The Distillerie Denoix, located in Brive-la-Gaillarde just east of the dreamy Dordogne area, has been making walnut liqueur for over one hundred years. We wanted to check it out for ourselves on a recent visit. Although we drove around Brive several times before we spied the discreet sign for the Distillerie Denoix, it’s actually very easy to find. But we were looking more for a “factory” than a quaint, inviting, museum-like distillerie. We weren’t at all prepared for what we discovered.
The Denoix family – a most appropriate name – has been creating noix (walnut) liqueur from the abundant green walnuts in the Correze area since 1839. Sylvie Denoix Villefosse, a fourth generation descendant, continues the family tradition by using her ancestor’s methods to make Suprême Denoix, a walnut aperitif.
As we walk through the door of the distillerie, it’s like a step back in time to the 19th century. Our noses pick up on the aroma of spices still used to make a variety of liqueurs. Along a long wooden counter, waxed to a brilliant shine, we see artfully displayed bottles glinting like bright jewels in the subdued light. Behind the broad counter, apothecary shelves hold bottles of a wide variety of house specialties. There’s Liqueur de Chocolat, Liqueur d’Obazine, the local vermouth, as well as apéritifs like Le Quinquinox, Suprême Denoix, along with various ratafias (sweet cordials).
Madame Gemenez, our genial guide, welcomes us at the door and leads us through the old distillerie. The most well-known product, Suprême Denoix, is an apéritif made on the premises in the distillery’s original alambics (stills). Each year about 10 tonnes of green walnuts are delivered right to the factory to make the Suprême where they are ground and pressed. The Suprême is made with the walnuts and mixed with a sugar syrup that has been cooked down over a wood-burning fire in an ancient copper pot. Finally, cognac and armagnac are added. Et voila, the Suprême.
It’s not all about the walnut. In 1986, Bernard Denoix revived an old 1839 family recipe for Moutarde Violette de Brive. This is made with mustard grains, vinegar and grape must. Slighty sweet and tangy mustard is a great way to spice up roasts, cold meats and vinaigrettes. If you like mustard (as we do), this is something special to taste.
We finish up our tour with a tasting of the Suprême Denoix. This sweet nutty product with a woody caramelized flavor has just a hint of coffee and vanilla. Perfect! While we taste, Madame Gemenez gives a few hints on how to serve it and suggests storing it in the freezer before serving.
“Before I drink it, I put an ice cube in it so that the sugars are calmed and the flavours develop,” she recommends. She informs us that one of her favorite recipes is Coquilles Saint Jacques prepared with cream swirled with Suprême Denoix. A must-try!
The Distillerie Denoix, located at 9, Blvd Maréchal Lyautey in Brive-la-Gaillarde is vaut le détour! Even if you can’t personally visit the source in Brive, be sure to look for a bottle of Suprême Denoix to bring home and share with family and friends. We think it’s a perfect apéritif for the holidays. Cheers to France’s traditions!
Kathy Morton and Debra Fioritto, certified by Atout France as “France specialists,” are travel planners for New York-based Tour de Forks. Recipients of the Julia Child Endowment Fund Scholarship, they design personalized epicurean adventures in France. Past clients include Ina Garten of Food Network and Barefoot Contessa fame. Join Tour de Forks for an uncommon epicurean adventure in France. For more information, visit: www.tourdeforks.com. Tel: 212.327.3424