Toulouse, the fourth largest city in France, may be best known as the home of Airbus. But the city hides its industrial heart with a dynamic pedestrian town centre and a great gastronomic vibe. Here are our top 10 tasty tidbits from our recent visit to the “Pink City.”
1. Cassoulet. This savory, slow-simmered stew has inspired a constant contest between three southwestern towns: Castelnaudary, Carcassonne and Toulouse. The distinguishing feature of Toulousian cassoulet is the sausage – one of our favorites – and it’s the “secret sauce” in cassoulet. We love the homemade cassoulet at local restaurant Le Colombier. (14, rue Bayard; Tel +33 (0)5-61-62-40-05)
2. Toulouse Sausage. It’s a fresh sausage, free of color additives, made with lean pork and seasoned only with salt and pepper. Butchers and market vendors proudly display it in a continuous spiraled layer on a large platter. Order it by weight or length.
3. Gateau de Fénétra. The name of this cake comes from an ancient Roman “feretralia” ceremony which celebrated the dead. During the celebration, the decorations included lemons, dried fruit and almond paste, all of which are now featured in this rare delicious cake. The best we found was at Régals, made with meringue and marzipan and flavored with candied lemons and apricot marmalade. (Régals Spécialities Toulousaines, 25 rue du Taur; Tel: +33 (0)5-61-21-64-86)
4. Violet anything. From the sugared violet flowers and a violet liqueur to almonds covered with violet-infused chocolate, violet is an iconic symbol of Toulouse. Violets from Toulouse developed into a big industry in the 1800s, with over 400 producers filling a world-wide demand for the fragrant, light-purple flower. In the 1950s production died out and it wasn’t until the 1980s that a few enthusiasts launched a growing programme to preserve the Violette de Toulouse. A must-do: Discover La Maison de la Violette, an old peniche turned into a boutique and dedicated to violets. Visitors can smell, test and taste products made from violets. (Boulevard Bonrepos, 31000 Toulouse; Tel: +33 (0)5-61-80-75-02)
5. Brie from Xavier. This is Toulouse’s trendy cheese shop. The brie is a secret family recipe made with unpasteurised cow’s milk and stuffed with a truffled creamed centre – not be missed. We know, we know – usually the best brie comes from Meaux or Melun, but now you can add Toulouse to that list. So creamy and flavorful! (Xavier, 6 Place Victor Hugo; Tel: 33 (0)5-34-45-59-45)
6. Cauchot Lajaunie candies. This iconic candy began life in the 18th century as a cure for coughing and bad breath. In 1880, Leon Lajaunie, a Toulousain pharmacist, modified the recipe, upgraded the packaging and a candy star was born. It’s still manufactured in Toulouse.
7. Fronton wine. The vineyard lies at the edge of Toulouse and is known as Toulouse’s house wine. It’s a fine, elegant, contemporary red wine, made from la Negrette, a grape variety grown only in this area. With its fruity and supple aroma, the wine goes well with regional confits, cassoulet, Toulouse sausage and cheeses. Stop by Chai Vincent at the Marché Victor Hugo and enjoy a tasting session of this local wine accompanied by fresh charcuterie and cheeses. (Chai Vincent, Marché Victor Hugo; Tel: 33 (0)5-62-30-86-46)
8. Toulouse goose. Yes, the oie (goose) is large and loose in Toulouse. The grayish brown wattling goose is well-known for its size and feathers, quality liver (foie gras), and greasy fat. It is highly prized in local cuisine.
9. Pavé du Capitole. Toulouse confectioner René Pillon created this dark chocolate sweet. Your tastebuds will thank you when you visit Patissier-Chocolatier Maison Pillon and you bite into a small shortbread biscuit topped with orange praline and ganache, covered in chocolate and iced with green fondant. (2, rue Ozenne)
10. Hippocras. This “old” drink recipe is a combination of beer and honey. It dates from the Middle Ages. Feel like having a unique libation? Order it the next time you’re in Toulouse.
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