Bonjour from Castres
Castres is in the Midi-Pyrénées Region in southern France, between Toulouse and Montpellier.
Castres is a town along the Medieval Christian pilgramage (or camino) to Santiago de Compostela in Spain on the route known as Via Tolosana beginning at Arles. Frankly the town itself is quite industrial – traditionally Castres was a centre for tanning, wool weaving and dyeing – but the rolling hills, the looming Pyrénées, the châteaux and acres of farmland beyond make it a worthwhile stop.
The food of the Midi-Pyrénées is energy-rich and hearty! Pork charcuterie is popular, particularly melsat – mince, breadcrumbs, eggs, sausage, salt and spices mixed together and pressed and stored in a jar. When it is ready to be eaten, the jar is emptied and the melsat is sliced into thick discs and fried. Foie gras, the liver of a goose or duck preserved in a jar of fat is a more controversial, upscale version of this dish, with the consistency of a creamy pâté. Do try fresinat – cubed pork and potatoes fried in olive oil (or fat) and sprinkled with local herbs.
The cheese most popular in the Midi-Pyrénées is the famous Roquefort and its milder cousin Bleu des Causses. The soft goat’s cheese from the spectacular mountainside village of Romcamadour is delcious, and the village worth a visit if you have the agility of a goat to get up the paths! Lastly, the Cazelle de Saint Affrique, a soft sheep’s milk cheese is a highlight to any cheese board.
Visit La Table Du Sommelier in the middle of town dedicated to the wines of the region (bargain €14 lunch or €40 dinner including wine). Look for reds from Corbières – a variety we don’t see much of in Australia – with a clean, modern approachable palate made up of carignan with a blend of syrah, mourvèdre and grenache. As a contrast, a Bergerac red blend is a bigger, funky, structured merlot, cabernet sauvingnon, cabernet franc and malbec.
Best food souvenir
Old copper pots and cutlery or crockery from the Saturday antiques markets.
Getting there and around
Fly direct from Paris (Orly) or Lyon to Castres–Mezemet airport. SNCF Train from Paris via Toulouse is over seven hours. There is a free town bus and good network of buses between the smaller towns, but as always in regional France, hiring your own car is best. Take a leaf out of the pilgrim’s book and walk between a couple of the villages.
A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela: Food, Wine and Walking Along the Camino Through Southern France and the North of Spain by Dee Nolan.