Limousin

Limousin, from the dawn of modern times, was the victim of a “bad image”, transported and believed, very often by the elite of Paris. Rabelais, for example, as well as Molière, La Fontaine, Balzac, and others, have largely decried its landscapes, its customs and its people.

But its gastronomy, of course, did not escape the caricature. At some point, nicknames such as “mâcheraves” or “chestnut-eaters” seemed  to sum up in themselves the culinary imagination of homegrown cooks.

Natives have been feeling ashamed of smelling garlic oil, walnuts, goat cheese and lard. As they seem to have resigned themselves to produce only food for peasants, whose preparations, few and on a shoestring budget, were, in their own eyes, the opposite of good taste, educated, distinguished and would have been unable, therefore, to compete with those of Auvergne and Périgord.

One can forget, however, that the derogatory image that cursed the locals, was deeply internalized, thereby forging a regional identity, and, ultimately, shaping attitudes toward cuisine.

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In contrast, nowadays many flock there in the name of nostalgia for the “good old days” to eventually taste these natural foods and exquisite products from the neighboring farm (we find there what Olivier Assouly, for example, called “nostalgic foods”). In locations and prices that would have terrified people of the past, these gastronorms melt for gourmet foods that their counterparts in the nineteenth century would have found vulgar: soup with bacon, milliassous and tourtous … But looking for a paradise that we have not known, is it not pretending that Queen Marie-Antoinette was a “farmer” at the Trianon? Is it not excessively believe the romance to the point of forgetting, perhaps, that most ordinary people of the last century were only struggling to acquire a meager bread, sometimes seasoned with more or less jam?

For our ancestors, usually in the words of Chamfort, they had “more appetite than dinners.” They learned from early childhood to save, did not throw anything away. A mentality parsimonious, with the desire to save the smallest things and loose nothing, a certain rage to preserve, that we find in mouvements, stories and proverbs. One had to set aside the bread in order not to waste, pies were eaten even moldy, the lard too scarce in the potatoes, so dry they were plastered the stomach of the honest man. Economy of soup, that they had to eat since the father had found it good. Economics of meat when it was bought at the butcher’s …

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The truth, if it is less simple, less caricatured, is only more touching. It is, for example, in these families of farm laborers, who ate in the evening midday the soup of the morning warmed up, or bread, or cheese or potatoes, but in which one would never find the four things together … And for this toddler, who made a face at his plate of soup with bacon, the recipe did not change much … For these men, who reveled every day of potatoes and chestnuts, as Saint-Just said, “did not complain” … Or even for this old farm laborer who, with emotion in his voice, evoked his time of military service,when kitchen-hand for the  NCOs, he had meat as much as he wanted …

Therefore, to understand what the true specificity of gastronomy in Limousin, we must try to understand how, from certain geographic data (poor soil, harsh winters …), social (rural, emigration, poverty …) and cultural (illiteracy, superstition survival …), people, claiming a kind of old-fashioned panache, were able to give birth to many specialties, original and varied. Through various aspects – anthropology, history, sociology, philosophy sometimes – we intend to evoke, without bias, the “skinny people”, who spent most of their time feeding and we are invited to attend in their everyday life these cohorts of humble souls, but endearing, draped in dignity, and to enter their villages or neighborhoods of their cities, to glean some smells such as bread, bréjeaude, puddings and potatoes in fricassee …

So we better understand why this region has incomparable virtues, and the reasons which now guide you through its dining rooms, its markets, through its landscapes, will do nothing to this image, bucolic as hell, but with a twist, a harmonious balance that the man from Limousin, over the centuries, developed with nature and with his fellow …

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