The France of Plenty

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A gastronomic journey through the Dordogne

By Robert Camuto-- Wine Spectator June 31, 2015

Much has been said about the decline of traditional agricultural France and its once-revered cuisine. But it only takes about a day—and a meal or two—in southwestern France's Dordogne to be convinced that la France profonde is alive and deliciously cooking.

The Dordogne, named for its winding and alluring river, is the modern designation for what was historically called the Périgord. It spans some of France's most evocative countrysides, with dramatically sculpted limestone cliffs, lazy riverscapes, dense forests, rippling vineyards, hundreds of medieval châteaus and some of the world's best-preserved prehistoric cave paintings.

This heartland still produces some of France's tastiest comfort food and most prized delicacies. The year-round star is foie gras, which comes from hundreds of farms across the area. Top billing in the winter is shared by Périgord black truffles. These aren't just fancy treats but Dordogne staples, prepared at old-time family inns, modern bistros and Michelin-starred restaurants alike by a new generation of chefs who are bringing innovative twists to the classics.

In recent years the Dordogne's bounty and laid-back lifestyle have attracted a wave of European urban refugees, fed by the region's proximity to Bordeaux (fewer than 70 miles away) as well as by direct flights from London and Paris to the small Bergerac airport. But this is only the latest generation of admirers. "France may one day exist no more," American novelist Henry Miller wrote in 1958, "but the Dordogne will live on, just as dreams live on and nourish the souls of men."

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