From Brive-la-Gaillarde, people know the rugby team and Patrick Sébastien, the host born in the Corrèze town. Thanks to his song Hécatombe, Georges Brassens even left his name there. Brivistes are not spiteful. But Brive-la-Gaillarde is also a greedy and pleasant city which deserves to be better known by the general public.
In the Corrèze, small picturesque villages and the countryside follow one another. Landscapes, punctuated with old stones with romantic charm, provide a guaranteed change of scenery. In addition to its architecture and its nature, this department conceals numerous local products. Foie gras, truffles, liqueurs, wines, walnuts from Périgord, but also chestnuts, mushrooms, strawberries (Gariguette and Mara des bois) in the good season and of course the Limousin apple (Golden d’altitude), which became a symbol during Jacques Chirac‘s presidential campaign in 1995, are a delight for all gourmets… In the south of the department, Brive-la-Gaillarde, its economic capital, carries the torch of good food with simplicity. Numerous restaurants, including La Table d’Olivier (1 star in the 2019 Michelin guide) and the unmissable Chez Francis, showcase all the products offered by Mother Nature in all their forms.
CAVAGE IN THE BRIVE COUNTRYSIDE
In the Brive-la-Gaillarde countryside, it is not the pigs that sniff and plow the earth for black diamonds. Nor are they flies, another technique widely used in Provence, the Périgord and Lorraine. In Turenne, it is a very specific breed of dog, a lagotto romagnolo (Romagna water dog), whose hair forms strange curls, that the brothers Georges and Maurice Parlange use. « Mario was trained from a very young age to carve truffles, only Tuber Mélanosporum, more fragrant than brumales, » explains Georges. To caver them, in other words to smell them under the truffle oaks planted on five hectares of the Correze causse. Each time a black treasure is found, the truffle dog is rewarded with a treat. Within an hour, Mario, with his truffle stuck to the ground, finds a small kilo of the mushroom that will be sold at a golden price. « Around 1000€ per kilo » says the truffle grower. « The truffles unfit for consumption are immediately put back in the ground where their spores will give new mushrooms ». The Parlange brothers repeat this unusual hunt about every ten days from November to February. « To avoid drying up the source. To allow the mushrooms to renew themselves for the following year. The truffle oaks produce truffles only ten years after their planting for the green ones and fifteen years for the other types. « Some oaks will never produce truffles, » one of the brothers wisely concludes. To avoid poor harvests due mostly to very dry summers, the two brothers have invested in an irrigation system in their truffle field that ensures a good harvest of truffles every year, some of which are already sold even though they have not yet emerged from the ground.
DISCOVERING A MASTER LIQUEUR MAKER
When you open the door of the Denoix liquor factory in the center of Brive-la-Gaillarde, the leap into the past is immediate. This factory, created in 1839 and labeled Living Heritage Company, has remained in its original state. The timeless atmosphere is intact with the raw cellar, the old millstones, the « dames-jeannes », the copper vats and the hundred-year-old tuns. The store and the workshop are the same as before. Today it is Sylvie Vieillefosse, heiress of a family of liquorists, who runs this temple of perfumed fragrances. The Denoix house is the meeting of two passionate people. The first, Pierre Lacoste, makes curaçao. The second, Louis Denoix, whose name was predestined, developed a walnut liqueur, playing with humor on the consonance between the fruit and its name. For five generations, the secrets of production and artisanal know-how have been passed on in the tradition of master liqueur makers in order to maintain this true heritage of taste. The gestures are done identically. « The still is still in use and the sugar syrup is cooked in a copper cauldron over a wood fire » Sylvie explains. To extract by distillation the perfume of the plants and to obtain what Sylvie Vieillefosse calls the Perfumed Spirit, the water of the still is heated until the alcohol boils. « The alcohol vapors will then escape through the hood and the swan neck. The steam arrives in the coil immersed in cold water. The physical reaction allows to obtain the liquefaction of the product. The eau de vie, as clear as water, still has an alcohol content of 80%. Armagnac, cognac, sugar syrup and green walnut juice aged for five years in oak barrels make up Suprême Denoix, a velvety beverage that is easy to drink. The other flagship product of the house is the violet mustard, softer and smoother than the yellow one, whose history in Correze goes back to the 14th century and which owes its color to the wine must used to make it.
