Friday, 20 May 2016

A visit to maison Tesseron cognac producers , with grateful thanks to Frėdėric.

Tesseron Cognac was founded in 1905 by Abel Tesseron, at that time already a collector of the finest cognacs. The business is  owned and managed today by the fourth generation of the family. While on holiday in the Aveyron, we had the fortune to meet the  charming Frėdėric and his family and he most kindly extended an invitation for us to take a tour of this exclusive cognac house....... 
Any technical or other errors in the information below are entirely mine, made as I strove to comprehend the processes, facts and figures involved in the production of cognac at maison Tesseron!

The understated but imposing gateway to the premises in Chateauneuf-sur-Charente.

The brass nameplate, polished daily! The company owns 37 hectares of vineyards in the Grande Champagne (considered the best area) near Cognac to provide the supply of grapes for their cognac production.Three grape varieties are grown for the properties they show in the finished cognac. Ugni blanc for roundness, Folle Blanche  for finesse and Colombard for power and depth! It's a very complicated subject and a skilled enterprise!

The distillery  with its double row (this is one row) of copper stills and interconnecting pipework.

Behind the brick facings are the natural gas burners which heat the fermented wine. Everywhere is spotlessly clean!

A pictorial diagram of the distillation process.

The outside of the walls of the storage cellars are covered with a tiny black fungus, which thrives in the slightly alcoholic fume-laden air. The black colour seems to bring the rough stonework into sharper relief.

The middle third (called eau de vie) of the distillate  is put into  small new oak barrels (as in the foreground), then later transferred into large oak vats (below) to mix the product and balance out any differences in character of the  eau de vie which there might be in the individual barrels. The first and last thirds are re-distilled and used in the blending process.

The cellar master knows the character of the contents of each barrel like his own children! Mixing and blending the eau de vie is a very special competence and  Tesseron cognac possesses a rare complexity due to the subtle proportioning of the three grape varieties it uses.

Long term storage (10 -15 years) for the developing eau de vie. Some is lost to evaporation, this loss being called "la part des anges" - the angels' share!

The cognac is eventually transferred from oak barrels to glass demi-johns when it ceases to mature any further.The cognac can take up to 90 years to reach this point!

Long, long maturation in quiet cellars!

In a cellar called Paradis, shelves of ancient demi-johns of cognac, some dating from the 19th century, are stored. This cellar was originally  a church built by monks in the 11th century.

A portrait of the founder, Abel Tesseron, hanging in the entrance hallway.

From the left, Lot 90 XO Ovation (just seen), aged in oak barrels for about 12 years, rich and complex, Lot 76 XO Tradition, aged in oak barrels for "more than a generation" Lot 53 XO Perfection,aged in oak barrels for "more than two generations". This cognac was given full marks (100/100) by Robert Parker, the well-reputed American wine writer and on the far right, Lot 29 XO Exception. aged in oak barrels for "more than three generations" -that's 75 years, folks!! It must be brilliant! Behind, on the shelves, are  reference samples of previous cognac vintages.

More varieties! From the left, XO Passion, more than 12 years old and a blend of 30 eaux de vies; Extra Legende, aged for "more than a generation" and a blend of about 50 eaux de vies and finally Tresor, aged for "more than two generations" and a blend of about 100 eaux de vies. I said it was complicated!

Royal Blend is a selection of 50 Grande Champagne cognacs, chosen from Tesseron's own private historic collection.The cognac ages for many years in oak "tierçons", very special barrels used for only the rarest cognacs. This cognac is the result of work by two generations of the Tesseron family, is bottled in hand-blown glass demi-johns of 0.7 litres, which you can just see on the left above.

Extreme, the flagship of this cognac house, is incredibly rare and valuable, production of the 1.75 litre bottles being measured in the low hundreds of bottles each year! If you are interested in finding out more about the very special Tesseron range, you can visit their website

So, Frėdėric, our visit to maison Tesseron was the most rare and valuable privilege for us and a memory we will always treasure! By assiduous production of the very best cognac and storing the most ancient of them for careful use in blends, Maison Tesseron are investing in the future, in supreme quality, and in their business  for their Clients' benefit.  (My words and my opinion, nothing is intended to be advertising for our hosts!)

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated 09 April 2016) 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Aveyron- the brilliant sculptures of André Debru

My life here took a break when, in April, we went on a brief visit to the Aveyron, a very hilly French department about 400 kilometres to the south-east of here. Distances there are measured by time, not kilometres, as the narrow and twisty roads clinging to valley sides are best navigated slowly!! Our car's satnav (GPS) route to one of the many beautiful villages in the region led us through Les Costes-Gozon, a fairly remote and isolated hill-top village. A series of arresting metal sculptures at the roadside gave us good reason to stop and look. They proved to be the work of renowned French sculptor André Debru, whose workshop there is surrounded by dozens of his metal artworks. Sadly for us the workshop was closed at the time, for health reasons, we understood from the chalked notice at the front door. We hope he will soon be back at work.

