Living in Paris most of the year, the only guarantee I have that a product has not been treated with pesticides is the AB (Agriculture Biologique) label, which itself is due to be watered down in 2010. But here in the rural southwest, many producers have chosen not to apply for the AB label and those who have are thinking about abandoning it because of the cost, what they refer to as the “intrusiveness” of the organic label inspectors, and, above all, the fact that they have the type of relationship with their customers which ensures trust in their devotion to adhering to organic norms of production and quality.
Last weekend I purchased a bag of flour from a vendor at a local market after asking why she chose not to label her flour organic even though she claimed that it was not treated with any pesticides. The proof was in the baking. The flour was a lovely speckled grey-brown colour. The resulting loaf was by far the most delicious I have ever attempted, with greater depth of flavour and texture than the organic flours I have so far tested from supermarkets and even organic stores. The flour is milled from wheat produced from a small five-hectare plot, and stone-ground on site. I spoke with the farmer, Bruno Clerq, who told me that he just started the business this year and is motivated by the satisfaction of seeing a product through from A-Z. Along with the wheat, he also keeps bees. The satisfaction of eating the bread and sharing it with family was immense. I returned this morning to purchase a five-kilo sack for the rest of the summer.
Next to the flour vendor was a breeder of a rare indigenous variety of pork, the “porc noir gascon“. These rustic black pigs are classified as “endangered-maintained” according to the 3rd edition of the World Watch List for domestic animal diversity compiled by the FAO. An indigenous breed found in the southwest of France, the adult male weighs on average 200 kg, and females 180 kg. It’s worth remembering that the report documents that each week the world loses two breeds of domestic animal diversity, so efforts such as these by local farmers are worth supporting. I tested the dry sausage and it was succulent and surprisingly low in fat, as the pigs gain weight very slowly, thereby producing a rich, dense, almost gamey meat. They currently have an AB label but plan to give it up at the end of 2009.
If you would like to see these pigs close up, the Ferme de Guillaumet is open for visits and also has rural “gites” for rental by the week.