Saturday, 16 July 2016

Tour de France food and drink Stages 3 to 4; Memories of delicious things

A fairly traditional route this year

The Legatus always looks forward to following the Tour de France on TV (and in person on four occasions) but this year I will miss nearly all of it due to a two and a half week business trip to Botswana.  Grr!  So, no real opportunity to match food and wine to every stage this year. I was concerned that ITV 4 had dispensed with the mellifluous tones of classic commentators Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen for Ned Boulting and David (drugs cheat) Millar but actually their cycling commentary is actually better than Liggett's and Sherwen's, even if it removes some of the nostalgia for past Tours.

 Green jersey for points (sprints)  Symmetrical!

 Polka dot jersey for mountains  Hippy!

A good part of the appeal of the live TV coverage is looking at the aerial shots of mountains, pretty villages and chateaux in the biggest advertisement for the French tourism industry of the year.  In fact my very first memory is of the Tour de France, in St Malo in 1962, when I was two and a half.

White jersey for the highest placed young rider  Flirty!

Red number for the most aggressive rider on the stage  Elegant!

Speaking of the acceptable faces of France; another important thing to consider every year is the standard of the Tour hostesses, who present the various jersey's and prizes on the podium at the end of each stage.   One year, unusually bowing down to pressure from feminists, the Tour organisers had a couple of podium boys but it was an experiment that was not repeated!

Yellow jersey for the overall leader  Smart!

Stage winner  Odd!

The yellow jersey podium girls are the most conservatively dressed (and have the longest hems) but some of the other outfits have been a bit strange in the past (some of the Coca-Cola sponsored mountains jersey girls' outfits were very avant garde).  Nothing too controversial this year (except perhaps for the trousers of the stage winner's girls).

 A start in Normandy (the team presentation took place in D-Day's Sainte-Mère-Eglise - with the teams being driven in in World War 2 vehicles) with the finish of Stage 1 being on Utah Beach, meant Normandy cider to accompany the coverage.  Last year when the Tour was in Normandy I managed to get a Normandy cider in Waitrose but it has disappeared this year, sadly.  I have really noticed, over the last few years,  the gradual disappearance of French produce in our supermarkets.  Even things like saucisson sec are getting harder to find (you can still get it in Waitrose)  with sliced cooked meats now only coming from Spain or Italy.  While you can get Brie and Camembert easily, other French regional cheese is more difficult to find.

Château d'Angers in 1983

It's three years since the Tour has been to the Loire but this time we have two stages there, (3 and 4).   I have always liked the wines of the Loire since a wonderful holiday there in the summer, after I finished law school, in 1983 (something of the atmosphere of this trip can be found in this post, which I wrote during 2014's Tour).  Stage 4 finished in Angers, somewhere I visited during this bucolic two weeks; which contained a lot of food, a lot of wine, a lot of chateaux and a lot of fun with young ladies.

The food was provided by the charming little hotels we stayed in, which all came from a book by Arthur Eperon.  We didn't book ahead but just rolled up in a little village at about four pm using Eperon's infallible guide.  My male friend, B, and my immediate ex-girlfriend, J,  would go for an hour's walk and explore the village, locate bakers and grocery shops etc. while my girlfriend of two months, V, (she had seamlessly followed on from the other one) and I  'relaxed' (she drove the car (she was the only one who owned a car) and I navigated - all very stressful!).

The Hotel Splendid in Montreuil-Bellay, which is still there 

We would then all meet up, let the others show us what they had discovered and have dinner at about eight. Then the other two would go for another walk after dinner while V and I 'relaxed' again.  It was a very relaxing fortnight, especially when we managed to arrange relaxing morning visits to the bathroom as well, although a surprising number of the hotels had a jug and ewer, rather than a washbasin in the room. Washing V with a sponge one morning, as she stood in an enamel metal bowl, with cold water from the jug was all very La Vie Bohème, although she squealed a lot.  She looked like the subject of a Bonnard painting.

