Hi France Travel Planners
If you keep up with activities in our Facebook group (you can sign up here if you aren’t a member) you will know that Loire Valley resident and group member Susan Walter loves sharing some of her experiences of living in a Loire Valley village. One of her most popular posts was about French Christmas treats and it received such a great response in the group that we decided we should publish the post more broadly:
It’s getting to the time of year I need to start thinking about what we will have for Christmas. The main meal here is Christmas Eve, but there will be at least two days of feasting (with family as much as possible for the locals). Here are the sorts of things I will be ordering from my local artisan producers.
The Loire Valley is close enough to the coast that oyster producers come up for the weekend farmers markets, even the very small markets like my village. Many households buy a dozen oysters every week, but at Christmas time they order them in 3 kilo boxes (roughly 3 dozen oysters). Usually they will choose the ones labelled fines de claires, which means they have been matured in the shallow salty ponds of the coastal marshes. These oysters have been trained to stay closed and therefore fresh and can be stored in your cellar for a week. They will be opened and eaten raw at several meals over the holiday period, usually accompanied by nothing more than lemon, sometimes shallot vinegar. Expect to pay about €15 – €18 for a 3kg box.
At some point in the Christmas celebrations a huge platter of seafood will appear. On it will be prawns, langoustines, crab, winkles and probably a few other delicacies. Like the oysters they will be delivered fresh (but pre-cooked) from the Atlantic coastal waters by fishmongers coming up from the coast for the farmers markets.
Here in the Loire Valley we are on the northern edge of the foie gras producing area. I make my own foie gras every year, purchasing a fresh fat duck liver from the excellent producer a few kilometres from where I live and curing it in salt at home. The producer also prepares ready to eat foie gras, for those who don’t want to prepare their own. I pay €50/kilo for fresh fat duck liver from the farm shop, so on average I spend about €40 for a 700 g liver.
At Christmas time goose, capon or guinea fowl is popular. Traditionally the local breed of goose would have been eaten on the Feast of Saint Martin (11 November) or Saint Nicholas (6 December), but nowadays they aren’t celebrated so much and the geese are saved until Christmas. Expect to pay about €10/kilo for a farmyard bird of about 5 kilos. A capon is a castrated cockrel, also mature and ready for the table around Christmas time. They make a substantial sized bird for the central meal. For households that are smaller, like mine, a guinea fowl makes a more practical alternative. The meat is tasty and the birds locally raised and affordable. I pay around €20 for a 1.5 kg bird.
Surprisingly difficult to get but some years venison is the trendy choice for Christmas in France. Families who have members who are hunters will generally have venison as their main Christmas Eve meal. Otherwise you need to order it through your butcher, who will source farmed venison for you.
This is by far the most commonly consumed meat, in one form or another, in the Loire Valley, whether it is Christmas or not. Some families will have a joint of pork as their main Christmas meal, and at the very least, everyone will have the local specialities of rillettes or rillons at some point. These are slow cooked pork that is either served cut into chunks, or pulled apart and made into a paste that is spread on bread.
Due to seasonal changes in the milk, certain cheeses have a definite seasonality. The ones that tend to be associated with Christmas are soft quite strong cheeses such as Epoisses and Mont d’Or. My friend Jean-Luc also makes a special creamy Selles sur Cher goats cheese for Christmas, only available in his boutique on the farm in the Loire Valley, or in the 14 Paris specialist cheese shops that he supplies.
Bûche de Noël
Very few people make their own bûche de Noël (Christmas log). Instead they order it from their local patisserie. They are log shaped sponge rolls, filled and covered with chocolate butter cream decorated to look like a yule log.
These are chocolate disks studded with dried fruits and nuts – just in case you should feel peckish at any time over the holidays.
These are one of the culinary extravagances of Christmas time, and beloved by French people. They are more or less impossible to make at home, and quite expensive to buy. Their texture is very distinctive and they are rarely eaten outside of the winter holiday period.
Served with these foods will be a variety of wines from all over France, but local wines are likely to feature highly – notably reds from Bourgueil, dry whites from the Touraine, sparkling and sweet whites from Vouvray.
The one luxury food item you don’t see on my list is truffles. Some people may treat themselves, because they are available from November to February, but locally the smart money is spent on truffles after Christmas, when they are at their peak of quality.
Australian born Susan Walter has lived in the Loire Valley for more than a decade and creates personalised tours for anglophone travellers to the area. She works with her husband to deliver walks and guided visits of chateaux, wineries, cheese producers, markets, gardens and anything that catches her attention that she thinks travellers might be just as fascinated by. Her chauffeured tours include transport in one of the couple’s classic Citroen cars. Susan’s background is in heritage and nature conservation, having previously trained in the hospitality sector.
You can find Susan’s business at Loire Valley Time Travel https://tourtheloire.com/
Her blog is Days on the Claise