Friday 22 April 2011

Daily Markets

Aspiran's market days are Monday and Thursday. Monday normally sees a Charcuterie van plus a fruit and veg stall (pictured). Thursday also has fruit and veg plus a fish van that calls mid-morning along with a shellfish van - listen out for the klaxon. Other stalls, vans and even a hardware lorry make cameo appearances on schedules I've yet to twig.

One can "do" markets every day of the week with several, unlike Aspiran, worthy of a trip. All are within 30 Km or so except Agde (a deceptive 40 Km).

Monday: Bedarieux - quite extensive, less touristy and good value, especially for non-food goods.
Tuesday: Canet - good for a couple of seasonal fruit and veg stalls and the excellent Amat Charcuterie van. Visit the terrific wood burning boulangerie for a Paillasse loaf to make the 11 Km round trip worthwhile. For something bigger try St-André-de-Sangonis further north (also in Thursday).
Wednesday: Clermont l'Herault is an archetypal market town market and the weekly market essential for any visitor. Slightly less hectic and fewer tourists than Pezenas (see Saturday).
Thursday: Paulhan's market is a handy size. Big enough for a fair choice of produce but small enough not to dominate the morning's activities. Worth it just for the apricots, peaches and melons etc. that grow near the Aspiran route - look out for the Sylvestre stall near the lowest point on the market street. The large fruit and veg stalls offer some of the best value for basics of any markets listed here.
Friday: Montagnac is a similar size to Paulhan but unless passing by save yourself for Pezenas on Saturday. For a bigger market try Agde, especially if heading to the coast, but note parking nearby is challenging.
Saturday: Pezenas, along with Clermont on Wednesday, are the market events of the week. Has a separate bio marche and a large excellent value fish stall at the top of town. If you're heading north then Lodève is an excellent alternative and Gignac is nearly as good.
Sunday: Meze is the only option for miles but is a good size and makes a pleasant morning out. Alternatively give food a miss and pop down to the Paulhan bric-a-brac market. For a car boot sale on a giant scale go beyond Meze to just inland from Marseillan-plage.

Best olives, pickles, dried fruit etc.

Pezenas fish stall
My market tips: -

Go early for the bigger markets, certainly before 10 am and earlier in summer, near Easter and the endless May holiday weekends. Obviously avoids the worst of the crowds and offers more choice of the best produce plus witness that many locals still shop at markets. It's also cooler early in high summer.

Buy from stalls that are there every week or are seasonal small holders. A must avoid is rip-off cheese stalls that usually push tasting samples. Mass produced dried sausage stalls can be in the same league. Olive and dried fruit prices vary enormously - stick to the big ones in Clermont and Pezenas (l'Olivette stall is the best). Bread from markets is invariably disappointing. In all cases watch where the locals queue.

Market aren't necessarily cheap although for food the quality and freshness is usually top notch - always select your own fruit and vegetable produce. When buying melons and peaches from specialist stalls do say, although the best will ask, how many days before you intend to consume them.

Thursday 21 April 2011

Noilly Prat

Many of the vines growing in the commune are the Clairette variety and their wine is almost certainly still tankered down the road from the cave coopérative to Marseillan where for over 150 years the archetypal French dry vermouth Noilly Prat is produced. Mankind's relatively recent ability to make mass produced crisp dry white wines has rather dented the popularity of these quite alcoholic herb infused aperitifs, although the fashion for utilising vermouth in cocktails continues to prop up demand. I use several bottles a year for cooking whenever white wine is called for and especially in fish dishes. It has two big advantages - more flavour and an opened bottle keeps well.

When in Marseillan one can visit the production facility. The Clairette wine is blended with another local variety Picpoul along and flavourless spirit is added. Next it's piped into these old barrels and left outside for 12 months to oxidise. After that it goes indoors into larger barrels where the secret blend of herbs, roots, spices and the like are added for an infusion period. Finally the resulting vermouth is tankered across to the Rhone valley to be bottled.