Marion - Chroniques d'une ardennaise
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100% Ardennes, between Belgium and France
I ENJOYED A FABULOUS FOOD Festival IN THE ArdenneS
1 day discovering a gourmet terroir
The Ardennes are synonymous with authenticity and conviviality. And the Ardennes Festival of Brotherhoods, a fabulous food festival that takes place every year on the iconic Place Ducale square in Charleville-Mézières is the incarnation of these values. The festival is a testimony to the area’s quintessential joie de vivre, hospitality and...tasty gourmet traditions!
A Food Festival that is unique in its kind
Each year the ‘Festival des Confréries’ Food Festival assembles fifty or so French and Belgian gourmet brotherhoods and thousands of spectators. We have joined the thronging mass to discover the typical Ardennes ‘terroir’ firsthand. We arrive on the iconic Place Ducale square, an architectural masterpiece from the 17th century and the emblem of the town of Charleville-Mézières, where the festival is held. The square is bustling with visitors and locals alike and we discover a vivid kaleidoscope of colours with lively background music jazzing up the mood. It’s the parade of gourmet brotherhoods and we have arrived just in time for the procession! Clad in long, gaily coloured gowns, bearing blazons, flags and sometimes even copper cooking pots or pigs (yes, really) the members joyfully parade through the town centre streets. We follow the parade, and then wander the streets before going back to the very pretty Place Ducale.
It’s almost midday and we had a light breakfast because we knew we were likely to feast upon delicious food until we burst! Our stomachs start to rumble, and we are tempted by the mouth-watering aroma’s wafting from the many different food stalls. We decide to have a look round and decide what to taste, the hardest part will definitely be choosing which one of these specialties to taste!
Fancy a tasting ?
The secrets of our terroir
Let our culinary journey begin! We go from food stall to food stall, there is something to please everyone and we taste all kinds of different specialties made with passion and skill by the brotherhoods. Savoury dishes, sweet treats, we try all kinds of tasty titbits, in no logical order, first honey then charcuterie, followed by jam or even chocolate! We discover hitherto unknown specialties such as saffron (well, we had tasted saffron before, but we definitely did not expect it to be grown and harvested in the Ardennes) and more traditional products such as beer.
Attablés sur d’immenses tables aux côtés d’autres festivaliers, nous discutons, chantons même lorsque qu’un orgue de Barbarie se met à retentir. L’espace d’un instant nous ne sommes plus que tous les deux mais entres amis, tout justes rencontrés, à nous prendre par les bras pour chanter et danser à table, tous ensemble.
Sometimes they even share their secret recipes with us, while retaining some of the mystery. Once we’ve toured the fifty brotherhoods, and our shopping bags are heavy with victuals, we head for the large marquee on the square to enjoy a bite to eat. We get to choose between two typical dishes, that have been simmering all morning in huge frying pans and saucepans, while a lovely aroma fills the tent: the ‘Cacasse à cul nu’ (well that’s definitely a mouthful^^) or a salad with bacon dices. My husband goes for the ‘Cacasse à cul nu’ which is a traditional dish made out of potatoes cooked in a roux with onions. Loosely translated it means “pantless casserole”, because originally this poor man’s dish did not contain any meat. Nowadays, this iconic dish is usually served with bacon or sausages. I decide on the bacon salad, with tender dandelion leaves, potatoes and bacon. One bite and I am in culinary heaven! These hearty dishes leave us fully satisfied. Our lunch is also perfect for enjoying the hospitable and convivial atmosphere of the festival.
Seated at huge tables next to the other festival goers, we eat, we talk, we even start to sing when a barrel organ starts playing. For a short moment, we are no longer the two of us, but among friends, friends we just met, taking each other by the arm to sing and dance around the tables, while experiencing a blissful feeling of togetherness…
We still have some room left!
All kinds of demonstrations and shows
Before we head back to the festival in order to admire the demonstrations and shows put on by some of the brotherhoods, we decide on a whim to take postprandial stroll through the Charleville-Mézières town centre. We follow the direction of the Meuse river by crossing the pretty rue du Moulin, a cobbled street lined with designer boutiques with colourful facades. We then explore the quays, and opposite us we see a former mill, nowadays the Arthur Rimbaud Museum. We then continue our constitutional towards the Old Mill Island where we rest for a while admiring the kayaks and barges floating past. Then we turn back and walk past the house where the famous poet Arthur Rimbaud was born. We decide to satisfy our curiosity and visit it. The rooms are not furnished, but the place seems to be in its original state, and here and there we can glimpse fragments of old wallpaper. The visit is nonetheless a journey back in time, using modern technology and we find ourselves walking in the footsteps of the famous poet, following him to Ethiopia, more exactly Harar, where Rimbaud lived for several years. Visual projections on the floors and walls, sound effects…all of our senses are projected all over the world.
After this poetical interlude, we head back to the festival to admire all kinds of demonstrations and shows. Our stroll has allowed to walk off our previous meals and make some room so we can continue to discover the many culinary delights of the Ardennes. This afternoon, we will be discovering talented chefs from the Ardennes, who will be preparing their signature dishes – some sweet, some savoury – under our very eyes. It’s a feast for our eyes, as watching their skilful and deft preparations is quite something, but also a feast for our taste buds: the tasty morsels specially prepared for us are a delightful explosion of tastes and textures!
A bit further on, the brotherhood that is the guest of honour this year is holding quite an exceptional ceremony: the official induction ceremony during which new members are inducted into the brotherhood. It’s quite a jovial affair, and we recommend you definitely take this in when visiting the festival!
Our gourmet day has now come to an end, and we take stock of all the tasty treasures we are going to take home with us so we can enjoy the culinary delights of the Ardennes for a couple more days: cheese, beer, onion pie, pâté en croûte (the yummy French equivalent of pork pie)…yup, we’ve got a couple of more days in foodie heaven to look forward to!