Continued from Europe 2016 – Part 3.
We went to learn French and learnt a lot about Sancerre
The name ‘Sancerre‘ is well-known in the wine world, being a wine region south west of Paris famous for its sauvignon blanc. However, we hadn’t realised that there was also a small town called Sancerre until we discovered a language school located there. We enrolled in the school for a week, determined to improve our French and enjoy the food and wine of the region.
One of the highlights of the course was cooking a whole meal with a small group of like-minded students under the guidance of a teacher who ensured we spoke French all evening. Two very useful recipes from that event are at the end of this post: Tartare de Saumon et Pomme (marinated raw salmon with apple) and Mousse choco-orange (chocolate mousse with orange).
Sancerre – The town
The town is situated on top of a hill next to the Loire River and looks down over thousands of hectares of grape vines and other hills and slopes dotted with small villages. The approach by car is quite dramatic.
The town is a maze of narrow but lovely streets. Many of the shops are outlets for Sancerre wine producers and there are numerous tasting opportunities. The town has a patisserie, a charcuterie and a boulangerie but only a tiny supermarket. It has several excellent restaurants including one with a Michelin star. Supermarkets and other restaurants are found in nearby towns.
Coeur de France – Language School
Our language school is located in a former chateau in a cluster of buildings next to the town hall.
The classrooms are on the ground floor. We spent a week in one of the apartments on the upper floors. (The next two photos are from the school’s website. We offered our apartment for the cooking evening and the first photo shows the kitchen-dining area.)
Our program consisted of about four hours in class each weekday, alternating mornings and afternoons. That enabled us to join in activities organised by the school outside class, such as an evening picnic in a vineyard, a visit to a goats’ cheese maker and a visit to a nearby market, all concentrating on French for communication. And it also enabled us to explore the region – daylight saving meant it was light until almost 9.00 pm.
Sancerre – The region
The Sancerre wine region is known for its white wine, made from sauvignon blanc grapes. However, about 20% of the production is from pinot noir, giving the red wine known as Sancerre Rouge as well as a well-accepted rose. The Pouilly-Fumé wine region is adjacent to the Sancerre region. A famous goats’ cheese called Crottin de Chavignol from the region often features on restaurant menus in various forms.
The region around Sancerre is largely rural, however, there is plenty of sightseeing to do.
Bourges is the largest town, about 45 km to the south west. It has a monumental sized cathedral with beautiful stained glass windows.
Not far away in the middle of nowhere is a “cathedral” in another style, the Gaudi-like Cathedrale Linard, built over many years by eccentric artist, potter and architect, Jean Linard.
The great chateaux of the Loire are some distance away to the north west but a beautiful chateau near to Sancerre is Chateau de Nozet (aka Chateau de Ladoucette).
There are numerous other surprises. About 25 km east of Sancerre is the small town of Donzy where we enjoyed a very typical lunch at the elegantly named hotel, Le Grand Monarque, before seeking out the Moulin de L’Ile.
In a Dickensian-like setting, the mill makes the most delicious hazelnut and walnut oils using machinery from the 19th Century.
Two recipes from Coeur de France
Tartare de Saumon et Pomme – Raw or smoked salmon with apple
Quick and easy, this makes a surprisingly lovely appetiser. Our teacher hadn’t been able to find fresh enough salmon on the day and so we used smoked salmon, with great results.
- 400 g fresh salmon (sashimi quality) or 400 g quality smoked salmon
- 1 heaped tbsp chopped shallots (or spring onion or red onion)
- 1 granny smith apple
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander (or dill, parsley or tarragon)
- 1½ tbsps olive oil
Chop the salmon into small pieces. Core the apple but don’t peel. Quarter and cut the flesh into dice or thin matchsticks. As you do, stir the lemon juice through the apple to stop it from discolouring.
Combine all ingredients, season with salt and pepper if desired. Serve immediately in small bowls or glasses or in one large bowl for guests to help themselves. Drizzle some more oil over the top. Accompany with rocket or similar, and lovely bread.
Equipment: A large bowl to combine the ingredients.
Difficulty: 1/5, Very easy. 10 minutes preparation.
Serve: Serve immediately as described.
The following photo uses smoked salmon – be prepared to be surprised! The next one has the salmon in individual servings on a bed of lightly dressed lettuce leaves.
Mousse choco-orange – Chocolate and orange mousse
Quick and easy, the orange adds finesse.
- 1 medium orange
- Three eggs, separated.
- 100 g quality dark chocolate, in buddies or small pieces
- 1 dessertspoon caster sugar
Grate the orange but make sure the orange itself stays intact as you will use the flesh for garnish.
Melt the chocolate over a double boiler or carefully (over medium power and stirring once or twice) in the microwave.
Add the orange zest to the chocolate, followed by the egg yolks one at a time, then the sugar, to give a smooth mixture.
Beat the egg whites until stiff then carefully fold into the chocolate mixture. Combine just enough to incorporate the egg white but don’t overdo as volume will be lost.
Chill for an hour or more in the fridge, either in a large bowl or in individual serving bowls.
Before serving, use a sharp knife to cut away the skin of the orange. Cut into the sides of each segment to release the flesh. Chop the orange flesh into dice then serve a spoonful or two over the mousse.
Equipment: Bowls and whisk or electric mixer.
Difficulty: 3/5, Moderately Difficult. 10 to 15 minutes preparation.
Serve: Serve chilled, scattered with orange segments as described.
Continued in Europe 2016 – Part 5.