The French often refer to the Loire Valley as “the garden of France,” in recognition of the superb produce grown there. Almost everything thrives in the valley’s rich soil and gentle climate. In and around the town of Saumur, however, is France’s most important mushroom-producing region, with dozens of farms in natural limestone caves.
Freshwater fish have been an essential part of the Loire Valley diet since pre-Roman times, and there are still several small commercial fisheries working the river. The catch includes anguille (eel), brème (bream) and sandre (pikeperch). The latter two fish have subtle flavors, which is why they’re often served with a beurre blanc sauce, made with butter, shallots and vinegar. In season, the vast forests of the Loire, where hunting was once a favored sport of the French nobility, yield a variety of game, including duck, quail, pheasant, pigeon, rabbit, wild boar and venison.
As for cheese, the Loire is best known for its many varieties of delicate but tangy goat’s milk cheeses, including Chabichou du Poitou, Crottin de Chavignol, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, Saint-Maure de Touraine, Selles-sur-Cher and Valençay.