Tuesday, August 27, 2013

In Love with the Loire

The wonderful, amazing, lovely Terresa.
Still life with mirabelle.

I can't sing my friend Terresa's praises loudly enough. She's really a remarkable woman: Kind, funny, full of life, honest, and a wonderful teacher and chef. Ever since we met two years ago, I've learned so much from her, both life lessons, and kitchen lessons. Because of her, I've expanded my culinary repertoire to include all kinds of things I once knew absolutely nothing about, including chick-pea flour cakes, olive oil pie crusts, and natural wines.

Whenever I write about vegetarianism as it relates to Paris, I have to write about Terresa. Her artisan cooking school, La Cucina di Terresa, is an undiscovered (relatively) gem that I wish more people knew about. She teaches small classes in her home to students from around the world, plus, she caters special events, does table d'hote dinners, and even hosts natural wine tours in the Loire Valley.

Those are the actual house keys to the old abode we stayed in.
The sweet little garden.

Terresa knows I'm writing this Vegetarian Paris guidebook for UK publishers Vegetarian Guides, and because she's a kind and generous person, she invited me to join her for a weekend in the beautiful Loire Valley, to see what her tours are about and therefore be able to write about them with some authority.

My train left Gare Austerlitz at 7:30 am and arrived in the little village of Onzain, near Blois, just after 9 am. Terresa had already done the day's shopping, so instead of heading to the market, we fortified ourselves on coffee, took a walk to the local boulangerie, then climbed in her little car and drove the 10 or so kilometers over windy, narrow back roads to her winemaker friend Christophe's home. Together, we would prepare lunch, drink wine, and enjoy the fruits of our labors.

So simple, yet so delicious: Terresa's eggplant tarte before entering the oven.
The vigneron had a rough year last year; a mildew killed nearly all his grapes. This year is looking much better.

These chickens, according to Christophe, get to live out their natural lives and are never, never turned into soup or something equally atrocious.
Christophe's daughter and I share the same birthday--and a fondness for food preparation.
Wandering the vineyard builds an appetite quite unlike anything else. 

The gorgeous, sweet little plums that would later become a sticky, scrumptious tarte.

Christophe's vines stretch on for about seven acres.

The day was splendid, in spite of spitting rain that kept us indoors most of the day. We prepared a wonderful meal of sweet and savory tarts and salads, and relished every bite with sips of Christophe's truly dazzling liquid elixirs. You haven't really tasted wine until you've tried natural wines; the vignerons allow their grapes to "express their individuality" and what you get is something almost magically delicious and not at all like the stuff you buy at supermarkets or even mainstream French caviste's. The wines are rustic and earthy and tingly and tasty, and they work particularly well with plant-based foods.

Our day ended at about 9pm, and the number of empty bottles we left behind was rather startling (though they weren't all full to begin with). The next day, however, I felt great and ready to head off on our next natural wine excursion.

I loved the beamed ceilings in Terresa's Loire Valley abode.
Terresa prepared a beautiful meal and whipped up a roaring fire to warm us from the outside in while the meal warmed us from the inside out. 
A late-night supper of butternut-and-homemade-almond-milk soup after a long day of wine tasting.

For my second and final day in the Loire, Terresa would take me to meet her dear friend Joel, whose winery sits on a verdant plot of rolling terrain ripe with walnut, peach, and plum trees. Terresa credits Joel--who has been tending vines here longer than most--with turning her on to natural wines, so it was with a bit of reverence that I exchanged bises with this maestro and sat down to the important task of tasting his wares.

Joel's wines have a much different flavor than his wine-making comrade Christophe's; Joel's are more fruity, intentionally more oxidized, and utterly more-ish in their own wonderful way. We tasted a white, rose, then a red--which I fell in love with and bought a bottle of on the spot. (I'd have purchased a case, but didn't want to lug the treasures home.)

Coffee time!

We shelled these beans and turned them into a delectable tomoto-bean-herb salad.

Hamming it up in the town of Pontlevoy.
A simple, wholesome and delicious lunch.
We thought we'd wandered into a park, and so began collecting and eating our "found" apples. Then we realized we were actually standing in someone's front yard. Oopla!
Terresa snapping photos of the local abbey.

After our tasting, we set off to visit the vines, stomping our feet as we marched through the tall grass to scare off any vipers that might be slithering about. We reached the vines, oohed and ahhed over their preciousness (and the fact that they were doing well, as opposed to last year, when grapes throughout the region were affected by a mildewy blight). The harvest would be later than usual this year, but at least there would be a harvest.

We passed a neighbor along the way who told us to look out for vipers. Not the thing a sandle-sporting city girl wants to hear on a day traipsing through the countryside!
Joel measures the alcohol content of one of his sparkling wines. Afterward, we drank the test material. Miam!!

The day at Joel's ended as it began at Terresa's: With liquid good cheer--only this time, it was sparkling wine instead of coffee. The fizzy, apricot-colored wine tasted of jasmine and minerals and luscious sunshine, and reignited that old Green Acres fantasy that's always there, just beneath the thin layer of common sense in my mind. "Ooh! What if I moved to the Loire, bought a little plot of land, and started growing grapes and plums and peaches?" I thought to myself. And then the thought was gone again, and we were off.


  1. Wow Aurelia, such a wonderful lady and what a fabulous place to visit. An experience that I am sure lots of us would love too. So great that it is not that far from Paris. All looks tasty but I have yet to find a Eggplant dish I really like. But would give it a try. Thank you for sharing this wonderful short trip. take care Anne Love all your photos , favourite one .."The Lunch" with soup and Tomatoes.

    1. So many people don't like eggplant, but this pie had such a wonderful texture, subtle flavor, and wholesomeness that I think it could change anyone's mind. I'll share Terresa's recipe with you!

  2. I love eggplant! Please share with me too.
    Your experiences are lush and rich and memorable - thank you for sharing. Your ability to continually embark on new adventures is admirable (says the lady who still lives in her hometown).

    1. Aww--thanks, Beth!

      One eggplant tarte recipe coming right up!

  3. Amazing! I love the Loire, too & also thanks to Terresa. Sounds like you had an amazing weekend, with lots of souvenirs of both the wine and non-wine variety!

    1. How lucky are we to know that one-of-a-kind Renaissance woman? J'adore her--and her food. It's like, magically good!

  4. Your friend Terresa sounds like a lovely person! Great post and photos.


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