Oil, fish, and wine A symphony of colours, flavours, and aromas, Provence is worth the trip for its cuisine alone. A variety of vegetables, olives and oils, seasonings, herbs, and anchovies all feature heavily in the local cuisine, which consists largely of ratatouille, tapenade, 'rouille', 'aïoli' (a kind of garlic mayonnaise), pistou soup, and Niçoise salad, among other things. Meat- and cooked meat-based specialities (lamb chops, rabbit à la provençale, meat stuffings, etc.), and of course fish specialties, such as 'bouillabaisse' and 'bourride', a Mediterranean seafood stew, have also become essential dishes for appreciating the Provençal life. You'll find the region also has plenty to offer when it comes to dessert, including various mountain honeys and preserves, 'calissons' (almond and marzipan sweets) from Aix, 'berlingots' (hard candy from Carpentras), candied fruits from Apt, and 'câlins' and cakes from Saint-Tropez. Then there is the famous pastis (an alcoholic aniseed-flavoured drink) followed by the grand cru wines (Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côtes-de-Provence, Rasteau, and Bandol, among others), to be consumed in moderation, of course.
Cavaillon's association with the melon dates back to the 15th century. The oldest known variety is the slightly oval 'muskmelon', which has a rather greenish skin covered in a somewhat anarchic 'embroidered' effect. In around 1495, the Cantaloupe variety, so-called because it was originally grown in Cantalupo (a popular papal holiday destination just outside Rome) established itself in the then pontifical land of Cavaillon. It quickly became a widespread crop and would survive there until the 20th century. Along with the artichoke and the peach, the melon was considered a rare fruit until the late 18th century. It was a crop that required particular attention, land reserved especially for its cultivation, careful monitoring, and various precautions. The melon was first exported in 1882 and at the time the area devoted to its production took up one fifth of the land used for growing crops. As of 1825, a new variety of smooth-skinned melon was also cultivated here, the variety for which Cavaillon is now renowned and which we know as the Cavaillon melon. News of this new variety soon reached Paris. With a degree of humour and opportunism, Alexandre Dumas himself replied to a request sent to him by the Cavaillon library asking him for a few of his works to help boost their coffers. He said he would agree to their request in exchange for a life annuity of 12 melons a year, an offer which they of course accepted.
In 1988, the brotherhood of the Knights of the Order of the Cavaillon Melon was set up to promote and celebrate the fruit.
The melon can be prepared in various ways, giving chefs a degree of creative license when it comes to inventing new flavours. It is used in pastries, chocolate, ice cream, sorbets, cakes, bread, and even almond paste, and also goes very well with alcohol, wines, and various aperitifs. Melon-based recipes really do make the mouth water, from Cavaillon melon sorbet with little 'calissons' biscuits to melon soup spiced with basil, and even confit of melon salad with cured ham, among other creations.
Dauphinoise cuisine The Dauphinoise cuisine of the Haute-Alpes region will undoubtedly titillate your taste buds with what is actually a rather limited range of dishes, including gratin dauphinois (au gratin sliced potatoes cooked with milk and crème fraîche), Champsaur tart (made using local jam), ravioli (a typical mountain dish), rissoles (a kind of ravioli filled with cabbage, potato, and seasonings), etc. There are very few wines produced here but there are plenty of plant-based local liqueurs from the mountains, including Génépi and Myrtille, among others.
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