After an exciting tour rediscovering the city center of Montpellier, there’s nothing like ending the day with a tasting! We’re taking you this week near the pretty Place de la Canourgue to the Panier d’Aimé, a very charming delicatessen specializing in the Languedoc Roussillon region products. This is where we were meeting with James, the owner, to see his shop, his world, his passion. Upon entering, we were simply amazed by the large number of products presented and especially their diversity. Wine, sweet, salty, gift baskets, we honestly felt like entering the Ali Baba cave and we were definitely looking forward to learning more about the place. James is a friendly sexagenarian with salt and pepper hair who smiled mischievously behind his small glasses. When we got there, we were a few minutes late. All sweaty after fastly walking for a while in the streets. We confusedly apologized and he reassured us with his soft and caring voice: “Don’t worry, we have time”. The tone was set, we would banish stress from our afternoon to enjoy all these flavors.
Originating from the Ile de Ré, James and his wife have been in Montpellier for 15 years. They fell in love with the area and the local food so they were keen to develop close relationships with local producers when opening their store. They regularly prospect local farms, personally test and carefully select the products that will be then sold in their store. They currently work with about 130 local producers (beekeepers, wine-growers, ….) and offer over 1500 different products in their charming grocery store that are mostly products for cooking or a gourmet apéritif. Good to know: they sometimes throw tasting evenings at the store in the presence of their partners. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet and interact with them. You just have to give them your email when paying for your stuff to be informed when the next event is coming up. 😉
Now time for the tasting! It began with a series of tartinades (spreads) that James suggested we would blindly taste and then try to identify the main ingredients in them. The least we can say is that our palates were severely tested as the associations were surprising, original but most of all terribly exquisite! Black olive cream with orange zests, pepper and tarragon cream, sardine bell pepper cream or eggplant caviar with Espelette pepper: these pairings were completely new to us yet they work perfectly and we would happily want more! We had no trouble picturing ourselves enjoying it on toasted bread paired with a good wine with friends, what a dream! We then turned to condiments, olive oil and vinegar. These aren’t products that we usually consume raw and alone but we completely discovered new varieties that almost require nothing else. We absolutely loved the fig vinegar produced in Catalonia, called Fig’aigre! It’s very soft, sweet and slightly spicy and could easily be eaten by the straw! Perfect for salads or raw vegetables. It would also be perfect for a meat marinade. We were also pleasantly surprised by the black olives olive oil produced in the Gard region. First, its smell reminded us the famous tapenade and it had a strong and a little peppery taste. Such a delicate and refined oil should be preferably consumed raw or with cooked dishes, like fish for example, but added at the last minute.
On the sweet side, we definitely weren’t outdone and we tasted delicious honeys and honeydew of a transhumant beekeeper located in La Boissière, just a few kilometers northwest of Montpellier. Unifloral (lavender, white heather) or regional (Petite Camargue), this honey comes from nomad hives that are strategically positioned based on their environment like the lavender honey for example. Hives will be placed in an at least 80%-lavender environment. Honey can be more or less creamy, sweet or light according to the flower from which it comes from but also the shape of the bee or the weather. The Raisiné de Montpellier, a typically Montpellier jam from the 19th century, was also one of our favorite. During the war, it was very easy to get grapes, unlike sugar. Therefore the winemakers of the region had made a habit of letting grape juice reduce into a paste to which was added all perishable fruits such as peaches, melons, figs, apricots or tomatoes to obtain a good sweet and tasty jam. Perfect for a tasty breakfast as well as the delicious Malakoff spreads sold in the store! We tried the dark chocolate and hazelnuts one that is absolutely to die for and is palm oil free! We ended this charming tasting with a sip of a good amber Noilly Prat, you’ll only find at James’ store or at the factory in Marseillan! And after all these tasting emotions, it was impossible for us to resist and leave empty-handed. We took a wicker basket and wandered again in the aisles, collecting goods to take home with us. The choice wasn’t easy and we had to balance our many desires and our budget. We went home with the fig vinegar to season our summer salads and several tasty spreads that would go perfectly with our good red wine bottle from the Haut-Lirou vineyard. The apéritif that evening was just perfect!
This article was written as part of a partnership with the Montpellier Tourist Office. Nevertheless, any opinion expressed here is our own and has not been subjected to any influence. Thank you very much James for your hospitality and kindness, we will definitely come back!
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