André's father and grandfather were farriers, and from a very young age he learnt the blacksmith's trade. When only 11, he started making sculptures of his comic book heroes. He then started collecting bits of iron and steel, some very small and intricate, ranging from screws, nuts and bolts to sheet metal and wire coils. He has produced  some  most amazing work over the years, all life size, some of which you can see in my photos below.

The little tramp - Charlie Chaplin

A giraffe with Popeye.

A very large elephant, note the stork perched on its trunk. A reminder that Hannibal passed through here on his way to the Alps.

Outside the Mairie in the village is this stunning proportioned sculpture of a knight on horseback. 

In 1889, the centenary of the French Revolution was celebrated with the erection of a replica of the Statue of Liberty in the main square of the local town of Saint Affrique (Nice name!). That bronze original was removed and melted down in 1941 to help the war effort, but only in 2005 was Andre Debru commissioned to make this replacement in iron.

The farrier :-)))

Rhinoceros also with a small bird on its back, possibly intended to be an oxpecker. Astonishing anatomy, all in stainless steel!

Having a laugh! A joke speed camera. Doucement can imply slowly, but cabourd isn't in my dictionary- it may be a dialect word, but this is great use for an old washer! "Clous" are nails.

A dancing bear, with Tintin and his dog Snowy in the background.

Camel, a long way from water!

Cow, not forgetting the cow bell, and a view of the spectacular but hazy Aveyron countryside in the background.

My favourite is this family of three horses. So brilliantly made!

Thanks once again to Nigel for his research.

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated 09 April 2016) 

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Recipe - White fish with chorizo and ratatouille

I have not put a recipe on this blog for ages, but having experimented with some combinations of our favourite ingredients, I have produced a dish which we think we will often be eating again in the future, so I felt it was worth sharing with you all!

Any white fish should do for this recipe.  The first time I tried it, I used cod, then last night I used whiting, which I filleted first.   Both times we said how good it was. I have all vegetable ingredients either bottled, or in my garden, so it is easy for me!

Ingredients with optional topinambour (jerusalem artichoke) in unpeeled state - see top left insert.

White fish with ratatouille and chorizo.  (for 2 people)

1 tablespoon olive oil.
1 large onion, chopped.
Ratatouille.  Mine is home made and I used about half of the large jar in the picture above - about 500 grams (1lb).
If ratatouille is not available, a tin of tomato pieces would probably do, but the flavour of the dish may suffer.
1 heaped teaspoon light, soft brown sugar.
Several sprigs thyme, leaves stripped. If not available use a teaspoon of dried thyme.
1 tablespoon soy sauce.
60 grams of chorizo (we used hot, but any type will do) Cut the sausage lengthwise and then slice.
Optional - Several pieces of topinambour (jerusalem artichoke) peeled and sliced.
2 pieces of white fish de-boned.

Non stick frying pan with a lid for cooking the meal.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the onion, topinambour (if using) and chorizo, then fry for 5-8 mins until the onion is soft. Stir in the ratatouille, sugar, thyme and soy sauce, then bring to the boil.

Simmer 5 mins, and then put the fish on top of the sauce. Cover and gently cook for about 5 mins until the fish is steamed and cooked through.
I served it with mashed butternut (also from the garden last season), but any alternative vegetable of your choice would be acceptable.  

Onion, topinambour and chorizo.

All ingredients except fish cooking for about 5 minutes - per recipe above. 
I forgot to take a photo of the fish steaming with the lid on!!

But here is the final meal served with the butternut mash.

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated 09 April 2016) 

Friday, 25 March 2016

A visit to Maisonnais-sur-Tardoire

Maisonnais-sur-Tardoire is a commune of about 400 inhabitants, in the Haute-Vienne department, but only 20 minutes by car to the east of here.

Located on the ancient Roman road from Perigueux to Poitiers, the area has been inhabited since time immemorial! Underground silos (cluzeaux) used for crop storage, dating from the Merovingian period (when the Romans and Gauls held sway over France in the 5th - 8th centuries) have been discovered nearby. 

The honey produced in the commune has the label "Regional Natural Périgord Limousin" and they have a notable honey festival to celebrate, attended by many beekeepers on the third weekend in September.
A view down the main street approaching the church. It's such a well-kept village!! The first thing  one notices is the exceptional state of the buildings, even including the barns!; the stonework, mortar, painting, roof tiling and carpentry are all exquisitely restored, maintained and preserved!

