Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Dreaming of France

Exclusively on THE STYLE SALONISTE:   Come and visit Château L’Hermitage with me and meet the highly creative Carole and Jean Barbier. I’ll take you on an insider visit to an unknown region of France that few know…and give you a taste of the Barbiers’ delicacies. And you’ll see their chic, authentic, and seductive interiors.

The eternal elegance and private beauty and mystery of a French chateau linger on at an ineffably romantic hidden property in Izon, just thirty miles northeast of Bordeaux on the Dordogne River.

There former Parisians Carole and Jean Barbier have revived their ancient chateau property—and now create and sell precious heritage recipes and dishes that exemplify the best of French regional culinary traditions.

Château de l’Hermitage is a neo-Palladian country house, flanked by two large wings made up of wine storehouses and outbuildings. It was built on the right bank of the river between Bordeaux and Saint-Emilion during the eighteenth century.

It was originally intended for wine growing. In the eighteenth century, French architects all included this house on their ‘Grand Tour’ as they headed toward Italy.

It was for this exceptional mini chateau and fifty riverside acres that Carole and Jean Barbier and their two children gave up their Paris life in 2004. Here in South West France, they grow grapes, cultivate a summer garden, and have taken up the ancient craft of catching and preserving pears and lamprey!

Lamprey, you ask! Read on, and learn how the Barbiers are keeping French heritage alive.

Magnificent two-hundred-year-old magnolia grandiflora trees spread their protective shadow on the south facade. A grand double staircase leads to a peristyle and the entrance of the residential floor.

The roof is covered with terra cotta tiles. The flight of stairs has balustrades in the Italian style.

Inherited from the classical period, double staircases were very appreciated in the eighteenth century. Typically, residences around Bordeaux were built with a first level of wine-storages with the residence above.

The name of the chateau’s architect has long disappeared in the mists of time. But L’Hermitage remains, an elegant archetype of the classic rural estates of Bordeaux.

The Barbiers’ marshlands, which today cover about fifty acres, are enriched by silt from the river.

Vines produce the best grapes when they have to struggle for life on arid, harsh soils. But this is not the case with this heavy soil, which as the farmers say is ‘amorous in winter’ as it cling lovingly to their boots. This soil stimulates the vine into explosive growth and produces enormous yields.

Over time these marshland wines became absolutely essential for the Bordeaux wine trade. The region’s rich, powerful wines from the lowlands of the Gironde are best suited to long distance export by sea. These wines traveled better than others and were sold on the most remote islands and the furthest continents.

And now…about the lamprey.

Carole and Jean Barbier at Chateau l’Hermitage are the top producers of canned lamprey in Bordeaux wines.

Jean Barbier explains:
“Lamprey is very juicy and smooth in the mouth, with no bones. The skin is thin and edible; the color is a bit pinkish. It's something that needs to be somehow "initiated" to really enjoy it, like old vintage wines.”

The first time he ate it, said Barbier, he liked it and little by little, he enjoyed it more. The subtlety and smoothness of the flavor are revealed.”

Barbier said that lamprey is much more of a rarity than caviar or fois-gras.

“It’s a kind of insider secret,” said Barbier. “No one knows about it. Even French people living away from the Southwest have forgotten about it. But in earlier times, French kings and royalty considered it a delicacy and treat.”

Wealthy families from Bordeaux chateaux have their workers make a few dozen cans every year for the family.

The Barbiers’ lamprey:
Lampreys are fished in the Dordogne river, directly in front of the property. Leeks are selected and hand picked in the Blayais. The wine is a very fine Saint-Emilion, which is supplied by the Maison Malet Roquefort.

Description: Only the most beautiful pieces of lamprey are included. Its flesh is firm, flavorful and full of juice.

Tasting suggestion by Carole Barbier:  "When it is served as a first course, we place lamprey on roasted croutons elegantly sprinkled with chopped chives. When it is the main course, local people serve it with steamed potatoes. Lamprey is also excellent with risotto, made with Aquarello or Carnaroli rice, for example. The dark sauce contrasts nicely with the rice which I turn out of a small ramekin."

