One of my favourite comfort foods for the wintry months is black pudding, so I was really happy to set off to the Foire au Boudin annual black pudding festival this time last year. This three-day food fest is a well established event in the Normandy calendar, and every spring for over 50 years, aficionados have been heading to Mortagne-au-Perche in the Orne département, aka the boudin ‘mecca’.
The festival originally came to my attention when listening to the excellent weekly radio show, the Food Programme on BBC Radio 4, and whet my appetite to come and see for myself just what all the fuss was about.
Mortagne-au-Perche is a pretty town in the Perche Natural Regional Park, the Cotswolds of Normandy. A gentle stroll through the winding, medieval streets reveals the exact type of stylish French town houses made of sandstone with its own courtyard that I would just love to own! As the town is just over a two-hour drive from the capital, this quaint, rural part of Normandy is a popular bolt hole for discerning Parisians at the weekend. The undulating countryside is perfect for rambling and cycling, and antique bargain hunters will love the local brocantes. A particular favourite haunt of mine is the beautiful old court house, appropriately named the Hôtel du Tribunal, which in addition to being a very comfortable hotel, is a top-notch restaurant whose chef enjoys incorporating black pudding into many of his recipes.
Every year the festival highlights are the prizes for the best international black pudding and the person who is able to eat the most black pudding! As Mortagne-au-Perche is home to many a charcutier specialising in the fine art of boudin making, there is lots of yummy local produce to tuck into. You can amble around the local food stalls, nibble at the free offerings and taste some unexpected food combinations with the ubiquitous black pudding. Or for those who enjoy a sit down meal in the company of the locals, head to the food tent and grab a seat at the tressle tables. The rustic set menu includes local meat and black pudding grilled on the barbecue, a slice of Camembert and some apple tart, all washed down with a glass or two of cider.
The love affair between black pudding and Mortagne-au-Perche goes back centuries and there is a special brotherhood of local charcutier and black pudding specialists in the town, the Confrérie des chevaliers du goûte boudin de Mortagne-au-Perche. They can be seen in their ceremonial robes and velvet hats around the fair and are the proud organisers of the international black pudding competition.
The rest of the family enjoyed the fair rides and the slightly incongruous zumba demos after lunch. The hip hop battles I left to the experts! On the Monday afternoon, there is a bike race through the surrounding countryside. So for those who might overindulged over the three-day fair, this is the perfect moment to work off those extra calories!
The 2018 Black Pudding Festival takes place this weekend from Saturday 17 to Monday 20 March – for more information, click here.
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourist Board website.
All photos unless otherwise stated © Tourisme 61 | Text: Alison Weatherhead