Lure of the Loire

| Tina Villareal 10 May 2019

This year, Le French GourMay takes gourmands on a stroll through the idyllic Loire Valley, famed for its vineyards and the numerous chateaux in the region, earning it the unofficial title of the Royal River.

Listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site for its impressive landscapes and a vast collection of chateaux, the Loire Valley is the perfect region to introduce to Hong Kong's discerning gastronomic lovers during the annual gastronomic celebration of the Le French May Arts Festival.

Le French GourMay traveled to the Loire Valley with the honorary ambassador of the festival, local singer and songwriter Hins Cheung. As a French gastronomy connoisseur himself, Cheung went on a whirlwind tour of the famous Loire Valley vineyards, experiencing the area's history and culture first-hand.

On the trip, Cheung tried many different types of wine as well as the wide array of cheese and dishes signature to the Loire Valley, famous for its fresh produce.

He went to visit a farm that produced goat cheese, one of the famous cheeses in Loire Valley. "Like many Hongkongers, I usually prefer not to have strong smelling cheese," he said. "But after trying the numerous aged cheeses in Loire Valley, especially the goat cheese, I've changed my mind. They're delicious and have a very special taste."

The Loire Valley is actually made up of two French administrative regions: the Pays de la Loire and Centre Val de Loire.

Le French GourMay invited Lydie Bernard, vice president of the regional council of Pays de la Loire, and Pierre-Alain Roiron, president of the regional tourism board of Centre-Val de Loire, to share the historical beauty of the region.

Bernard and Roiron shared that the Loire Valley is home to a vast array of vines along the Loire River, from Sancerre to the Atlantic Ocean in the western part of France. The region is full of local grape varieties, vineyards, appellations and famous wines such as Saumur, Chinon, Muscadet, Layon and Vouvray.

These wines will be featured during the festival and across menus at more than 120 restaurants across Hong Kong.

Alexandre Giorgini, the French consul-general of Hong Kong and Macau, said some 200 partners - including Michelin-starred chefs and hotels, as well as retailers and learning centers - are participating in this year's Le French GourMay, running for the entire month.

"We would like to thank our partners, all of whom created dedicated Loire Valley menus, wine tastings, promotions and workshops, specially for Le French GourMay," Giorgini said.

Exclusively for the food festival, Cafe Causette at the Mandarin Oriental presents lunch and dinner specials (starting at HK$428) with ingredients and wine coming specially from the theme region.

Kicking off the meal is a warm Sainte-Maure goat cheese salad, which comes with smoked duck breast and walnut dressing. The goat cheese is lightly toasted, bringing a distinct texture to the dish.

Up next is spiced cauliflower soup with blue crab, which has a creamy texture, with cumin lending it a flavorful aroma.

On to the entrees, the roasted duck breast comes with a delicious caramelized pear, pickled beetroot and a mustard puree. The trio of pear-beetroot-mustard goes perfectly with the duck breast as the sweet, salty and tart flavors satisfyingly mesh with the soft meat and its crispy skin. To round off the Loire Valley experience, the dessert for the set menus include French classics like tarte tatin and ile flottante, which is a meringue served atop vanilla custard.

Of course, no French meal is complete without wine. Cafe Causette has flown in wines exclusively from the Loire Valley region to complement its set menus.

Starting at HK$148 per glass, guests can choose Loire Valley reds Touraine Amboise and Saumur-Champigny, or the whites, Sancerre and Anjou, to go with their meal.

Le French GourMay, which runs concurrently with Le French May cultural festival, continues through May 31.

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