“Lamprey for us is a ritual. We save it, eat it after ten years or so. It's very private, and traditionally, people in the region never eat with ‘strangers, said Jean Barbier. “For several years now, chefs in Bordeaux area, fishermen’s wives, and our ‘river bank grandmothers’, have been our greatest advisers.”

The honor of your appreciation:
 “If you are a guest and your host invites you to eat lamprey, it means that he wants to honor you and has a high opinion of you,” said Carole Barbier. “If you’re offered vintage lamprey, it means your host or hostess thinks that you "deserve" it and are able to appreciate the real value of it.”

L’Hermitage is a growing enterprise. The family is also canning sturgeon, as well as cod and game, and more recipes to come.

Pears au Saint-Emilion and Apricots au Sauternes are also recipes from old times in the Bordeaux area. They are rare and sophisticated. Apricots with vanilla ice-cream and Sauternes syrup is gorgeous. The pears are delicious with whipped cream, savored with fork and knife.

All photography by Jean Barbier, exclusively for THE STYLE SALONISTE.

To order Millesimes Château l’Hermitage vintage lamprey or pears in Bordeaux wines and other delights, please contact info@millesimes-gourmet.com. Products can be acquired via PayPal and shipped anywhere in the world. 


Pamela Terry and Edward said...

The perfect destination for the first day of March!

Greet said...

Hello Diane,
Very interesting post!! Château l'Hermitage is a magnificent château. I never heard about lamprey! This is a must-eat at our next trip to the Bordeaux region, if we deserve it of course!!

A Super Dilettante said...

The light in France is breathtaking...it looks like the sky has been dipped into the bowl of honey and apricot.

The Peak of Chic said...

I'm completely intrigued by lamprey. Have you tried it? The pears look quite delicious too. Such an interesting post.

peggy braswell said...

Thank you for a wonderful peak at this Chateau+never before heard of lamprey. Adored all of your post. xx peggybraswelldesign.com




Brillante Interiors said...

Fascinating images and the lamprey story quite intriguing too.

vicki archer said...

I so admire their endeavours...maintaining age old traditions is never easy and their dedication and passion s evident in your post...Love your title....I am always 'Dreaming of France' Diane....xv

Blue Fruit said...

You took me on a delightful "virtual tour"! A beautiful spot. Especially smitten with that pool ~ so serene.

*Chic Provence* said...

Hi Diane, lovely post! thanks for introducing me to this gorgeous chateau!



Square With Flair™ said...

What a wonderful post that is appealing to all the senses. Firstly, I admire the 18th century architecture and the exquisite double staircase. Secondly, I am very eager to some day try the lamprey. Very interesting about the customs, heritage, and rituals associated with eating this rare and obscure delicacy. Just to know about this, I think will put us miles ahead of many enlightened gastronomes. The subjects of this article remind me that “taste” applies to food as much as to design and lifestyle. These people live with superb taste in all aspects of their lives. How very continental.

I very much enjoyed this article, and while your interesting themes may surprise, the fine quality of writing never does.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Friends and Fellow Francophiles-

I am so happy you enjoyed my feature on the Barbiers, and their chateau and lamprey production.

I adored their chateau...and I was especially delighted to be the first to publish their story.

The Barbiers are indeed, as Vicki noted, keeping alive a French tradition, with their wonderful recipes and their historic lamprey recipe. They're also gracious and their house is so gloriously original and delightful, without being in the least pretentious.

RIVER: Yes, those dawn and dusk portraits are lovingly captured.

Thank you so much for your delightful messages. I love them all.

very best, DIANE

Philip Bewley said...

Loved this insider visit, this county Neoclassic villa and its culinary traditions. The interiors are just right and the mood with the sunlight streaming through cypress is indeed seductive and langorous. What a special treat as all your posts are.

Lorena @ The Gypsy Route said...

It's been quite some time since I've been in France...time to go back!

little augury said...

The photographs are truly beautiful, atmospheric and full of joy. pgt

classic • casual • home said...

Just felt like I was visiting elegant French cousins. Beautiful. Such an art of living well.