries during our 3 days there. I’ll share the castles in my next post.
Château du Vau
M. Cheesemonger and I lodged at the Château du Vau in Ballan-Miré, just outside of Tours. Owned by a former philosophy professor named Bruno Clément, this bucolic country estate was just the getaway we needed after non-stop visiting with friends and family. The rooms are all beautifully decorated, and there is a gorgeous salon with baby grand piano and musical instruments for music lovers to relax in. M. Clément served breakfast in the dining room every morning, piling on the croissants, bread, jams, butter, and yogurt. For those who are feeling a little adventurous, M. Clément has built two treehouse rooms on his property, where people can spend the night.
Moreover, there is a goose farm on the property, where M. Cheesemonger and I stocked up on foie gras and rillettes. The farm’s owner, Edouard Clément, Bruno’s brother I believe, owns two black Labradors that follow him tirelessly. We first encountered the trio when leaving for an excursion—M. Clément was on his tractor, while both dogs bounded around him en route for home. The second time we saw them was upon leaving the farm. M. Clément stopped his tractor to ask how we were doing. Next to him in the passenger’s seat was one dog, who turned toward us, seemingly peeved that we were holding everyone up. Dog #2 was seated on the floor of the tractor, his head sticking to one side to eye the road ahead. You know, when I live in a French country house, I’m going to need two dogs to follow me everywhere, too.
La Balade des Fromages
As soon as I entered this shop in the little town of Bléré, I loved everything. Jean-Louis Bulté, the cheesemonger, has filled the cases and shelves with fromage gems from the area and beyond, while his associate, Thierry Lion, has rounded out the selection with adorable local pottery, cheese and butter bells, honeys, pitchers, and other kitchen necessities. I bought myself a handful of items, while M. Cheesemonger did much of the cheese selection. Everything was beautifully curated and cared for. I wish I could take the whole store home with me!
You don’t have to go to a restaurant to eat well in this area. The Loire is known for its wine and cheese, so on at least one occasion we picked up some local Rillettes de Tours, local goat cheese, and bread to make a picnic.
Our bed and breakfast owner recommended this restaurant, just a stone’s throw away from the Château de Villandry. Serving high-quality local fare with finesse, M. Cheesemonger and I greatly enjoyed our lunch here! I thought I wanted something simple, so I ordered from their simplest prix-fixe menu, but found myself picking at M. Cheesemonger’s chestnut velouté garnished with black trumpet mushrooms and lardons and his Beuchelle à la Tourengelle, or the local take on sweetbreads, quite a lot. Dessert for me was house-made fresh chèvre. Scrumptious!! Reasonable prices in a charming setting. Plus, there is a goat pasture you can visit out back, and rabbits.
Les Hautes Roches
Months before we arrived in the Loire, I knew I wanted to have at least one formal dining experience. After a little bit of online research, I chose the restaurant at Les Hautes Roches (it’s also a hotel). Its Michelin star and traditional troglodyte construction intrigued me immediately. M. Cheesemonger and I arrived at the restaurant way before our reservation and settled in at the bar. We each enjoyed a glass of local Vouvray while nibbling on small rounds of toast, silky pâté and other small savory pastries. Our jovial waiter took our order as we waited in the bar area; before giving our orders, I noted to M. Cheesemonger, “There are no prices in these menus!” “The man’s menu has prices,” he replied. I know there are some folks out there who may not appreciate this touch of galanterie, but my heart gave a little leap of pleasure. I ordered the suggestions of the day: a royale de foie gras— lightly whipped foie gras topped with rutabaga mousse, and garnished with lightly grilled fruits and lobster. My main course was simply prepared turbot with vegetables. There was a cheese course, where I tried to fill my belly even more with Loire Valley goat cheeses (among my favorite cheese styles!). Vanilla soufflé with a refreshing berry “soup” was our dessert. M. Cheesemonger ordered from the prix-fixe menu, and his only complaint was that his appetizer, a block of foie gras prepared three different ways, was too copious. The house sommelier did a magnificent job pairing all of our dishes with local wines.
The ambiance was wonderful—neat, but not stuffy. The waiters were affable, knowledgeable, and energetic. I would love to return here for another dining experience, perhaps during the daytime so I can take advantage of the restaurant’s large windows overlooking the Loire. And a note for dog-lovers: one couple brought their well-behaved Husky mix to their table for the meal.
Au Lapin Qui Fume
This quaint traditional bistrot gourmand in the heart of Tours was bustling with locals when we entered. M. Cheesemonger had a magnificent trout with a zippy citrus cream sauce, while I opted for monkfish with chanterelle mushrooms. They offer enormous salads and pâté plates as well. It was a solid meal, welcome after a morning of driving!
Jean-François Mérieau-Domaine Mérieau
We tasted several local wines, but this was by far my favorite. The sommelier at Les Hautes Roches recommended Mérieau’s Coeur de Roche to accompany my main dish, and I loved it so much, we drove out to the vineyard the next day. This particular wine is made with grapes from 40-60-year old vines. Its unusual tropical fruit and citrus aroma is remarkably refreshing, and its complex flavor and full mouthfeel were like no Sauvignon Blanc I had tasted before. Mérieau offers several wines, both white and red, and some sparkling wines.
La Balade des Fromages. 6 Rue du Général de Gaulle, 37150 Bléré, France. +33 2 18 06 17 75. Closed Sunday and Monday. Open 9am-7pm, with a break from 1pm-3pm.
L’Etape Gourmande. La Giraudière, 37510 Villandry, France. +33 2 47 50 08 60.
Les Hautes Roches. 86 Quai de la Loire, 37210 Rochecorbon, France. +33 2 47 52 88 88.
Au Lapin Qui Fume. 90 Rue Colbert, 37000 Tours, France. +33 2 47 66 95 49.
Les Vignobles du Bois Vaudons-Domaine Mérieau. 30 Route de la Vallée, 41400 Saint-Julien-de-Chédon, France. +33 2 54 32 14 23. Open 9am-6:30pm, with a pause from 12:30-2pm. Open only until 12:30pm on Sundays.
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