Discovering the Molignée Valley... in our plate!
For meat-loving epicureans
5 MIN of culinary delichts
We head for the province of Namur to discover the Molignée valley by way of its gastronomy and local delicacies. This wooded/wood-clad valley mainly known for its medieval castles and abbeys can also boast a wide range of delicious inspiring tasty local products. To name but three: the Warnant snail farm, the château Bon Baron winery and the le Cheneau fish farm. A foodie tour to delight the most demanding epicureans!
Snails with parsley butter
We begin our culinary tour with Eric Frolli, the manager of the Warnant snail farm. The place is a must-see in the area. Each year, tons of interested visitors flock to the farm to gain better understanding in the mysterious world of Heliciculture (better known as snail farming to you and me). Kudos to Eric who delivers great explanations, which he seems to know by heart…Well, he has been doing it for the past 32 years!
For Eric, showing us what happens behind the scenes is a great way to put snails – that are not as popular in Belgium as they are in France – on the map. There are only 5 snail farmers in Belgium compared to 350 in France. The snail farmer explains to us that is huge difference is partly due to the fierce competition from Turkey and the fact that Belgian legislation is more flexible and less protective of local producers.
Eric takes us for a look around his snail farm. We see indoor breeding pens, greenhouses, and outdoor snail pens where the snails slowly grow under the wooden planks. A small dog follows us like our shadow, stopping every now and again to rummage about in every nook and in every cranny. He’s the ratter in charge of killing any rodent reckless enough to venture into the snail farm’s breeding or hatching pens to wreak havoc. Eric produces about 600 to 750,0000 snails per year, so it is safe to say business is booming. His only problem is that each year he struggles to find skilled labour. One thing I know for sure is that we will not leave empty-handed, as the whole point is to taste these little delicacies!
The snails grow slowly under the planks
One of my all time favourites: smoked trout and freshly baked bread
Carrying our portion of “gros-gris à la Bourguignonne” (large snails with garlic butter), we continue our culinary journey and go off to meet François Dejardin, manager of the “Le Cheneau” fish farm in Annevoie. This colourful character, with a cigarette dangling from his lips is one of the very last fish farmers in Belgium.
The fish farm produces about 35 to 40,000 thousand trout per year and François takes care of everything, from the pisciculture to the sales. When the trout arrive in the Annevoie fish tanks, they only weigh about 250 grams. They are then farmed until they reach their ideal weight, which is 420 grams, so François tells us as he weighs them up by hand. He then transports them to his workshop in Godinne so he can process them. Half of his trout production is then smoked with oak shavings and the other half is sold to customers fancying a nice bit of fresh trout.
So, what shall we have to drink ?
Ah well, let’s see what we’ve got: we’ve got snails, we’ve got smoked trout, but we lack the most important bit… something to drink! Although Belgium is above all things renowned for its many beers, for the past couple of decades, it has welcomed a growing number of wineries. So off we go towards Sorinnes on the heights of Dinant, to meet Jeanette Van der Steen, a local winemaker.
Jeanette – who is from the Netherlands born and bred – started her career as a winegrower in 2001 when she and her husband Piotr buy a castle they decide to name “Bon Baron” (or the good baron). They start off by selling a couple of bottles to their neighbours, and end up producing a staggering 75,000 bottles per year. Nowadays, the couple own vineyards that stretch across 17 hectares of rolling hillsides, for the main part located near the banks of the river Meuse, on the outskirts of Dinant. They run an entirely insecticide and pesticide-free operation and the grapes are harvested by hand. They weed mechanically and plants that attract bees, ladybirds and bumblebees are planted at the foot of the vine stocks to fight off the aphids and Asian wasps that wreak havoc in many vineyards.
Vineyard on the banks of the river Meuse
Jeannette and Piotr produce 14 different wines, some of which have the A.O.C. Côte de Sambre et Meuse (A.O.C. stands for “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée”, which means protected designation of origin). Although wine growing is still rare in Belgium, Jeanette (who is quite a formidable character) won't rest until she has employed her knowhow and winegrowing skills to bring Belgian wines to fame!
Now that we’ve spent a pleasant day visiting and food and wine shopping, we lack the willpower (well, we did tell you we're not that good at resisting temptation) to wait until dinner time to taste our loot; our mouths have been watering in pleasant anticipation all day long...So, we decide to enjoy our aperitif on our hotel terrace! Smoked trout, a couple of slices of freshly baked bread, oven-baked snails and a nice bottle of white wine…we’re in foodie heaven!
The Molignée valley is finally in our plates!
Enjoy this experience :
Escargotière de Warnant (Warnant Snail Farm)
1 rue de la Gare, 5537 Warnant, Belgium.
Tel: +32 (0)82/61.23.52
Group or individual visits from April to November.
Château Bon Baron Winery
Zoning de la Voie Cuivrée 50, 5503 Sorinnes (Dinant), Belgium
Tel: +32 (0)497 700 303
Pisciculture Le Chêneau
Two sites : fish farm in Annevoie and workshops in Godinne/Yvoir
Tel: +32 (0)82 61 32 26 et +32 (0)478 62 88 17
For more information: click here (local Tourist Information Board)
Visits all year round, only by appointment (and only for groups)
Local foods and nothing else!