“Mortagne’s butchers are happy people,” François, a local butcher tells me. “They make money and they love what they do.” This is in spite of a gruelling schedule, rising at 5am and working until 7pm, six days a week.
That said, I can think of worse places to work. Mortagne-au-Perche is situated deep in the heart of the Perche Natural Regional Park, the most southerly part of Normandy. This picturesque medieval town is a mere 100 miles from the French capital and yet it’s like a different world. The beautiful countryside and chocolate box villages make it a favourite weekend destination for Parisians – I like to call it the Cotswolds of France. On my way to Mortagne, I have the pleasure of driving through stunning woodland bursting with vibrant autumn colours of red, gold and orange.
Being a butcher in Mortagne can carry a fair bit of prestige. Peer into their shop windows and the first thing you notice are rows of trophies. The second thing that catches your eye are the towers of award-winning boudin noir.
It would be fair to say that the production of boudin noir, France’s version of black pudding, has turned into somewhat of an art form here in Mortagne. In fact, today the town is world renowned as home of the boudin.
As an art form, the daily preparation of the boudin requires skill and instincts that take years to master – this is a job that is never entrusted to an apprentice. In its pure form, the ingredients are simple: pork blood, pork fat and slow-cooked onions. The magic comes when the butcher knows the second the onions are cooked, when he recognises good fresh blood by its colour and when he knows just the right amount of seasoning required.
François cooks up some 30kg of fresh boudin every day and with another four butchers in Mortagne doing the same, that’s a huge amount of blood sausage for such a small town. There’s a good reason for this demand.
In France, just as in the UK, traditional peasant food has enjoyed something of a fashionable renaissance. The boudin is no exception and Parisians just can’t get enough of it. On their way back to the big city, they often stop by Mortagne to pick up a foodie souvenir and take a taste of the country back home.
There is even a large festival (foire) dedicated to the boudin which takes place every March, François tells me. Officially known as a foire, this event is unofficially known as an excuse to throw a big party and invite all the neighbours! I make a mental note to definitely come back next year.
Mortagne’s butchers have cleverly adapted their trade to suit their Parisian clientele. Along with the classic boudin they’ve added a variety of flavours to their repertoire: apple and calvados, chestnut, camembert, apricot, fig, smoked. François says that the locals tend to prefer the classic boudin and he can always spot a Parisian and tourists, as they will buy a bit of each flavour.
So how do you eat Mortagne’s delicacy, I ask. François tells me you can grill it, bbq it and apparently some people like to eat it raw. However, his preferred method is to fry up the boudin with some apple. François reminds me that as October is right in the middle of the annual apple harvest, this dish is particularly good this time of year. I thank him for his time and leave the butcher’s to return to my hotel. I know exactly what I’ll be having for dinner!
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, and for a list of all of the main food festivals in the region, please visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.