Lentils were a staple meal when I went to spend time with family in the South of France as a child, but at home in London I don’t cook them often. I think this must be because of a lack of recipe knowledge, and the length of time they usually take to cook. Although now, discovering the versatile pre-cooked Merchant Gourmet pouches will change all that!
On a recent trip to Le Puy-en-Velay with Merchant Gourmet, a group of fellow foodies and I were introduced to the special region where Puy lentils are from. We visited the farm and factory, learnt about the harvest and tasted some seriously tasty meals utilising these tiny green lentils.
Le Puy-en-Velay is a beautiful area of central France, a few hours drive from Lyon. The historic city is also known as a start point for the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage. We arrived in the sleepy town mid-morning after an early start, and our first stop was Sabarot – manufacturers of Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentil and one of the most prestigious family-run lentil and pulse companies in the region. Here we were shown the variety of products that the Sabarot family produce, an amazing array of French pulses, mushrooms and snails, and given an insight into the company’s story over the last 100 years.
Lunch was served at the factory , a nutritious and delicious selection of lentil salads, my favourite was an inspired combination of fresh sliced peaches, rocket, mozzarella and lentils.
Next it was time to visit the factory and fields. Puy lentils are a DOP (Denominazione di Origine Protetta literally “Protected Designation of Origin”) so can only be grown and harvested in this part of the world, under strict growing conditions of no pesticides or irrigation and allow the natural environment to run its course The flavour profile of these special green lentils is more peppery and flinty than other lentils and they have a softer, thinner skin making them cook quicker than your average lentils.
The lentil harvest was an eye-opening experience. Prior to the trip I had no idea how these small pulses were grown…
The sunny fields were filled with dry short crop, benefitting from the rich volcanic soil which gives the Puy lentils a unique flavour. A tractor systematically drove through collecting the crop and beginning the sorting process, and the lentils then go to the factory for a more exact sorting and cleaning. It was incredible to witness quite how delicate this crop is, with just one or two tiny lentils housed in each shell.
Dinner that night was spectacular… a tented dining room in a Puy lentil field, with dinner cooked on barbecues. It was amazing to sit in such a remote natural landscape while enjoying a refined dinner of lentil inspired dishes, prepared by some of the best chefs from the area.
Menu highlights included a slow cooked lamb and lentil stew and a dessert which included orange lentil jam! The whole meal was accompanied by carefully selected matching wines from the region.
Before boarding a flight back to London there was just enough time to have a walking tour of the beautiful town, Le Puy-en-Velay. We wandered around the old cobbled streets, noticing the old fashioned lace shops and fragrant bakeries, before heading up the hill to the astounding Le Puy Cathedral.
After a quick local lunch it was time to return home, with Sabarot lentil flour biscuits in hand! Since visiting Le Puy-en-Velay and the lentil fields I feel inspired by this ingredient again. Many think of Puy lentils as a store cupboard filler, but when you delve into the Puy lentil story, it’s easy to see why this pulse can be the star of a dish, rather than just a supporting act.
Collaboration trip as a guest of Merchant Gourmet.