Duke Of Prunes

Château de la Grangerie was built in the twelfth century as a monastery. Today, three generations of the Langalerie family make Armagnac, Floc de Gascogne (Armagnac diluted with the unfermented grape juice that all such brandy begins as), and the prunes for which the region around Agen is rightly renowned. We swung by for a visit, since Kate loves their Floc and the site is beautiful.

It’s a huge, rambling structure, clearly built in stages over the centuries. I want to live there pretty badly. The Grandmother met us in the tasting room, and through a curtain we could see others bagging prunes in the next room. Agen prunes are famous the world over, and with good reason. All of Fergus Henderson’s recipes that call for prunes specify Agen prunes.

Armagnac is distilled from wine, like Cognac, and the Château is surrounded by vineyards and plum orchards. The vines are all immaculately pruned and trained on wire trellises. I asked Kate why Cognac is eating Armagnac’s lunch when it comes to sales and prestige, and she answered that it’s misunderstood; since it’s only distilled once it can have a more rustic profile, and needs more aging to become smooth. I also think that Cognac has a better publicist. In any case, Armagnac fits perfectly with Gascony’s underdog status when it comes to tourism, and it means bargains for savvy shoppers, especially in France. It’s absurdly inexpensive considering how good it is.

As an illustration of that, we tasted our way through the three vintages on offer. The 5 year was pleasant, if a bit hot and rough around the edges. The 1996 was smoother and deeper, with more caramel and vanilla imparted to it by the oak barrels that the alcohol is aged in. And the 1990 was spendid; smooth, round, supple, and almost candied in flavor yet without a trace of actual sweetness. I bought a half liter bottle for €25, which is about half what it would cost at home.

Mme. Langalerie also treated us to the Château’s prunes in sweetened Armagnac, another local delicacy. I told her that my Grandfather used to do this with his homemade plums, but he used vodka instead of brandy. She was not impressed. “Oh yeah?” I shouted, upending the table. “I would never drink this!” Then I stormed out, with Kate making frantic apologies behind me.

Prunes figured in our dinner plans, too. Kate wanted to make lapin aux pruneaux, so we made a short trip to the butcher at a nearby supermarket. He had no rabbits. But just like American supermarket butchers, he had pigeons with the heads still on. We asked him for two, and he offered to gut them for us, which I think was nice of him. I love that they needed gutting; everyone who hunts game birds knows that they get better if they hang intact for a few days after being killed. These came from a nearby farm, and their meat was deepest red. Their skin is yellow from the local feed corn, which is grown abundantly in the area.

We took them back to Camont, where Kate put me in charge of plan B: a Moroccan tagine of pigeon and prunes. I did an OK job with it, and Kate made lovely, lacy socca in a pan well-lubricated with duck fat and then an apple tart with prune jam and Armagnac for dessert.

Bacon, Kate’s dog, is the size of a pony and a total whore for ear-scratching. I know he would be offended if I didn’t put in a picture of him, so here’s Bacon:

And here’s Kate making the tart crust:

It was a lovely meal. The local wines are good, sturdy, food-friendly. Côtes de Gascogne is an up-and-coming region that I noticed on more than a few menus when I was in Paris, and the appellation covers the same geographical area as the AOC for Armagnac. The whites are often off-dry, but with strong acidity to balance them. I’ve particularly enjoyed the whites made from Petit and Gros Manseng; they match well with the charcuterie and whet the appetite with their tanginess.

That there is some of the charcuterie they match well with: magret de canard farci au foie gras. Yup. Gently smoked, too; smoke is used here, but with a light touch. I learned a lot more about that today, but you will have to wait until tomorrow.

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  1. I love that photo of Kate; as much as for a view of her rustic storage as the sight of her counter where she makes dough. The story, the dog, the food. Heaven.

    • Peter
      March 8

      I think I have an even better one for the next post.

    • Peter
      March 8

      Did you go off your meds again?

  2. March 6

    Reaching way back for the Zappa reference…

    • Peter
      March 8

      It seemed like a good fit.

  3. March 6

    Can I just say how happy I am you’re posting daily? And that you took the lens off macro?

    Love the shot of the vines; just trimmed mine last wknd but we do four arms not one

    Okay I feel I must abuse you now after all the fawning. Did your jacket have elbow patches?

    • Peter
      March 8

      No. No it did not.

  4. Nicole Fandel
    March 6

    Salut Peter,

    Merci pour le formidable blog: je voyage ainsi sans valises! Pourrais-tu prendre une photo d’un cassoulet pour moi, par hasard? J’en cherche une pour illustrer un “Intermediate reader” en français: le livre sort en mars et il me manque un cassoulet… et une Harley Davidson noire!!!

    Just in case. Forget this if it would cause the slightest problem or waste of your time.


    • Peter
      March 8

      C’est drôle que tu me donnes toujours des devoirs après 25 ans, non?

      J’ai fait beaucoup mieux qu’en prendre une photo, mais tu dois attendre jusqu’a le prochain post pour le voir. Si elle te plait, donne moi ton email pour que je puisse t’envoyer une copie.

      • Nicole Fandel
        March 30

        Mon e mail n’est très très original: nicole.fandel@gmail.com.
        Ça y est, ta photo illustre ma référence au cassoulet. à la page 58 de “La Maison d’Oncle Max”!.
        Je t’enverrai une copie de mon humble création quand j’en aurai quelques copies. Avec tout le français que tu as pratiqué ce sera facile à lire pour toi.
        Quelle chance d’avoir gagné … et mérité ce beau voyage. Je suis un peu jalouse.


  5. March 7

    I just used the last drops of my bottle of Armagnac. Please send me another.

    • Peter
      March 8

      Hmmm. That might be difficult.

  6. March 7

    So very, very lovely! The Gascony tourism board should give you a commission…I’m centimeters away from clicking the “purchase ticket” button for a trip there!

    • Peter
      March 8

      You should go. It’s lovely, and not touristy at all.

  7. March 7

    As you can tell, I had to backtrack for the first few days of your trip, but thanks to my Facebook friend, Bob del Grosso, I can follow you now as you share this wonderful experience. I am impressed with your photos and they lend so much to your story. Your blog entries will be a daily treat here in freezing cold north Idaho!

    • Peter
      March 8

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the vicarious experience. I plan on continuing these posts for a while after I get home, since there’s so much to tell.

  8. March 7

    I’m really enjoying reading about your trip.. keep it up.

    That freaking cured duck breast with foie looks awesome.. I think I’m going to give that a shot this weekend.

    PS.. I didn’t realize you were going away and fedexed a kimchi salami to you.. hopefully someone is at your home and put it in the fridge ( although it will be fine as long as it’s not too hot there )


    • Peter
      March 8

      Everything arrived OK, and there’s at least some chance it won’t have all been eaten by my family before I get home.

  9. March 8

    Oh, we spent an afternoon there a couple years ago. Too much Armagnac is never a bad thing!

  10. Peter
    March 8

    No, it’s not. I’ll be having more tomorrow at the big party.

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