The name Languedoc is a bit of ancient history, a remnant from the days when France was divided into provinces instead of administrative départements. After the French revolution, Toulouse became part of the Midi-Pyrénées and the rest of the territory formed the Languedoc-Roussillon. But even today, this area — Cassoulet Country, the cradle-shaped territory where the dish was invented — is still known as the Languedoc, a sun-warmed expanse of farmland with medieval hill towns that rise in the distance.
Cassoulet has achieved almost mythical status among French food lovers, a hearty stew of sausages, duck confit, pork sausages, and white beans cooked for hours in a traditional terra cotta vessel until lush and velvety. The culinary lexicographer, Prosper Montagné, proclaimed the dish “A god in three forms: God the father is the cassoulet of Castelnaudary, God the son, is that of Carcassonne; and the Holy Spirit is that of Toulouse.” In my research, however, I found the recipe hailed from one place and one place alone: Castelnaudary. Everything else seemed to be inspired by this version.
Where to eat cassoulet in the Languedoc?
Toulouse, Castelnaudary and Carcassonne are connected not only by cassoulet, but also the 17th-century manmade waterway, the Canal du Midi. Here are suggestions for all three places:
Le Colombier (14 rue Bayard, Toulouse, tel: 05 61 62 40 05) has been preparing the same cassoulet recipe on the premises for over a hundred years, with housemade sausage and goose confit. It’s a generous portion with lots of meat and silken beans, strongly scented with nutmeg.
Hostellerie Etienne (Route Nationale 113, Labastide d’Anjou; 04 68 60 10 08) is like a modern inn, with tile floors and generous windows. Locals and tourists alike stop here for the cassoulet, which arrives bubbling from the oven, salty, plush and meaty. Rumor has it, the Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary — a society formed in 1972 to defend and protect the dish — meets and eats here. This is cassoulet to swoon over.
Restaurant Robert Rodriguez (39 rue Coste Reboulh, Carcassonne, tel: 04 68 47 37 80) lies in the more modern section of town, at the foot of the ville haute, or old city. Full disclosure: I haven’t eaten here. But I visited the cozy, cramped dining room and interviewed the chef/owner, Robert Rodriguez, who waxed enthusiastic about his cassoulet, cooked for hours with housemade duck confit and pork sausage. If you try it, I’d love to hear your thoughts, d’accord?
Where to sleep and shop in the Languedoc?
Château Coquelicot (250 route de Castelnaudary, 11400 Souilhanels-Castelnaudary, tel: 06 42 74 55 90) was once the village school and then the town hall, but today the sprawling, gracious mansion has become a charming bed and breakfast run by a Belgian couple, Frédéric and Françoise Bernier. Each room is named after a different perfume — a nod to Madame Bernier’s former career in scent; I stayed in “Angel,” spacious and lovely, decorated in shades of blue and black. Along with breakfast, the Berniers offer a table d’hôte — that is, you can join them for the evening meal, usually three generous courses, prepared by Madame.
Poterie Not Frères (11400 Mas Saintes Puelles, tel: 04 69 23 17 01) is, perhaps, my favorite discovery from my entire year of research. It’s a family pottery business, started in 1830, the modest atelier housed on the banks of the Canal du Midi. Inside, the owners — two brothers and a son/nephew — spin earthenware bowls on foot-operated pottery wheels. They’re making cassoles, the traditional vessel used to cook cassoulet, forming each spout by hand. My only regret is that I couldn’t carry more pieces home.
Hungry for more? Today’s post is a companion to my new book, Mastering the Art of French Eating, a food memoir that Peter Mayle, the author of A Year in Provence, says is “very elegantly served. A really tasty book.”
And more from the series, Where to Eat in France.