‘Mortagne-au-Perche’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 grueling 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 in the heart of the Perche Regional Natural Park, the southernmost part of Normandy. This picturesque medieval town is only 100 miles from the French capital, yet it’s a world away. The beautiful countryside and chocolate box villages make it a popular weekend destination for Parisians – I like to call it the Cotswolds of France.
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 in Mortagne, and the town is often called ‘the birthplace of boudin’.
An art form, the daily preparation of 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 the second the onions are cooked, when the butcher recognises good fresh blood by its colour and knows just the right amount of seasoning required.
François cooks up some 30kg of fresh boudin every day, with another four butchers in Mortagne doing the same. That’s a huge amount of blood sausage for such a small town; however, 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 city, they often stop by Mortagne to pick up food supplies and take a taste of the country home with them.
Mortagne’s butchers have cleverly adapted their trade to suit their Parisian clientele. Along with the classic boudin noir, they’ve added a variety of flavours to their repertoire: apple, calvados, chestnut, camembert, apricot and figs. François says that the locals tend to prefer the classic boudin and he can always spot Parisians and tourists, as they will buy some 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 also tells me there is a large festival (foire) dedicated to the boudin which takes place every March. This event is unofficially an excuse to throw a big party and invite all the neighbours, and takes place on 13-15 March this year.
For more information on food and drink in Normandy, visit the Normandy Tourism website.
For more information on this year’s Foire au boudin in Mortagne-au-Perche on 13-15 March 2020, visit the festival website.
Cover photo © Orne Pure Normandie