Duck, Duck, Goose… Walnut!! The Cuisine of the Périgord

Geese 2

The Dordogne is best known for its rivers, forests, castles, and prehistoric caves. But it’s also renowned for its outstanding regional cuisine. If you’re planning a trip to the Dordogne in southwest France, you’re in for a special culinary experience… one featuring a duck, a goose, a walnut and probably a strawberry too.

Montignac, on the Vézère

Montignac, on the Vézère

Beynac, on the Dordogne

Chateau de Beynac, on the Dordogne

The Dordogne (often called the Périgord) is one of the top gastronomic regions of France with an unusually distinctive cuisine drawn from its agricultural heritage and products from its forests. We’ll return to the Dordogne this summer with our Périgord Experience groups, and our meals are always a highlight of our week.

The Dordogne is one of France’s 96 départements, formed after the end of the French Revolution, taking its name from the 300-mile Dordogne River. The area generally corresponds with the former province of Périgord; the names “Dordogne” and “Périgord” are used interchangeably, particularly when referring to the distinctive Périgordian cuisine.

Duck is on almost every menu in this region. A duck breast is as common in the Dordogne as a chicken breast is in the USA. It’s absolutely delicious! And in this area most cooking is done with duck or goose fat… not butter or olive oil, as you’ll find in other regions of France.

Here are some of the dishes and ingredients you’ll find on menus in the Dordogne, as well as in markets and specialty food shops:

Confit de canard – a delicacy that involves preserving duck legs/thighs in fat and salt until the meat is fried. Some of the fat is then used to seal it into its tin or jar. The skin is crispy and the meat is deliciously tender and flaky.

Magret de canard – duck breast from the Mulard breed of duck, served in a variety of ways, grilled or with a sauce. The French usually order their magret à point, generally equivalent to the American “medium rare.”

Magret de canard with pommes sarladaise

Magret de canard with pommes sarladaise

Aiguillettes – duck breast tenders, served grilled or with a simple sauce. Aiguillettes are sometimes served in salads.

Salade de gésiers – a salad frequently found on lunch menus, featuring gésiers or duck gizzards.

Salade Périgourdine – another salad variation frequently found on menus. This salad usually includes gésiers and may also have sliced duck breast, often smoked, and some foie gras. Vinaigrettes used in salads in the Dordogne are made with walnut oil. Salads also usually include walnuts.

Foie gras – This is the premiere delicacy of the region, sold in specialty shops and at farms and served on most menus, often as an entrée or first course. Ducks and geese are both farmed in this region for foie gras, their livers enlarged through a force-feeding practice called the gavage. (We’ve watched the process with both ducks and geese… it was interesting and not at all what we expected.) The fattened liver from these birds can be bought entier (whole) or incorporated into a pâté, perhaps with morceaux (bits). Fig or onion chutney and toasted brioche often complement foie gras.

A shared  entrée of foie gras, smoked duck breast, and asparagus

A shared entrée of foie gras, smoked duck breast, and asparagus (photo by Joan Mason)

Pommes de terre à la sarladaise or just pommes sarladaise – In the region around Sarlat, these sliced potatoes (sometimes with mushrooms) are fried in duck fat and served as a side dish with almost every main course.

Tourain blanchi – a garlic soup, made with egg whites, usually served as a first course. Sometimes this soup includes stale country bread.

Fraises (strawberries) are grown extensively in the Dordogne (25% of the total production in France), and you’ll find them in markets and on menus in the summer, usually as an option for dessert. There are several different varieties, including the gariguette, mara des bois and charlotte, and they’re juicy, sweet and delicious. We also see the tiny fraises des bois, wild strawberries found in the forest.

Strawberries at the market

Strawberries at the market

And a beautiful strawberry dessert...

And a beautiful strawberry dessert…

Cabécou – a very popular goat cheese, made in small medallions, from nearby Rocamadour in the Lot. It’s often served on a bed of salad greens and drizzled with walnut oil.

Périgord truffles – also known as “black diamonds” for their rarity and high price. The fungi are notoriously hard to find. There are special truffle markets held in the Dordogne from the end of November until around mid-March. Any dish that is described with sauce Périgueux or à la périgourdine includes truffles.

Truffles and foie gras d'oie for sale at the market

Truffles and foie gras d’oie for sale at the market

Cèpes – wild mushrooms, abundant in the forests of the Dordogne. These might be included in an omelette as a first course or as the main course at lunch. Other types of edible mushrooms are often found in dishes in the Dordogne, such as girolles and chanterelles.

Noix (walnuts) – the variety of walnuts grown in the Périgord are small but are full of flavor… and they’re everywhere! Walnuts are pressed for their oil and made into wine and liquors. They’re sold in their shells, out of their shells, coated in praline, turned into candy, cake or cookies.

For sale at the market

For sale at the market

Several types of walnut oil

Several types of walnut oil

To learn more about the cuisine of the Périgord, we recommend the book Walnut Wine and Truffle Groves: Culinary Adventures in the Dordogne by Kimberley Lovato and Laura Schmalhorst, with beautiful photos by Lou Lesko.

Or better yet, join us for The Périgord Experience… we’re booking now for 2015!

Kathy and Charley woodKathy Wood and her husband Charley lead European Experiences, week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe, including The Luberon Experience in Provence, France. National Geographic Traveler magazine named The Luberon Experience one of their "Tours of a Lifetime" for 2012, the top 50 tours in the world.

Kathy and Charley offer Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. In 2017 they're offering a new European Christmas Experience trip, and in 2018 they're launching The Cornwall Experience in southwest England. See their 2017 and 2018 schedule here.

Kathy and Charley have been traveling in Europe for over 25 years and love sharing their special places in Europe with other travelers. They've hosted 85+ Experience groups since they launched in 2006. They now live part-time in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
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2 Responses to Duck, Duck, Goose… Walnut!! The Cuisine of the Périgord

  1. Kathy,
    Although I read this post yesterday, I am still thinking about all the wonderful Dordogne foods that you described so well. The photos further contributed to making my mouth water! Will those in your tour group have the opportunity to try most of these? The food alone makes me want to go!
    Susan Manfull

  2. Kathy Wood says:

    Susan, glad you enjoyed this post about the cuisine of the Dordogne. Yes… our groups will have the opportunity to try almost everything on my list: magret de canard, confit de canard, the potatoes, an omelette with cepes, the garlic soup, and foie gras. (I’m not sure we had anything with truffles last year…) Of course, we always provide other alternatives, but it’s an opportunity for many people to expand their culinary comfort zone! My personal favorite is magret de canard… I order it whenever I can.

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