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20 Feb 2024 | Randy Kemner


It was the fall of 1999 and it was my wife Dale’s and my first trip to France together.  Our tour guides were our good friends Carl and Pam Taylor who wanted to introduce us to a charming part of France that few Americans visit, the Southwest, particularly the Périgord and Lot-et-Garonne provinces.

Périgord and Lot-et-Garonne are the part of France where you can witness cave paintings, still-functioning medieval villages, underground cave streams, vertical towns carved into cliffs and meandering rivers such as the Dordogne where kayaks and canoes drift lazily past castles, churches and all sorts of manor houses.  It is the locale of the Bruno Chief of Police mysteries.

Périgord and Lot-et-Garonne are the lands of the duck and the goose, potatoes fried in duck and goose fat (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it), the black truffle, dark, black wines and the best prunes in the world from Agen.  In other words, they are places where one goes to eat.

The four of us stayed in Gourdon for a few days where our hotel dining room offered Tornedos Rossini, a filet of beef with a palm-sized slab of seared goose foie gras on top. The chef was the hotel owner, and his son ran the hotel--up before dawn and quit his shift only after the last guest had gone to bed. 

The son also had very solid opinions about the local wines which he featured on his extensive wine list.  He had dozens of vintages of Cahors, the source of world's Malbec, going back three decades, and he told us the wine had to age at least 20 years to be elegant at the table.  We paid the equivalent of $68 for a 20 year old Cahors, and found it just as he described.  (Since then, Cahors producers have learned--like most of the rest of the winemaking world--to craft their wines for earlier consumption, a concession I presume made for the U.S. and international markets.)

From the central location of Gourdon we could visit the shops in the half-timbered town of Sarlat, walk the 14th century bridge across the river Lot in the wine city of Cahors, visit the vertical town of Rocamadour, eat dinner in a converted water mill, view replicas of pre-historic cave paintings and later take a boat ride into ancient caverns.  Nearby was the town of Agen the namesake of France’s famous Pruneaux d’Agen made from Ente plums. 

We were driving along the autoroute near the walled city of Carcassonne where I spied a road sign pictograph, not of an upcoming abbey or famous cathedral, but what looked like the outline of a steaming stew pot.  It signaled we were in the land of cassoulet.

For those who’ve never experienced cassoulet, it was originally peasant food from southwest France, a rich and meaty stew of sausage, pork and Tarbais beans with preserved duck or lamb in some versions.  We were in France, of course, and over time, local peasant food is often elevated into something unforgettable.  The most authentic versions take days to make properly, some in a soupy style, some thick as glue, but all indelibly and wonderfully flavorful.

You couldn’t eat this kind of ultra-rich stick-to-your-ribs food without wine to wash it all down with.  The local red wines of every part of southwest and southern France seem to be ideal companions with cassoulet, whether the darkly colored Malbec of Cahors, the burly Tannat of Madiran or the savory blended reds of the Languedoc-Roussillon

You may or may not be up to the challenge of making a cassoulet—we carry some of the parts, like Rancho Gordo Cassoulet Beans and Fabrique Delice Duck Confit—but I wish all of you will experience the dish someday soon.  I ordered a bowl of cassoulet at San Francisco’s Le Central, which had a sign outside announcing that the same pot had been cooking the dish for over 17,000 days, chefs feeding the pot each day like a glorious bean solera.

Here are some of the wines I suggest for cassoulet:

Clos la Coutale Cahors $16.99

Berthoumieu Madiran $22.99

Moulin de Gassac Vin de Pays d’Herault Guilhem Rouge, Languedoc  $10.99

Chateau de Paraza Minervois “Cuvée Speciale”, Languedoc  $15.99

La Grange Des Combes Saint-Chinian-Roquebrun, Languedoc  $19.99

Causse Marines Gaillac Rouge “Rasdu” $32.99

Domaine Tempier Bandol “La Migoua”  $102.99

I found a recipe for Cassoulet online that looks fantastic.  I haven't made it yet, but it's on my list of to-do cooking:

Chef John’s Cassoulet at

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