This weekend our Fall Fair season continued with the always amazing Foire d’ Espezel on the Plateau de Sault. JM and I missed last year’s, as it was precisely the weekend that we were in California moving Mom; so this year we were determined to go.
Fair weekend reminds me of the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena; somehow, the weather ALWAYS seems to be nice for it, no matter what. This year was no exception.
We start to get in the mood as soon as we hit the road towards Puivert. The higher up we go in the foothills, the more beautiful it gets, as the colors become more intense and you get that real “fall is here” feeling. I always feel that I should stop the car just to get out and enjoy the view, but since the road is very narrow and windy, it’s not such a good idea.
Our dear friend Bernie arranged her visit this year so that she would be in time for the Foire, and she followed us in The Imperial Palace of Ireland (as JM has dubbed her sturdy little car). This was her first time to Espezel, so we were eager to get her reaction to the route as well as the fair.
We like to go early, so that we can park, but not so early that the food stands aren’t all set up yet. I think we timed it perfectly this year, as the wonderful smells were already hitting us when we parked the car.
They changed the layout a bit from previous years, and I have to say I quite liked it. This was not at all like Mirepoix last weekend, where I felt that there were fewer vendors than usual; the place was busy as ever.
The “Espezel Plan” is easy: we go in and walk the entire main section, looking at all the stands but not buying on this first tour. You have to see EVERYTHING before making the all important purchasing decisions. I’m kept in control by the fact that JM is there, because I know for a fact that there are things I would buy if I was alone that I don’t because I would get the “evil eye” about spending on stuff I don’t really need (although there was a gorgeous sweater that I really wish I’d bought, evil eye be damned).
Then, we turn back and start making our choices. It’s always hard, because every table has something tempting on it, and it is very, very hard to know which ones to buy from. I tend to let JM lead the way on this, because he does seem to have good “fair sense” about picking places. We bought 3 kinds of cheese and probably could easily have gotten more, but you have to show SOME discipline! I couldn’t resist a big chunk of pain de campagne from the same stall; even though we are lucky to have wonderful bakery 2 doors away, sometimes you just HAVE to try new bread. I have to say it proved to be as delicious as it looked, so there are no regrets.
We just HAD to buy some Aligot (for those who don’t know, Aligot is a specialty of mashed potatoes stirred in a giant cauldron with cheese until it is blended into a melty, smooth, marvelous thing of wonderfulness) and we also got some Tartiflette, which is sliced potatoes cooked with cheese and bacon. Okay, so none of it is diet food, but you’ve gotta enjoy in life!
We continued along and I added half of a Noix de Jambon (a small, dried style of ham) to our basket. Then we turned towards the section with the animals where there were also vendors selling cooked food for lunch. Bernie and I both just had orders of fries; okay, yes, MORE potatoes, but in my defense, one of the main themes of the fair is the Potato of the Plateau de Sault, so you just HAVE to eat them!
Following our healthy meal, we went to the animal enclosures. I checked out the chickens and found someone who had Araucunas, which I really want (they lay green eggs!), but unfortunately, our chicken coop hasn’t been built yet, so I didn’t have anyplace to keep them. I took the breeder’s card though, and we’ll have to see what’s what next spring.
There were loads of beautiful horses and donkeys, but no cattle or sheep this year. That is due to an outbreak of Catarral Fever (Blue Tongue Fever) that is highly contagious to bovines and ovines, and a huge problem to local breeders. Their animals have all been vaccinated or are in the process of being vaccinated, but most of the departments in the region are in quarantine right now, so clearly, gatherings of animals from different breeders would not be a good idea.
We then continued our circuit and went back to the main drag to check the booths we hadn’t returned to because of our detour. We found some truly outstanding grape juice bottled by a local vignoble that also makes Blanquette. I would say it’s one of the best juices I’ve ever tasted, and we took the gentlemen’s card so we can go to buy more from him when we’re gong to be in Limoux.
A last stop for some pastries (we had to, didn’t we?) and then it was back to the car.
I don’t think we could have done anything else that would have made us as happy as a day out at the Foire d’ Espezel. Even though we always wind up spending more than we planned, we know that the money is going directly to the producers of the products we buy and helping to assure that the Foire will be in operation for many, many years to come.
Ciao for now.