I was up early on a cool February Saturday morning to discover that it was raining lightly. I didn’t care, I was having the time of my life on a perfect weekend in the Dordogne in February and I was off to the famous Sarlat market!
Stall after stall covered with brightly striped awnings, laden with huge cheeses, locally produced saucisson, gleaming vegetables, huge sacks of walnuts, pastries and nougat. This place is a gastronomic delight. I walked by a small table piled high with big salmon coloured saucisson. “Try a piece of my lovely duck sausage” said the old fellow who was standing under his umbrella, so I did, it was delicious.
The big, dried duck sausages reminded me of a story someone told me about how they had decided to make their own saucisson. They were Brits who had a holiday home in Normandy and were in love with all the foibles and ways of French life. This is something many expats go through – I used to try making croissants, baguettes and macarons myself but I realised it was a lot easier and cheaper to buy them from people who had trained for years to make them perfectly!
Anyway my Brit friends made saucissons and decided to hang them to dry in the attic. Three years later the wife sent the husband to the attic to fetch a chair, up he went into the dark and slightly humid summer air. “Imagine” says he “my astonishment to find a row of turds pinned to the beam. I wondered what on earth was going on”. Of course it was the saucisson, left to rot for three years they were not the most appetising looking specimens and my friends like me, learned to buy from the experts thereafter!
Back at the market I made my way to the revered truffle market of Sarlat. Held in a small hall, not very pretty at all but nothing could detract from the colourful baskets filled with the “black diamonds’ of the Perigord.
One of the most expensive foods in the world by weight, costing up to 800 Euros per kilo, French truffles are famous in this area and the knobbly, whiffy fungus on display pulls in the punters from all over the area as well as chefs from Paris here to personally choose their wares.
The truffle sellers line the room, their baskets before them. Some filled to the brim, others with just a few truffles in – hidden under a plaid napkin. My eyes were swiftly drawn to an elderly couple with a small basket – they both had twinkly eyes and the sprightliness of old people who live life to the full. I asked them about their truffles “Madame and I went out with the dog this morning to our secret place and collected them” explained the old man with a smile. “Sniff them” he urged so I did. Pongy, and a bit like a very damp cellar, “earthy” said the man. Some people say they smell like rich chocolate, not to me they don’t but having had truffle sauce with my guinea fowl in a restaurant the night before I knew just how delicious these things were. I asked the man how come he only had a few truffles and the man next door had loads – was it because his dog had a better nose for the fungi? “No” he snorted laughing “We only go for a little walk, he is half our age and can go for much longer, we are happy to find a few and sell them to make a bit of money”. I bought a truffle the size of a very small egg for Euros 20, I couldn’t resist his crinkly, twinkly eyes and his wife’s lovely smile – besides it was their last truffle – they clearly had a loyal clientele who had been buying while I was trying!
Next door to the truffle hall is an indoor market with a difference – it has the biggest doors I’ve ever seen – at least 10 metres tall and they enclose the market which is set up in the old church of Sainte Marie. Inside are all manner of delicious goodies and I loved seeing all the local cheeses like Saint-Nectaire (The King of Cheeses), loved by Louis XIV and still going strong, on display. Within the church is a special lift – a glass one, built into the old church tower and on a sunny day it affords the most spectacular views over Sarlat.
Sarlat market is perfect to while away a morning in a beautiful and historic town filled with friendly people, bars where you can sit outside and watch the world go by over a pastis or a coffee or inside if its cold with a chocolat chaud. The food here is of the best quality, the sellers are truly involved with the sourcing and production and can tell you what they are selling and where it is from. The restaurants serve food made from regional produce with flair.
A Francophile’s foodie fantasy…