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Saturday, November 10, 2012

Herbs of Provence

One of Provence's many outdoor weekly markets

Provençal cuisine (from southeastern France’s Provence district) has traditionally used many herbs which are often characterized collectively in France as "herbes de Provence."  No two blends are alike, but most contain a combination of the following aromatic herbs that perfume Provence: thyme, lavender, rosemary, fennel, marjoram, basil, sage, oregano and savory. 

The seasoning is quite versatile and can be used with meat, poultry, vegetables and fish.  My favorite ways to use herbs de Provence are with grilled foods, as well as a classical vegetable stew from Provence called ratatouille.  The mixture should be added to foods before or during cooking to infuse the flavors, but remember it’s pungent so a little goes a long way. 

While herbs de Provence can be found today in most American supermarkets, the mixture surprisingly was not even known in France before WWII.  Prior to this time Provençal cooks simply used individually the vast array of wild herbs that were gathered from the countryside.  A lot has changed.

Herbs de Provence is a generic term and is not a D.O.P. food (protected origin).  For example, by law Roquefort cheese can only be produced from cows in the town of Roquefort.  Furthermore, the cheese must be aged in the caves surrounding the town.  In contrast, herbs de Provence can be from anywhere.  Because its origin is not protected by law, many of these blends can come from Eastern Europe, North Africa or China---even the herbs de Provence sold in Provence.

On the 2013 harvest tour to France we’ll be in the Provencal countryside for several days.  You’ll have numerous occasions to sample the mixture from the region’s vast array of culinary specialties all the way from tampenade to the famous goat cheese crusted with herbs de Provence.  Bon appetit!

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