|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.
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!