A culinary tour of Provence

To say that we had a good time on the first Provence Tour would be an understatement. The guests were charming, the food and wine were plentiful, and the Provencal sun extended summer for us right to the end of September. I wore shorts; no joke.

This is only a snapshot of everything we did that week as listing it all would be tedious for everyone involved. If you think it looks like quite a bit of fun, you can sign up here to receive The Modern Pantry's newsletter, which will include the announcement of 2017 dates.

After picking everyone up in Avignon and settling in at the B&B, the first night kicked off with a welcome dinner at Oaks and Olives. While I tried to tell everyone what they could expect from the week, they talked and laughed over me. The champagne was flowing freely and I could tell I didn't stand a chance against this crew. An hour in and our perfect group of strangers had already settled into an easy banter. The sun was tucking behind the trees when we finally moved inside for our first meal.

Buying olives in Lourmarin
Grape harvest
Picking grapes in Provence
Riding the tractor
Stomping grapes
French snacks
Truffle hunting
Tasting truffles

Our first full day was also our longest. Mist still hung heavy in the fields as our trusty van took us up and over Bonnieux on the way to the Lourmarin market (a personal favourite for the stunning setting and exceptional producers). Getting to market days early is always well worth rolling out of bed.

This day also included picking and stomping grapes, learning about truffles and digging up our own, tasting olive oils, and sipping coffees beside a community étang (pond) full of koi.

Cheese tasting with an affineur
Chocolate tasting at Joel Durand
Hanging out in St-Remy-de-Provence
Wine tasting in Provence
Pork loin and baked figs

Saturday started as all good Saturdays should: tasting cheeses prepared by a local affineur (cheese ager) paired with her husband's wine. The skies opened on us in the first real rain Provence had seen in three months. Unfazed, we continued on to the charming town of St-Remy-de-Provence for a chocolate tasting and time to explore. There may have been occasion to stop into a winery that afternoon as well...

After some well deserved down-time, we reconvened for a cozy dinner.

L'Isle sur la Sorgue
Wine bar stop
Market day L'Isle sur la Sorgue
Cooking class
Dinner with friends

Sunday. Market day. The town of Coustellet - the closest large town to Oppede - has a stellar food market where we stocked up for our cooking class. Loaded down with fresh produce, we proceeded to France's best antique market in L'Isle sur la Sorgue (with a cheeky stop at an ulta-cool wine bar to escape a sudden downpour and an even cheekier stop at a favourite patisserie for treats). The picnic we had planned for the day was moved indoors: our only weather-related hiccup.

Refreshed by a few hours of down time, everyone got their hands dirty in a cooking class (fueled by wine and snacks, obviously). Everyone was pretty proud of their accomplishments as we sat down to a delicious three course dinner.

Abbey de Senanque
Gordes Provence
Coffee in Gordes
lunch at l'estellan
Rousillon hills

Monday we got our culture on with a visit to the Abbaye de Senanque and the picturesque village of Gordes. Awed by the beauty around us, it was all that some of us could do to sit in a square and take it all in with espresso in hand.

With the weather back to in our favour we lunched on the terrace of L'Estellan. It's a good problem to have when the sun is too bright to take any good photos of food (taken surreptitiously to start with for fear of being kicked out of France as a whole). Believe me when I say it was perfect. We worked off a bit lunch exploring the ocre hills of Rousillion. Some people followed up by climbing to the stunning vista at the top of town while others perused galleries.

Cheese making
Adding ash to cheese
Cheese making hat
Goat cheese
Chicken playing the piano
Cheese lunch

Our fifth, and final, full day was incredible. We rolled up to a goat farm and were greeted by 1) our delightful hostess/ cheese maker, Patricia 2) her charming son 3) the most friendly giant dog I've ever met and 4) fifty goats, in that order. Patricia walked us through every step of making her famous cheese from milking, to separating the curds, to forming the various shapes. Everyone got in on the fun, flipping cheeses like seasoned professionals by the end. We then reaped the rewards of our work with a cheese-heavy lunch, prepared by Patricia's 84 year old mother and eaten in the family's outdoor dining room. This is the real Provence. This is a person who wakes up every single morning to milk goats and make cheese to sell at the markets.

Sated and overwhelmed by their hospitality we finally headed off. This being our final night, we celebrated with dinner cooked in the outdoor pizza oven.

Pizza oven
Roasted chicken
Pool in Provence

No one was ready to go, but the next day we parted ways at the Avignon train station. There were still lots of adventures ahead for our group, but our time together was over. I thanked my lucky stars every day on the tour that I got such a wonderful group the first time around. Thinking back though, anyone who loves eating good food, meeting the people who work their butts off every day to make it happen, and creating new friendships are going to be good people to hang out with. I'm already excited to meet next year's guests...