The best cassoulet in the world? The one from Castelnaudary, of course!
El cassolet, qu'es aquo ?
Yes, that’s how we ask ourselves what cassoulet is in our country.
How to describe a cassoulet? A real, good, tasty cassoulet? Its colour ? its smell ? Well yes, all that!
Cassoulet is said to have been created during the Hundred Years War. But it is not mentioned in any archive of the time, being first recorded at the beginning of the 16th century. Legend has it that during a siege of Castelnaudary by the English, the residents, threatened with famine. They pooled everything they had to feed the town’s soldiers. Lard, pork, beans, sausages and different meats were simmered in a large bowl. Reinvigorated by this meal, the Chaurien soldiers kicked the English out of Lauragais, right to the edge of the English Channel.
This episode may allude to the sacking of the city by the Black Prince in 1355, which was a fire rather than a siege. The dish at the origins of Cassoulet was therefore a stew. Taillevant’s ‘Viandier’ mentions an ‘éricot’, which comes from the verb ‘héricoter’ in Old French, meaning to cut or chop into small pieces. The ‘héricot’ was a mutton stew, simmered together with broad beans, turnips, and aromatic herbs like parsley, hyssop and sage. This ‘peasant dish’ was a complete meal, in which you could use leftovers. It evolved over time depending on what you put into it. At the end of the 14th century, this stew was cooked in a dish with a particular shape, the cassole, which was made in a village near Castelnaudary and which, over time, gave its name to the iconic dish.
Originally, it was made by potters in Issel, a small village 8 km north of Castelnaudary. In 1377, under the auspices of Guillaume de Plane, Lord of Issel, an Italian, Jean Gabalda established a pottery in the village. At the time, he manufactured household pieces, burners, strainers, cooking pots, and oules (cooking pots for boiling in front of the fire). The cassole, a bowl with a flared edge, had therefore been used in Lauragais since the 14th century. And it is this terracotta from Issel that gives Cassoulet its special taste.
Cassoulet, as we know it today, appeared at the start of the 16th century, with Ingot beans, similar to cannellini, replacing the broad beans.
The ingot bean is a special variety, Phaseolus arborigineus, which originated in an area stretching from Mexico to Peru and Colombia. It is a very vigorous climbing vine with small black seeds. Brought back by Christopher Columbus, this bean was imported to France in 1530.
Two years earlier, Pope Clement VII had sent some beans from America to an Italian canon, Pietro Valerio, as botanical curiosities. The canon cultivated the specimens and discovered their nutritional value and aphrodisiac properties! Alexandre de Medici gave a bag of these beans to his sister, Catherine, for her marriage to the Dauphin of France, the future Henri II. This is how the bean arrived in France. More locally, Catherine de Medici, who became Countess of Lauragais in 1553, probably played a role in introducing this new plant in Lauragais. The white seed was gradually grown throughout the whole of the South west. A little later, in 1637, a priest in Agde grew the beans and began the fashion for these white peas, known as Flaviols or Mounjetas in the Tarn.
And for dessert? A sweet treat?
Hot or cold, these small local specialities can be eaten in or taken away!
Iced cassoulet, available in good artisanal pastry shops!
The iced cassoulet is not as well known as the hot cassoulet but it is just as delicious! It is an ice cream (different flavours possible) in a cassolette made of nougatine. It looks like a cassoulet...but it is an ice cream! Ideal in summer!
Many other specialities can be found in bakeries! Glorias, Alléluias or the Castelnaudary cake are other wonders to discover in Lauragais!