Nîmes is very fortunate. Near the sea and a stone’s throw from the Cévennes, it has grown in the scents of garrigue, olive groves, vineyards and chestnut woods. So its cuisine naturally developed the accent of Provence and the strength of the Cévennes, highlighted by a touch of fleur de sel from the Camargue. During its history, this fine roman town played on these influences to create specialities with its own imprint.
THE LOCAL DISHES OF NÎMES
With its reputation established in around 1830 by the chef Charles Durand, brandade de Nîmes is still the most famous dish of Nîmes. Salt cod is poached in milk and then beaten with olive oil to made a smooth, white purée. It is served hot or cold and sometimes served with a few shavings of black truffles from Uzès. Although the origins of brandade are not clear, we know that seamen used to barter salt cod for sacks of salt from Aigues-Mortes when they returned from Newfoundland.
Another speciality, the petit pâté nîmois, is a pretty little pastry container with a gold crust containing veal and pork stuffing and is eaten hot. In contrast, fougasse aux grattons (a kind of diced
bacon) is eaten cold at any time of the day.
SWEET ITEMS FROM NÎMES
The secret recipe for croquant Villaret has not changed since 1775.
The most unusual feature of these delicious long, golden biscuit is not their mysterious taste given by lemon or perhaps honey, but their hardness. They cannot be bitten without being softened! The softer Caladon is made with almonds and honey.
The earliness of the strawberry fraise de Nîmes PGO (Protected Geographic Origin was awarded in 2013) makes it the only strawberry in France grown in the soil under shelter. Try the varieties Gariguette and Ciflorette just as they are or flavoured with basil and coated with an emulsion of olive oil containing a little lime juice...
NÎMES, THE PROVENCAL CITY
Olives are a cultural feature of Nîmes. PDO and AOC olive de Nîmes, the famous «Picholine», a variety with juicy, crisp sweet flesh, is eaten green. Ripened and cold-pressed, they give an oil of character with intense aromas of plum and pineapple. PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) «huile d’olive de Nîmes» is a blend of 70% Picholine with three other varieties: Négrette, Bouteillan and Aglandeau.
A typical hors-d’oeuvre in the south, tapenade is made with green or black olives crushed with anchovies and capers. Just spread some on a slice of country bread.
Anchoïade, another speciality full of character, is made of anchovies crushed with olive oil and garlic. Spread some on bread and eat it with raw vegetables.
NÎMES AND THE CAMARGUE
Flavoursome PDO and AOC taureau de Camargue (Camargue bull) meat is from cattle reared in complete freedom in the Rhône delta. Gardianne de taureau is the second most famous speciality of Nîmes after brandade. Marinated in Costières de Nîmes wine, it is a traditional dish for village festivals and sundays with friends. This tender beef can also be just grilled and served with anchovy butter or as Aigriade St-Gilloise, another traditional dish in which bull is combined with capers, onion and anchovies and cooked very slowly. It is always served with the famous riz de Camargue, PGO (Protected Geographical Origin) grown in the rice fields along the petit Rhône.
Most of the asparagus grown in the Gard department comes from there. Their hint of iodine and salt must surely come from the salt pans at Aigues-Mortes!
NÎMES AND THE CÉVENNES
Traditional charcuterie and the famous Pélardons (PDO cheeses) arrive from the Cévennes. These small cheeses made from unpasteurised whole goat’s milk are often served with a trickle of Nîmes olive oil and/or chestnut flower honey(miel de châtaignier). Excellent creamy or dry Pélardons can be found at the covered market in Nîmes.
Agneau des Cévennes (lamb from the Cévennes) is marvellous when slow-cooked and served with sliced pommes reinette du Vigan (russet apples from Le Vigan) and oignons doux des Cévennes, PDO onion with pale pearly skin and a sweet taste.
WINES AND BEVERAGES
The 12,000-hectare area of Costières de Nîmes vineyards runs from south of the city to The Rhône valley and the hills next to the delta. The quality of these AOC red, rosé and white wines has improved steadily over the past twenty years and Costières de Nîmes is now found on the wine lists of the best restaurants. Several AOCs are also to be found near Nîmes, including Clairette de Bellegarde, Côtes du Rhône villages, Côtes du Rhône gardoises, Tavel rosé, Lirac and Coteaux du Languedoc.
Not everybody knows, but the famous Perrier spring is at Vergèze, only a few kilometres from Nîmes. So our famous little bubbles are found in glasses all over the world!