The legend says that the beans were brought back from America by Christopher Colombus and first planted by the Bishop of Tarbes in his garden around 1712 …Heir to a long history, the Haricot Tarbais is a wonder of nature, with its pearly husk, delicate skin, starchy sobriety and incomparable softness when cooked. This variety is typical of Hautes Pyrénées and is cultivated around Tarbes, on top of nets stretched across the fields. It is picked exclusively by hand. Haricots Tarbais have held a Label Rouge quality mark since 1997 and have enjoyed IGP (Indication Géographique Protégée) status since 2000.
The outstanding Chasselas de Moissac grape was the first fresh fruit in France to be awarded Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) status.This white grape is cultivated on the hillsides around Moissac, a Great Tourist Site in Midi-Pyrénées. When you bite into it, this translucent and extremely delicate fruit, inside which the seeds are just starting to form, release a sweet juice of exquisite freshness which tastes of flowers and honey. With a perfectionism bordering on a work of art, the bunches are carefully cut away one by one with grape shears by the Chasselas grape pickers. Chasselas has been contributing to Moissac’s fame since the 19th century and to Tarn et Garonne’s reputation as the leading fruit-producing department of France. Chasselas de Moissac has held AOC status since 1971, and has earned Moissac official recognition as a Site Remarquable du Goût.
In Midi-Pyrénées, melon growing has been a tradition since the 18th century, both in Gers, where the Lectoure melon is particularly popular, and in Quercy. Here, the appropriately-named Quercy melon stands out from the rest. The fragrance of its dense and sweet flesh, which tastes of honey, suffuses market stalls from June onwards. Ripening under the burning sun, the Quercy melon is lovingly cultivated in ground beds on the clay-limestone hillsides that run between Montauban and Cahors with Lauzerte in between. It is picked at dawn, when its extraordinary concentration of aromas is at its highest.
This delicious fruit has a green skin tinged with gold and is shrouded in a protective veil (the ‘bloom’). Its flesh is firm and juicy, with a delicate, slightly acid taste. Cultivating the greengage – the little empress who reigns over the departments of Tarn et Garonne and Lot – is a labor-intensive business requiring a great deal of sophisticated know-how. Grown in orchards seldom larger than one hectare, the greengage reaches maturity in late July and is harvested by hand, one fruit at a time, in accordance with tradition.
The walnut tree has also been a source of wealth since the 10th century, when peasant farmers used to pay their debts in bushels of walnuts. In the Dordogne valley, a Great Tourist Site in Midi-Pyrénées, walnut trees form a soft, leafy cushion between the river and its cliffs. Standing in neat rows, they are part of the Noix du Périgord AOC that includes parts of the departments of Dordogne, Corrèze and Charente. Marbot, Corne, Grandjean and Franquette are the four varieties that share this AOC, in their early, dried or shelled forms. Walnuts are also a delicacy from which oil and liqueurs are produced.
The Toulouse violet (Viola tolosa) is not just a romantic symbol of the capital of Midi-Pyrénées. It is also the inspiration behind many gourmet and culinary creations, as is apparent at La Maison de la Violette, a barge moored on the Canal du Midi in the heart of Toulouse. On board you can learn all about the history and every possible incarnation of the flower that has been cultivated around Toulouse since the 19th century, where it is famed for its subtle and tender fragrance. It also finds its way into many fine foods, such as violet honey, crystallized violet flowers, violet mustard and violet vinegar, which is ideal for seasoning salads and giving them a distinctive taste. Needless to say, traditional candied violets, which are made by dipping the flowers in sugar, are still to be found here.