The village church is dedicated to Saint-Cyprian. It was built in the 11th century in the Romanesque style and its square steeple is somewhat unusual.

The simple altar. Note too that domed stone vaulted ceiling, curved in two directions! How skillful is that, with 11 century building techniques!

The pulpit, obviously a later addition, but a plain design, in keeping with the original structure.

We visited the village to hear a concert by a local choir, of which a friend is a member. They learn and sing songs from countries all around the world.The list of songs they sang, if you should be interested, is at the end of this post.The singing was excellent, and in fact so well appreciated by the audience they did two encores!

Elaborate dovecote-porch entrance to the large house opposite the church.

The property also has a second gateway (the servant's entrance?) on the other side!

 Looking down the immaculate main street, away from the church, note the house on the right. It's unusual, but it's not immediately obvious why this is so......

 here it is again, from the other side.
It was built in 1905, not using the normal local granite, but using limestone from the Charente.See how the corners and frames to openings are carefully detailed in squared stone blocks. Expensive! Its mansard roof with dormer windows is a design feature generally found in much grander residences.Many of the other village houses are rendered (this was a fashion in times past, to show one's neighbours that one had  the money to spend to upgrade one's house!) but this building really outdid all the neighbours! In 1910, the building was the local post office, but whether it was originally built as such isn't stated. Thankfully no-one has interfered with the original mason's fine craftsmanship and it remains unaltered to this day.

The entrance and window. More very expensive carving. This building is quite a statement of expense in a small country farming village. One wonders what the inhabitants at the time made of this lavishness!

Detail of the stone carving over the window.

The local Mairie (Mayor's office), the bus stop, and  not forgetting the lady in black, of whom every French village has at least one!

and of course no village in France would be complete without a war memorial. To close, as promised, the concert programme!

Also see my daily diary HERE

and My Life Before Charente (updated 08 February 2016) 

Sunday, 13 March 2016

The changing face of Chasseneuil.

Probably the last major change in the main street in Chasseneuil-sur-Bonnieure (to give it its full name!) occurred when the town was by-passed about 15 years ago and the regional traffic, including countless massive lorries, travelling on the route between Angouleme and Limoges, was thankfully removed from the busy local scene! That was until 31 August last year, when Lidl started the contract to replace their local store. Basic, even by Lidl standards, with minimal parking, the old store was squeezed in between two larger buildings.
The Briconautes builder's merchants had been purchased and on that day, the demolition work began to enlarge the area available for a new Lidl store.

The official approval!

Taken on 28 September, this photo shows that the old store is still open, still bringing in customers and money, while the demolishers struggle with the  old reinforced concrete framed three storey builder's merchant premises next door.

The demolition site on the same date, showing that everything had gone except............

this bit!

On 11 October, with demolition done, the earthworks close to the main street was proceeding well. The benign weather was helping the contractor keep to his programme, as can be seen from the blue skies in these photos.

The scene on 2 November, showing that the old store had been demolished (it closed in late October) and the base hardcore for the new building and parking area already in place.

By 14 November, the building frame was already well advanced. Much of this was pre-cast and brought to site in sections.

Another shot on the same day, showing how much of the building is pre-fabricated for speed of construction!

This photo, almost 2 weeks later, on 25 November shows how much fill material had to be brought in to raise the levels of the car park at the back of the site.

By 7 December, still under sunny skies, work continued with the installation of insulation to the external walls. The new parking area is on the left.

By 30 January, the tarmac surfacing to the car park had been laid, and the shopfronts with automatic sliding doors were in place.

On the same day, a photo showing the part of the parking area to the front of the store. Parking spaces provided have increased dramatically. At the old store, there were perhaps 30, now it's more like 200 and most of them are occupied during trading hours by enthusiastic shoppers!

On 23 February, the day before opening, the signs were up and the whole site was full of workmen carrying out final testing and rectification of any defects.

24 February, opening day. A fairly new Lidl speciality, an on-site bakery! This will no doubt have an effect on the businesses of the 4 bakers already trading in the town.

A view of the checkouts, plenty in number and capacity but staff, as usual, busy working around the store! One checkout operates in quieter periods, but when there is a rush of customers, public address announcements give notice that additional tills are open. This procedure seems to work well and undue delays are avoided.

Decorative rough gravel paving next to the main street. Not very pretty, but its aim is to discourage people from walking on it, especially ladies in high heels!

The view today, showing the change in the streetscape - see first photo to compare! The opening of this new state of the art Lidl store has prompted the other major supermarket in town, just to the right of this shot, where the white arrow points, to raise its game and carry out its own store improvements!