THE FOIRES GRASSES, A MUST IN BRIVE
The Foires Grasses are to Brive-la-Gaillarde what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. Iconic! Fairs that attract crowds since the 13th century. Everything takes place in the Georges Brassens hall, the gastronomic lung of the city. Six Saturdays between November and March, like models at a fashion show, poultry adorned with cockades and foie gras are displayed on a long table. Producers compete with each other to present their best pieces. With a sharp eye, the members of the jury look, feel, smell and judge the goods offered for competition. Several prizes are awarded in the categories of geese, ducks, capons… A guarantee of quality for the amateurs of good food since the awarded stands do not empty. Customers fill up on fatty and tasty products for their festive meals and their preserves of the year. A few steps away, the same goes for truffles. A sales stand is reserved for the winners of a prize. Their truffles have been screened by the Corrèze departmental federation of truffle growers, an organization responsible for regulating the controlled truffle market in Brive, standardizing the trade in fresh truffles and promoting authentic products. The Foires Grasses of Brive-la-Gaillarde are the opportunity to discover products more unusual than others for the uninitiated as the figs filled with foie gras. A real treat! On another stand, chefs from the Tables Gaillardes put their talent into practice and prepare recipes made with the market’s products, especially the fruits and vegetables displayed outside the hall.
VISIT A WALNUT OIL FACTORY IN THE PERIGORD
The walnut is certainly the flagship product around Brive-la-Gaillarde. It was already consumed in the Périgord since 17000 years. The production of walnut oil from Périgord dates back to the 13th century. Until the end of the 19th century, the cooking of the great South-West was done exclusively with this very intense aromatic oil. The 1956 frosts throughout the region destroyed a large part of the local walnut groves and slowed down the production of walnut oil until the years 1980-1990, when its production was revived by small producers. In Ligneyrac, it is therefore quite natural that Cyrille Abonnel and Anne Jaubertie turned to this fruit to create their artisanal walnut oil company, Le Moulin de la Vie Contée. Every weekend, wearing their aprons, they grind the walnut kernels in an old granite millstone from Berry – which took them many months to find – in order to extract the substance with golden reflections. Then this nut paste is heated in a cast iron cauldron until it reaches a certain degree of roasting. Then, like olive oil, a cast iron press extracts the oil from this roasted paste. Four varieties are grown in the area (Grandjean, Franquette, Marbot, Corne) but the couple only grows and uses two, Franquette and Marbot. For a few years, they have also turned to Fernor, which is not yet an AOC. Their oils are therefore mono-varietal. The only mixture authorized by the law is that of the Corne and the Marbot. Each year, La Vie Contée produces 1500 liters of walnut oil.
WINE TASTING AT THE DOMAINE DE LA VÉZÈRE
Like the walnut groves, the vineyards of the Corrèze have had an eventful history. Wine growing on the banks of the Vézère (Allassac, Voutezac and le Saillant) dates back to the first centuries of the Christian era although texts mention vines only from the 6th century. After some setbacks in the 18th and 19th centuries, notably a severe winter in 1709 and powdery mildew in 1853, the vineyard of Basse Corrèze reached 17,000 ha in 1875, which is as much as the current Alsatian vineyard. But from 1880 on, phylloxera had its way with the vineyard, which disappeared almost entirely. A few plots of land on steep slopes that were still active after this event were gradually abandoned because they were difficult to mechanize. And labor is expensive. However, since the tradition of winegrowing was strongly anchored in the Brive region and the terraced soils could not be converted to another crop, winegrowing resumed in the 20th century. In 2002, it was revived on 1 hectare of schist hills in the north of the Brive region under the impetus of the restaurateur Albert Parveaux. The location of the Vézère hillsides is more than advantageous, with steep terraced slopes on schistous soil and a south-east, south and south-west orientation, which provides plenty of sunshine for ripening the grapes. On the 22 hectares of the estate, the main grape variety is Chenin, typical of the Loire Valley. Here, it flourishes and gives white wines as fine and delicate as they are nervous and full-bodied. The plots worked in integrated agriculture also produce chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, sauvignon gris, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet franc blended according to their characteristics and the desired wines. 90000 bottles are produced each year. The Vézère hillsides are divided into two ranges, Gamade and Les Périères. The latter obtained an AOC-AOP Corrèze in 2017.
ADDRESS BOOK OF BRIVE-LA-GAILLARDE
Hôtel Miel des Muses***, 21 Avenue Jean Jaurès, 19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde. Tél. : 05 55 23 79 65. Restaurant Amédélys, 9 Rue de l’Hôtel de ville, 19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde. Tél. : 05 55 74 42 09. Restaurant La Table d’Olivier, 3 Rue Saint-Ambroise, 19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde. Tél.: 05 55 18 95 95. Restaurant Chez Francis, 61 Avenue de Paris, 19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde. Tél. : 05 55 74 41 72. Restaurant En cuisine, 39 Avenue Edouard Herriot, 19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde. Tél. : 05 55 74 97 53. Distillerie Denoix, 9 Boulevard Maréchal Lyautey, 19100 Brive-la-Gaillarde. Tél. : 05 55 74 34 27. Coteaux de la Vézère La Jugie, lieu-dit, Le Saillant, 19240 Allassac. Tél. : 05 55 25 24 60. Moulin de la Vie Contée, D162, 19500 Ligneyrac. Tél. : 06 23 02 60 49.