Monday, December 08, 2014

C'est La Tradition

So the funky old truck and the shack with the canvas walls and smokestack is back in it's usual spot by the old lavoir. The lavoir is the traditional communal spring fed basin where people in small villages would go to do their laundry. People still use it for big rugs...and there is a continual source of clean, clear running water.
The lavoir in Badefols d'Ans. In the background on the right side
 is an ancientpressoir for grapes which I donated to the village....

 But the truck and the tent is another old tradition. The Bouilleur de Cru Ambulant is back in business for another few months. There is a lot of traffic in and out of the shack. There is the scent of wood smoke hanging over the place...and another much more heady sweet scent permeating the crisp clear air. What goes on behind the canvas walls? Why are there always a few old geezers hanging out suspiciously waiting for the next tractor with a trailer load of mysterious blue plastic barrels...Eh Oui, the panel of professional tasters! Quality control!
A Bouilleur de Cru is a distiller. There are perhaps 40 mobil alambics in operation in the Dordogne. The licenses are passed down in families. It's virtually impossible to get a new license anymore. The Bouilleur sets up in a village near a fresh water source and all winter long, farmers pull up with tractors pulling trailers of barrels of fermenting fruit, usually plums. Some of the alambics are quite ornate antique polished installations. In October, I had a great visit to a farm in the Charente where cognac is produced. There, the alambic was an ornate ancient mechanism, lovingly polished and preserved for generations.

In this installation, the fermenting Charentais grapes are distilled 2 times and the results are aged 10 years. The white wines of the Charente usually have a low alcohol content, but the crisp clear, almost piney tang make them the perfect accompaniment to the seafood this region is famous for. The day I visited this farm distillerie, I had lunch in a fishing port called Marennes on the side of a canal filled with boats out of the water waiting for the next high tide. I had 12 of the fattest, freshest oysters I have ever tasted with the local bread and salted charentais butter and the local white wine. Then we visited the farm. They produce cognac and also the celebrated Pineau de Charentes. Pineau is an aperatif made from either white or red wine blended with cognac and aged. It is absolutely delicious and should be served chilled. Another special product of this region is a gassified version of white Pineau called l'Ecume Charentais. I don't know if there is a problem with transport of l'Ecume Charentais because I have never seen it for sale outside of this region. Needless to say, a visit to the farm entails a degustation of the products and a chance to buy direct. I bought a bottle each of red and white Pineau and 4 bottles of the Ecume. It's been very hard, but they are still sitting in my cellar.
Here in Badefols d'Ans, the Bouilleur is in operation every day until the end of April. As opposed to most of the Bouilleur de cru ambulants, Mr. Lajugie stays in one place. I usually buy 2 liters of eau de vie from him each year which I use for my alchemical operations. I use the eau de vie to make vin de noix by steeping walnut buds in the early spring in the alcohol. After 2 months, the eau de vie is black like ink and heavily flavored and perfumed with walnut essence. I add the liter of walnut

infused alcohol to 3 bottles of red wine and a kilo of sugar. Then, bottle it up and wait for three months. I also do this with peach leaves, but you have to wait until the end of the season to get the leaves when they turn yellow. When I macerate the leaves, I also add a bit of orange peel. I mix that with white wine and sugar. I've also made my own creme de cassis. I macerate crushed cassis (black currants) with red wine and let it sit over night. Then I reduce the strained berry infused wine and add sugar and make a simple syrup. Then add the eau de vie. If you are ever in Brive-la-Gaillarde,  my nearest big town, you should arrange a visit toThe Denoix Distillery in the old part of the city. They have been in continual operation since 1839 making their aperatifs and liqueurs. They are most famous for their walnut eau de noix, which I can recommend. The art and tradition of distilling goes back to the 12th century here. An art, interestingly enough, brought back from the middle east by the crusaders. It is an Arab invention. I know of a few farm families who have their illegal alambics out in the back of the old barn and when you arrive for a holiday visit,  Old Oncle Andre will always bring out a huge glass bottle and offer you a drink, winking, "This is illegal!" I have to admit,  Oncle Andre Clerjoux' eau de vie was crisp, lightly fruity, almost as if it was made with raspberries. He was an artist. The old pharmacies still sell phials of powders and potions to turn homemade eau de vie into brandy or anisette. Here's little video of the local Bouilleur de Cru Ambulant from Trelissac and his tractor pulled alambic carrying on this tradition that dates back to the middle ages here in the Dordogne. I discovered that the patron saint of Brouilleurs is St. Maurice. Sacre Maurice!


Ol'Buzzard said...

I have made wine from maple sap.. It was sparkling and pretty good for home brew.
the Ol'Buzzard

microdot said...

Maple wine? It sounds so fine! You have to give me details. Do you need a lot of maple sap to make it? I've made ginger beer with pretty good results. Do you know the degree of alcohol of the Maple Wine?