A Culinary Journey to Southwest France

“En mange bien dans le Sud-Ouest (One eats well in the Southwest)”

Southwest France is home to some of world’s greatest wines and foods. 2,000 years ago when the Romans first cultivated wine, the region’s culinary profile began to take form. Around the port city of Bordeaux, a flourishing wine trade emerged and was followed by a culinary scene showcasing the tastes of the earth which paired well with the wine.

Mostly warm temperatures and rich volcanic soil in the area creates a rustic cuisine profile, rich with the flavors of the sea (oysters and mussels), the forest (nuts, mushrooms, and truffles), the farms (ducks, chicken, and pigs), and the caves (cheese).

Southwest France is famous for many dishes and culinary products. These ingredients are hugely popular in not only in France, but the rest of the world as well.

Roquefort Cheese – In France, Roquefort cheese it is called the ‘cheese of kings and popes’. This cheese is protected by strict French cheesemaker guidelines. It is aged for at least five months in caves. Genuine Roquefort is rich, creamy and sharp in flavor. It is moist and breaks into little pieces easily. It is typically used in salads and sauces.

Duck – France is famous for its duck dishes and the duck found in the Perigord region is famous in France. Famous French dishes including duck include foie gras (duck livers), Magret de Canard (duck breast), Rillettes d’oie de canard (duck pate), and Confit de Canard (duck leg preserved in duck fat). 

Cassoulet – The Languedoc region is famous for its cassoulets- a slow cooked white bean stew filled with pork parts, sausage, duck leg confit, and sometimes mutton and game. Cassoulet was originally peasant fare as a way to use leftover meats. Over the centuries, this once simple dish has been elevated to gourmet status, and is the subject of passionate debates over which version makes the most original or best cassoulet.

Bayonne HamJambon de Bayonne is a dried pork ham from the Basque region of Southwest France that borders Spain. Very similar to Spain’s jamon serrano and Italy prosciutto ham, it was often served on the tables of royalty and the wealthy. It is cured for at least seven months to develop its distinctive aroma with includes hazelnut notes. It has a delicate taste and melts-in-the-mouth when sliced thinly. It can be eaten as a starter, thinly sliced and paired with olives or cheese, in salads, with melon and cheese, or in tarts.

Walnuts – Périgord is known for its fields of walnut trees which give a dark color to the landscape in the area. Walnuts are used frequently in appetizers, sauces, cakes, and even cooking oil.

Truffles- The Périgord is also a major truffle center in France and is the home of the famous Black Diamond and Périgord truffles. The seasonal collecting of truffles, with pigs or “truffle dogs” extends from December to the end of February. 

Fruits – The southwest of France has a wonderful year-round climate year for fruit growing and is home to many of France’s most well known dried and preserved fruits. More specifically, Peneaux d’Alene (prunes – dried plums) and black cherries from Basque. Fruits are used in deserts, meat dishes, stuffed with Roquefort, and marinated in Armagnac brandy.

Chocolate – Chocolate makers in the area emigrated from Spain to avoid the Spanish inquisition of the 17th century. The first chocolatiers in France were from the Southwest and the chocolate from the region is still prized for its creamy richness.

Brandy – Cognac’s lesser-known older sibling, Armagnac, is a surprisingly tasty brandy that offers merits far more attention than it receives. Although both are from the Gascony region near Bordeaux, Armagnac isn’t just an alternative to cognac, but a whole other brandy of its own. Armagnac is regarded as a more artisanal brandy than cognac as it’s often made by local family-owned producers rather than large, industrial companies. Both are drunk around the world as a digestive after a meal and used extensively in many French dishes.

Wines – Southwest France is a major wine producing area and responsible for some of the greatest wines ever produced. The most recognizable are the phenomenal red and white wines from the wine producing regions around Bordeaux. These wines are classic accompaniments to many of the dishes from the Southwest.

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