Not having time to cook anything special this week, as I try to remember how to pack for a two week  trip, I am going for simple food like pate, cornichons and from the Loire, Port Salut cheese, which I first ate when I was small, on the way down to the house the family spent the summer in, in Roussillion.  This Pays de Loire cheese is not as old, historically, as some (it celebrates its bicentenary this year ) but was created by Trappist monks at the beginning of the nineteenth century.  It doesn't exactly have a lot of character but goes well with saucisson sec and originates in a town, Entrammes, just a few miles east of stage 3, in the north of the Loire region.  There are some fabulous regional cheeses from the Loire but you can't get them here.

Dried sausage, cheese and pate are  all very Loire anyway and their is no real signature dish for the region (although they eat quite a lot of game, often with mushroom sauces).

Probably the most characteristic dish is rillettes, which come from around Le Mans, some way east of Stage 3.  Waitrose to the rescue again, here.  It's very rich so this pot kept me going quite a few days.  They really need the acidic cornichons to offset the fattiness.  Somehow I don't think that the World Health organisation would approve.

V in the gardens of the Château d'Angers in 1983  What a splendid young woman she was

Anyway, the wine choice for Stage 3 was easy, as the race finished in Angers, somewhere we visited on our 1983 trip.  So the accompanying wine had to be a Rosé D'Anjou, a wine I have not had for many years.  It used to be quite cheap and was popular with lady friends in the eighties (until I met girls with more expensive taste in wine as the decade went on (stinky C, the paratroopers daughter springs to mind, who had a penchant for classed growth claret).  On our Loire holiday V started with quite unsophisticated taste in wine (was it my sister who called her a 'Niersteiner'?  Surely not!) so was fond of the Rosé D'Anjou but gradually, as we discovered the Loire reds, her tastes changed.  You always had to give her full marks for trying new things.

So, off to Waitrose to find a pink Anjou and they had Champteloup Rosé d'Anjou reduced from £7.99 to £6 something.  Honestly, I remember when you could get a bottle of this for £1.99!  I was expecting this to be too sweet for my tastes but it was actually really rather lovely and while still fruity, quite dry.. So nice that if it is still on offer I might get another one just in case we get a summer. As Waitrose say on their website: "a perfect match to charcuterie".  Easily the nicest pink wine I have had for a long time.

Off to Sainsbury's

Early on Stage 4 the peloton went through the little town of Montreuil-Bellay, where we had stayed 33 years ago.  While V and I had a particularly satisfying relax, B and J had made a discovery which they wanted to share with us.  For there, in the shadow of the Château, was the very producer (as we identified by the large palettes of bottles stacked outside) of Sainsbury's Rosé d'Anjou  - V's favourite!   It was a Saturday evening and we popped into the local church for a look, where we were instantly grabbed by some of the locals who wanted us to do the readings in church the next day, as they thought we were very exotic.  V, a Catholic, readily agreed on behalf of us all.  V's French was very good (A-level) whereas B did all Maths A-levels and struggled with English, and J was a nuclear physicist (despite looking like Alice in Wonderland - when people asked her what she did she used to say "a secretary" as no-one believed her real job.  She was actually the first women in the world to 'drive' a nuclear reactor and was in all the papers at the time).  My French was largely confined to culinary terms, parts of the body and words relating to wine (like terroir and remuage).  Fortunately, they wanted us to read in English.  Next morning we all performed and V read a passage in French too, much to the admiration of the locals.

Anyway, as Stage 4 started in Saumur I had a Saumur red with the (time shifted) live coverage.  Of course a sparkling Saumur might have been more appropriate but with the rise of Cava and now Prosecco there was no chance of tracking any of this down.  This was a nice, slightly smoky, herby cabernet franc.

Unlike Sainsbury's or Tesco, Waitrose still do packs of French charcuterie and this went perfectly with bread and more cornichons.  It all took me back and tasted like the lovely V (well, actually, she tasted like oysters)!

Mountain jersey podium girls Marie and Sabrina probably don't eat anything during the Tour

Hopefully, my Tivo box will have recorded the mountain stages and the highlights programmes so I can explore the cuisine and wines of some of the other stages when I return to England in a week's time.  There is a dip over the border into Spain and that means the recipe for one of my favourite dishes.


  1. We had several excellent holidays in Maine and would often trek down to the Loire to stock up on wines...especially around Saumur. Can't say I'm a TdF cycling fan but I'm happy to support the wining and dining experience!

    1. Hopefully it's all recorded for me and I can catch up next week!